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Notes from Future of Law Conference

    “Replacement or collaboration? Imagining the Future(s) of Law, Lawyers and Justice”

    Organised primarily by, and for, legal educators, I was privileged to be invited (and fortunate enough to have time in my schedule) to attend this one day conference at the National University of Ireland building in Merrion Square, Dublin.

    The full conference programme is included at the bottom of this post and I have linked to those speakers who have a LinkedIn Profile so that you may investigate further (and follow those who you are interested in).

    The conference was organised by the Future of Law Association.


    In one sense this was a conference about AI, more particularly generative AI and large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. Educators are grappling with these types of tool, both in figuring out how to educate future lawyers about the tools and also in figuring out how to provide a legal education (and student assessment) in the face of technology tools that can themselves pass bar exams!

    Some Takeaways

    General Note on Takeaways

    The takeaways that follow below are the things I made a note of during the day, but are not representative of the day’s discussions.

    The first session (see conference programme below) was extremely interesting and the contributions were excellent. It boggles my mind to see how legal educators are so quick to adapt syllabi and teaching methods to changing technologies.

    The second session was a little bit above my pay grade but, again, excellent contributions from speakers who were clearly on top of their games.

    In the third session the paper from Brian Barry was of particular interest and I await further developments from him with keen interest.

    In the fourth session (last, but by no means least) Rónán Kennedy rightly asked questions about the ethical implications of using generative AI – not so much from a ‘lawyer-ethics’ perspective as from a ‘global citizen’ ethical perspective. What is the human cost of generative AI? What is the environmental cost? Should we be using a technology that carries these costs? Rónán pointed to reports that Kenyan workers had been paid $2/hr to label explicit content that was used to train ChatGPT, and to other reports that ChatGPT needs to ‘drink’ a water bottle’s worth of fresh water for every 20 to 50 questions you ask.

    I? T? O? What Shape is the Lawyer of the Future?

    I-shaped lawyers are/were 20th-century lawyers with an in-depth understanding of their subject matter but without a hybrid ability to collaborate across disciplines and sectors. Contemporary legal education curriculums across the globe, with a few exceptions, are only yielding I-shaped lawyers. 

    The T-shaped lawyer has a broad and deep understanding of a specific area of practice but also possesses multi-disciplinary knowledge across, for example, general technical knowledge, knowledge of legal design, understanding of project management, data science, process improvement, business partnership and leadership, risk management, etc.. This makes T-shaped professionals specialised in their niche industry, and also adept with the intersection of other disciplines.

    O-shaped lawyers are, in addition to being academically, technologically, and administratively competent, are emotionally well-rounded. They O-shaped mindset is characterised by 5 ‘O’s’:

    • Open – open to change and feedback. Open mindset and open with emotions.
    • Original – Original ways of working and thinking. Creative and innovative.
    • Opportunity – Seek and seize opportunities. Collaborate across networks.
    • Ownership – Solutions focussed, accountable, taking responsibility and owning the outcome.
    • Optimism – Positive outlook, see the best in others. Glass half full and positivity rubs off.

    [If this is the kind of stuff that floats your boat, see:

    12 Blocks of Minimum Competence

    The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) is a national, independent research center at the University of Denver dedicated to facilitating continuous improvement and advancing excellence in the American legal system.

    “Building a Better Bar” is a December 2020 report from IAALS that identifies 12 ‘building blocks of minimum competence’ which were not being taught in the bar exam. As the report puts it: “Preparing for the current bar exam gave [lawyers] knowledge they did not need, while omitting knowledge and skills they did need”.

    The report identifies the following 12 interconnected competencies that allowed lawyers to practice effectively:

    • The ability to act professionally and in accordance with the rules of professional conduct;
    • An understanding of legal processes and sources of law;
    • An understanding of threshold concepts in many subjects;
    • The ability to interpret legal materials;
    • The ability to interact effectively with clients;
    • The ability to identify legal issues;
    • The ability to conduct research;
    • The ability to communicate as a lawyer;
    • The ability to see the “big picture” of client matters;
    • The ability to manage a law-related workload responsibly;
    • The ability to cope with the stresses of legal practice;
    • The ability to pursue self-directed learning.

    The report goes on to propose 10 recommendations for courts, law schools, bar associations, bar examiners, and other stakeholders to consider in their efforts to move towards evidence-based lawyer licensing.

    Miscellaneous Titbits

    Plagiarism Checker & AI Detector: TurnItIn has (according to this Wikipedia page) been helping educational institutions to detect plagiarism since 1998. The service now also claims to be able to detect work that has been generated by artificial intelligence, stating in this post that “we are able to detect the presence of AI writing with 98% confidence and a less than one percent false-positive rate in our controlled lab environment”.

    Causal AI is going to change everything (again): Causal AI is an artificial intelligence system that can explain cause and effect, and is used by organisations to help explain decision making and the causes for a decision. Read more about Causal AI at wikipedia, CausaLens (“Causal AI is the only technology that can reason and make choices like humans do. It utilizes causality to go beyond narrow machine learning predictions and can be directly integrated into human decision-making.”), or read this 6-minute introduction to Causal AI.

    AI Research Assistant: Elicit is an AI research assistant using language models like GPT-3 to automate parts of researchers’ workflows. Currently, the main workflow in Elicit is Literature Review. If you ask a question, Elicit will show relevant papers and summaries of key information about those papers in an easy-to-use table. Read the FAQ for more information.

    Chatbots: Some organisations are doing chatbots extremely well – the chatbot at Access Social Care (a UK organisation that provides free legal advice to people with social care needs) is worth taking a look at.

    Conference programme

    Session 1 – Future of Law Teaching

    • Future Proofing Legal Education – Preparing Lawyers for Tomorrow’s Challenges’ (Paul Ippolito, College of Law Sydney)
    • ‘Meeting the Challenges of Technology: The Modern Law School’ (Prof Andy Unger, London South Bank University)
    • ‘Incorporating Generative AI in Legal Education – Pedagogical and Policy Lessons from An Early Case Study at LITE Lab@HKU’ (Prof Brian W Tang, University of Hong Kong)
    • ‘Pressing A in Legal Education: Exploring the Use of Videogames as Supplementary Resource in Teaching Intellectual Property Law’ (Dr. Liam Sunner, Queen’s University Belfast) 

    Session 2 – Future of Law and Data

    •  ‘Investigating Semantic Textual Similarity in Legal Documents: A Sentence Transformer-Based Approach’ (Dr Rohit Verma, National College of Ireland and Dr Tanveer Ahmed, Bennett University)
    • ‘Training law students to use data for social change: key takeaways from a yearlong project with first year law students’ (Prof Quisquella Addison, Northeastern University)
    • ‘Establishing a Sector Specific Data Protection Impact Assessment for Irish Legal Analytics Services’ (Jennifer Waters, University College Dublin) 

    Session 3 – Future of Legal Practice

    • ‘AI for the Irish solicitors’ profession: use, awareness and attitudes’ (Dr Brian Barry, Technological University Dublin)
    • ‘Transforming the Profession and Transforming the Law School: A research agenda from NI’ (Prof John Morison and Dr Ciarán O’Kelly, Queen’s University Belfast)
    • ‘Asking the Question: Legal Expertise and Generative AI’ (Audrey Fried, Osgoode Hall Law School)
    • ‘End of the Legal Ice Age’ (Marc Lauritsen, Capstone Practice Systems and Suffolk University Law School) [online]

    Session 4 – Future of Justice

    • ‘Responsible AI in the Delivery of Legal Services’ (Larry Bridgesmith, Vanderbilt University)
    • ‘The public inaccessibility of digitalized legal sources as a reason of unequal access to law and justice in the Czech Republic’ (Tereza Novotná, Masaryk University)
    • `The Ethics and Legality of Integrating Large Language Models into Legal Education’ (Dr Rónán Kennedy, University of Galway)