Integrating AI across the curriculum and in the field
Photo credit: David Szalay
Left to right: Associate Dean Kerry Lohmeier, Assistant Professor Sean Steward and Assistant Professor Sarah Starnes. Photo credit: Scott Horstman
Three faculty members at Akron Law are spearheading the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools in legal education and practice. Assistant Professors Sean Steward and Sarah Starnes and Associate Dean Kerry Lohmeier are actively researching the applications of AI-powered tools, including ChatGPT, to determine how to best utilize them both in and out of the classroom, as well as in the legal field.
In spring 2023, the three initiated a series of research presentations to demystify AI and its implications for the legal profession. A presentation to the University Board of Trustees marked the beginning of their outreach. Based upon the support they received following the presentation, the team planned a series of presentations to local law firms, beginning with Roetzel & Andress in June. They also provided a presentation to the University’s Department of Development.
In May 2023, the team offered a continuing legal education presentation on the ethical use of AI tools, focusing on providing practical, actionable advice for legal practitioners. The Ohio Supreme Court’s Continuing Legal Education Department praised this presentation as a model CLE.
“Partnering with Dean Lohmeier and Assistant Professor Steward has been a great opportunity to combine and share our knowledge with others,” Starnes said. “We’re excited to be at the forefront of this rapidly evolving technology.”
In addition to their presentations, the team is developing a practical handbook on this evolving technology. It is intended as a resource for legal professionals and law students interested in using AI as research and writing tool.
Part one of the handbook aims to demystify the technology behind AI tools like ChatGPT. Written to be accessible, it assumes no prior computer science knowledge from the reader. This section will also focus on potential ethical pitfalls to help practitioners and students avoid them in their own practice.
Part two addresses the practical application of AI tools in legal practice. This will include a discussion of relevant legal topics and provide practicing attorneys with the tools to safely and responsibly use AI in their legal practice. A few examples include the exploration of contract review, legal research, case management, inherent bias and predictive analysis of legal outcomes.
Part three will serve as a user guide, assisting readers in interacting with AI systems efficiently and effectively. It will include practical tips and common troubleshooting advice and may also feature case studies illustrating both successful and problematic uses of AI in legal work.
Within Akron Law, the team encourages the responsible use of AI among students and faculty. Steward is examining how AI tools can create more engaging and complex classroom hypothetical scenarios. He is also developing a course to help law students understand this new technology and responsibly prepare them for a future where these tools will likely be commonplace in legal practice.
Lohmeier and Starnes, capitalizing on their experience as law librarians, are exploring the pedagogical potentials of AI. They are actively implementing these tools to aid course design and material creation. They also use AI to craft innovative and relevant problems for students’ research and writing classes.
“This effort positions the Akron Law Library as a leader in cutting-edge legal education methods and ensures that Akron students are introduced to these technologies in a guided, ethical and effective manner,” Lohmeier explained.
An essential aspect of the team’s work is their focus on the ethical implications of AI in law. They are not just teaching how to use AI tools, but are instilling in their students a deep understanding of the ethical considerations these tools require. They advocate for a thoughtful, informed approach to AI, encouraging future lawyers to consider issues such as data privacy, bias in AI algorithms and AI's potential to violate attorney-client privilege inadvertently.
Looking ahead, the team at Akron Law envisions a future where AI tools are a standard part of legal work, utilized to enhance efficiency without compromising the integrity or quality of legal services. Their work today is laying the groundwork for that future.
Speaking on his work with AI, Steward stated, “With the advent of the NextGen Bar Exam, practical legal education is more important than ever. We want to leverage these revolutionary technologies to create well-rounded attorneys of the future.”
The team is making strides in preparing both current students and practicing lawyers for a future likely to involve the widespread integration of AI throughout every sector of the economy. Their work is marked by a dual focus on education and ethical considerations, aiming to equip legal professionals with practical knowledge of these emerging technologies and the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate the complex ethical landscape that these tools may present. By laying this groundwork now, Akron Law is taking a proactive leadership role in the evolution of legal education and practice in the age of AI.