New Possibilities With ChatGPT: Two Professors Weigh In On AI And Legal Education

Since November 30, 2022, when ChatGPT was first introduced, it has made headlines. Only two months after it was opened to the public, approximately 100 million unique users signed up to test out the new tool.

For the legal community in particular, ChatGPT’s abilities are of interest. This new technology can draft contracts, and it can respond to legal questions. On March 16, 2023, ChatGPT-4 achieved no small feat to those in the legal field: it passed the bar exam with scores that neared the 90th percentile.

Given its capabilities, an important question has been raised: how might this new tool impact the practice of law? While others have addressed this question, a related one follows: how might ChatGPT impact legal education and the study of the law? In this article, Diane Littlejohn, executive director of the Technology Law and Policy Center at North Carolina Central University School of Law, and Jeff Ward, director of the Duke Center on Law & Tech at Duke University School of Law, offer their thoughts on this topic, their experiences with ChatGPT, and the groundbreaking technology at the center of it all.

Diane Littlejohn, a Black woman with Black hair, wears an ivory suit jacket and black pants. Jeff Ward, a white man with brown hair, wears a button-down plaid shirt and black sweater.

Littlejohn, left, and Ward, right.

This article is the first in a series that will address ChatGPT and the legal field.

What is it like to use ChatGPT?

It is simple: a user types in a question – a “prompt” – and a reply is given by the chat via artificial intelligence.

The reply is quick and often surprising. The search engine in chat form, a large language model created by OpenAI, can generate articles, stories, poems, and art. It can, for some, bring entertainment and delight. It can simulate voice and music: only a few weeks ago, a song created by an anonymous TikTok user went viral.

Even more remarkable is the manner of its replies: these responses have been described as having a human quality to them.

Writing a prompt and receiving an answer is easy, but assessing the results are not quite as clear cut. Sophisticated as the technology is behind this tool, ChatGPT is not perfect. It can be both useful and perplexing at the same time.

Littlejohn and Ward are both proponents for making the most of this new tool, insofar as it is used within proper parameters. It is important that students respect university-wide guidelines on academic integrity and abide by how the technology may be used. As long as students follow these guidelines, students can be encouraged to learn how to use the new tool by testing it out. The classroom is the perfect place to have conversations about what this tool is capable of.

Littlejohn shares that, in general, law students at NCCU are curious to learn more about the relationship between technology and the law.

“They are very open. They love tech. They are very excited about the possibilities in this space. They have questions. When it comes to law school, many of them know about criminal law, civil rights law, things of that nature – what you see on TV. Some of them did not know that tech law was an option.

“Our students are a little bit more tech-oriented. And I think they maybe understand more about tech than I did when I graduated law school in 2010. There are opportunities in this space that are lucrative, where you can certainly have an impact on society and the world.”

NCCU holds a special place in Littlejohn’s heart. She graduated from NCCU’s School of Law in 2010, practiced family law for twelve years and began working in contracts and trademark law in 2020. In January of 2022, Littlejohn joined NCCU School of Law as the Executive Director of the North Carolina Central University Technology Law and Policy Center (TLPC). Outside of teaching and directing the center, Littlejohn practices trademark law and business information contracts.

With Littlejohn at the helm, the center has already made an impact on the lives of students. The founding of the TLPC was announced in 2021, when Intel committed to donating 5 million dollars over five years to create the center.

Diane Littljohn, a Black woman with black hair, wears a burgundy NCCU Law shirt and grey sweater and talks with three law students.

Littlejohn, second from right, pictured at the Legal Design Derby held at NCCU and cohosted with the Duke Center on Law & Tech in February 2023.

Littlejohn helps students to find mentors, obtain internships and employment; she also provides career coaching and resume review and works with students to assist them as they learn about legal technology. The center also offers an annual technology law summit held in the fall of each year. The TLPC is also one of the only centers that focuses on social justice and technology disparities in minority and underprivileged communities.

During the spring semester, Littlejohn taught a course on law practice and technology. She instructs students in how to use tools that are essential for all future attorneys, such as technology related to practice management tools, online research, and e-discovery. Learning about these technologies is crucial for all attorneys whether they plan to work in-house, in a law firm or a social practice.

As a part of the TLPC, students may enroll in the Technology Law and Policy Certificate program. The program offers students a broad exposure to technology law, including privacy, intellectual property and artificial intelligence law. This semester, the certificate program is graduating its inaugural class of 10 students. There are more than 25 second-year students set to graduate in 2024. Littlejohn anticipates 25 more students will declare interest in July 2023, when 2Ls have the opportunity to register for the program.

When asked about her thoughts on ChatGPT, Littlejohn describes the benefits and challenges of this new technology. Some professors see it as a great achievement, albeit one to be used with care. Others fear it may impact students’ skillsets.

Although students must be thoughtful about how they use ChatGPT, the tool is something students should become familiar with and learn how to use, says Littlejohn.

“Some professors were concerned about cheating and plagiarism, and about how it may influence the critical thinking of students. But I think that it is pretty clear that AI, especially Chat GPT, is not going anywhere.  Legal professionals and legal educators need to embrace it and work with it instead of working against it and put safeguards in place to protect academic integrity.”

Diane, a Black woman with black hair, wears a burgundy NCCU law shirt and is pictured standing near a table where students are gathered together working.

Littlejohn, right, assists students during the Legal Design Derby, held in October 2022 and cohosted with the Duke Center on Law & Tech.

Littlejohn’s thoughts on the AI-based program are similar to those of Ward, who has served as professor at Duke for fourteen years and director of the Duke Law & Tech Center since 2017.

“I love the new challenges that are happening for all of us with emerging technologies. It keeps me on my toes, and I think that, like many lawyers and judges, I’m just a curious person who enjoys learning new things with other curious people. I could probably find that in other disciplines, but the law has been wonderful for that.”

Ward received his J.D. from Duke University School of Law, where he studied international and comparative law. In 2009, Ward joined Duke University School of Law as Supervising Attorney of the Community Enterprise Clinic. While serving as an associate clinical professor of law at Duke, he became the director of the Duke Center on Law & Tech, which opened in 2017 and provides students resources and events to promote their understanding of technology and the law. He also served as the Associate Dean for Technology & Innovation. In 2022, he received Duke Law’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

At the school of law, he primarily teaches courses on contracts – most recently, he taught “Future of Contracts.” Some of his other courses include Frontier AI & Robotics: Law & Ethics, and at the Pratt school of Engineering, Legal, Societal, and Ethical Implications of Artificial Intelligence.

“We realized that technology was starting to reshape the needs of our clients and the delivery of legal services, and that we were on the cusp of some major changes, like those that we are feeling right now. That is when we launched the Duke Center on Law & Tech. It aims to help steward legal technologies that will reshape the delivery of legal resources.

“From the beginning, we wanted to help facilitate the growth of legal technologies, but over time, it really started to focus on what we would call justice tech solutions, technologies and processes that expand or democratize access to legal services, information, expertise, resources. That has not only been a core part of our operations, but also a really core part of our ethos. When we ask, ‘What is the Duke Center on Law and Technology?’, we want to ensure that technology empowers and ennobles all people, and largely that has meant that we’ve gotten involved in justice technology solutions that expand access to legal services.”

One of the earliest initiatives at the center was the Duke Law Tech Lab, a startup incubator that the center has continued to host over the years. Some of the other programs include Duke Law By Design, The Digital Governance Design Studio and Duke Law Next.

The law and tech centers both at NCCU and Duke take a collaborative approach. Ward and Littlejohn have worked together in several capacities. Duke has cohosted Design Derbies with NCCU School of Law in the past and in the current academic year. One of the questions asked at the Fall 2022 Design Derby was “How might we reshape legal education to prepare students for future paradigms of legal service delivery?” This was before ChatGPT was released, shares Ward.

He is especially grateful for the spirit of collaboration across the law schools in North Carolina.

“When hosting these events, we find a tremendously collaborative community across the schools in North Carolina. The law schools have always been just open with sharing. NCCU, in particular, has been a really wonderful partner for us. We know that whenever we do something with them, their students are just going to get top-notch care from their faculty – whether it is April Dawson, Kevin Lee, or Diane Littlejohn, there’s just a wonderful group of people over there who always make things better.”

Ward is optimistic about the future as it relates to legal education and ChatGPT. When asked what his concerns are related to this new technology, Ward echoes Littlejohn’s observations: he hopes attorneys will engage with it.

“My fear has always been that lawyers will stick their head in the sand and say it can’t be used in law. It won’t affect us. If that happens, opportunities to really improve legal services will miss us. And chances to shape these tools so that they’re used appropriately will be ceded to other disciplines like technologists, rather than having caring, thoughtful lawyers and others that really enter the fray.

“And I think eventually, consumer demands – not only from clients who are served by law firms but also from those who are unserved by our current overly narrow methods of legal services – will chip away at lawyer relevance unless we adopt and adapt to these tools.”

Ward, a white man with brown hair and glasses, wears a grey plaid shirt and dark pants. He stands on the far right and addresses groups of students who are sitting at round tables in a large meeting room with bright windows.

Ward, right, addresses students at the Future of Contracts Design Derby on February 24, 2023, at the Durham Bottling Company. Photo Credit to Colin Huth and courtesy of Duke Law.

In the classroom, Ward has spoken about the opportunities presented by new technology and how they can affect the legal field.

“I have this graphic that I use in my presentations with my students, where I show a balance between innovation and integrity. On the one end of the of the balance beam is integrity, as obviously we need to protect the integrity of legal services. That’s really important. We want good consumer outcomes. We want rules of professional responsibility to be protected. On the other end, we also want innovation. But the problem that I think most people, when they talk about that balance, they assume that everybody has access to services. They say, a lawyer will do this better, so, therefore, let’s not push on the tech innovation side.

“But the big elephant in the room is that 86% plus of low-income people don’t have access to legal services. So, when you put that on the balance, the drive toward innovation has to be a lot stronger. We have a broken legal services system. Until we realize that our primary ethical obligation is to provide services to those who have problems and need to solve them, I don’t think we’re going to have a very open, frank discussion about the integrity-innovation balance. That is, until we have every person with meaningful access to legal services, I’m a little bit unsympathetic to too much pressure being put on the integrity side of the of the balance beam. Integrity is paramount, but I think we can have both integrity and innovation.”

Students should be well-versed in these ideas and in thinking about how the legal system can be improved through advances in tech. Speaking of ChatGPT in particular, Ward says that it should be taken for what it is – only the starting point, and not a reflection of artificial intelligence as a whole.

“ChatGPT does not represent the state of the art for large language models or AI. In other words, what has been released by Open AI as ChatGPT to be widely accessible and gather feedback is only a small sliver of the AI world, and also not even the cutting-edge what AI is capable of. That is one concern I have – that people take whatever their limited experience is with ChatGPT and think that that represents the state of the art in the state of the world. These tools are capable of more than what most people have experienced at this point.”


A Lawyers Mutual Advertisement reads "A mission to help. People who care. Protection that counts."

This new technology is a place where users can experiment with it and learn from it, and these experiences have inspired creative approaches and led to different takeaways.

This tool is one that both Littlejohn and Ward have learned from by testing it out.

For example, Littlejohn wanted to see what it would be like to create a blog post using ChatGPT. After writing prompts and viewing ChatGPT’s replies, she found the result better than she anticipated yet not without some drawbacks.

“I wrote a blog post – the post was about trademark law – just to see what it was going to do, and the information was pretty accurate. There were stylistic choices I would not have made myself, but I was amazed, like, wow. This has certainly cut down on having to come up with a blog topic, having to write it out. It was amazing to me that it wrote this blog post for me in less than five minutes. I used the ChatGPT-3 version to write the blog, and again, I saw that it was imperfect.

“While it was good, it didn’t sound like my voice, for one. There were some paragraphs that needed to be rearranged. There was a tone that I wasn’t really a fan of – it was something I would not have written myself as far as the tone went. But I think it was a great draft and a great starting point. I think that that’s probably the best use right now – to use it as a starting point versus actually doing the work for you.”

Ward, too, has experimented with the program. He has used it both inside and outside the classroom and found it useful in both areas.

“I use it or similar tools almost every day. I’ve been underwhelmed at times, and I’ve been jaw-dropped-to-the-floor-wowed at other times. Most of the time, I just find it helpful to jumpstart something or to organize something. Then, I spend some time adding my expertise to whatever it provided.

“It’s a tool that has made my personal life more productive. For example, when planning a trip for admitted student day at my daughter’s college, I said, ‘Give me a three-day itinerary in this town to have fun with two teenage children,’ and it provided a great outcome that highlighted some of the best parts about that particular geography.

Ward, a white man with brown hair and glasses, sits at a table and talks with students who are standing and presenting a project.

Ward, right, talks with a small group of students during the Duke Center on Law & Tech’s Future of Contracts Design Derby in February 2023. Photo Credit to Colin Huth and courtesy of Duke Law.

“I find it that makes me way more productive in my work life, too. I use it to help build resources for my students in class. It allows me to supplement things that I just wouldn’t have time to do that really put resources into their hands. In the same way that in the past, I couldn’t imagine going on a trip with my family without first checking Google about what we should do there, I couldn’t imagine doing it now without first checking some large language model to help me do that. It’s a first step for many things for me.”

How have Littlejohn and Ward addressed it with students?

Littlejohn has asked students to write about artificial intelligence in a course assignment, one that asks them to think theoretically about ChatGPT. Students were asked how they thought ChatGPT would change the legal industry and if it would someday replace lawyers.

She adds that if students use ChatGPT, they must be careful to abide by the university’s code of academic integrity.

“Right now, as academic integrity rules go, they’re very strict. They don’t necessarily want you to write your whole essay or legal memo using ChatGPT. But I think it can be something that can help students learn, especially if you’re writing a research paper. It can give you a great outline. It can give you a table of contents – things like that.”

At the same time, students’ work must be their own.

She continues, “Our student code of conduct has made sure that people are aware that you can’t essentially rely on this technology. We want to make sure that your work is your own work, and that we develop critical thinkers.”

Ward has also asked students to write about how ChatGPT can be useful in the study and practice of law. As part of that conversation, he discusses ethical concerns that may arise from the new tool.

“I think back to that framework of integrity and innovation. On the integrity side, I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to teach our students to be thoughtful about what AI does well and what humans do well. So, I have various exercises that help students see where humans’ best value add is and where AI could be used. Then we think about professional responsibility needs. But then I think it’s incumbent upon us also to encourage students to ask the big ethical questions about fairness, access, all those issues where these may be tools that help meet those needs.”

ChatGPT may one day be able to have a positive impact on access to justice. In its current form, it is not without its shortcomings. One concern expressed by both Littlejohn and Ward is the issue of bias in artificial intelligence. Littlejohn and Ward both point out that the information presented by ChatGPT is not neutral.

Ward says it is key for students to know that “data-driven systems are essentially and almost inescapably biased unless we intentionally intervene and try to deal with those biases.”

In addition to bias, another concern is how the tool might impact jobs. For example, in the fields of the humanities, the arts, and music, and issues of copyright law, if ChatGPT can generate articles, art, and song, what happens to individuals who are employed in those areas?

Littlejohn shares that the U.S. Copyright Office issued some new guidelines on March 16.

“At this point with copyright, it needs to have a human author. You can’t get a copyright for taking someone’s voice and using it in your song.

“You can use a ChatGPT prompt to say, ‘Create a picture in the style of Van Gogh.’ That is not enough to say that it’s like a creative work by a human author, so that’s the issue. What is going to be considered a creative work by a human author? How much input or what can I say or not say that might change that requirement? The law has not caught up with the technology in this space at all yet.”

Returning to the access to justice question, and to what extent ChatGPT can assist in closing the gap, how will this tool help the large number of individuals who cannot afford legal representation? While this issue has not yet been fully explored, it is one that can be addressed in the future.

Littlejohn says that ChatGPT may help close this gap in the future, but she cautions users against relying upon it in its current form for several reasons. It can be inaccurate, and there are privacy concerns. It also does not maintain client confidentiality.

For Ward, this tool may have the potential to impact access to justice in a positive way, but more work needs to be done.

Ward shares, “I think it takes really intentional intervention on the part of people like us and everybody who cares about the law, about legal services, and about the clients that we serve. We have to intervene and direct development and deployment of these new technologies to ensure that they result in a much broader, deeper set of tools to help people solve their problems.”

Ward observes another group that ChatGPT can be helpful for: attorneys. It has the power to make their lives easier.

“There are many lawyers around the state who do just wonderful work and have great relationships with their clients who could use these tools to help even more clients. If used properly, what these tools are going to do is empower them to be better service providers to their community and also have a more lucrative career.

“And effective use of technology can bring more joy to one’s work. If we can have technology do the things that we don’t wish to spend our time on, it opens up time for more joy, and maybe even more leisure among a field that is not known for its leisure time.”

More than anything, Ward hopes students and practitioners will maintain an open mindset towards advances in technology and the law.

“There is something aptitudinal about technology, but it’s really attitudinal. If we send students out into the world thinking, ‘Oh, I’m trying to learn what the law is,’ they’re going to miss opportunities to rethink paradigms of legal services and really miss opportunities to fix a broken industry – to improve legal services so that all can have access to resources, information and expertise, risk assessment, and clear direction to solve their problems. And really importantly, so that solo and small firm lawyers can access more clients, spend more time with them, do the things that they really find joy in and ultimately recognize more of their billable time. All of these things are possible with technology if you look at them the right way. So, I think that attitude is really important.”

Advances in technology have the potential to transform the legal field and enhance individuals’ lives. Recognizing these possibilities is something Ward hopes students will take from their experiences in law school.

“Can our law school graduates be on the lookout for ways to improve service delivery and processes and operations at their employers? Can they be the graduate who’s working at a mid-size law firm in Raleigh and helps the partnership to recognize the opportunity to maybe forego some profits on one year and make a technology investment that actually sets them up to be competitive for the next 15 years?

“I want our students to be those forward-looking people and not to necessarily be technologists but to be tech-friendly in ways that help them to see the opportunities to reshape services.”

The writer would like to thank Catherine Sanders Reach for discussing this article in its early stages and for sharing her insights on ChatGPT and the legal field.

Jessica Junqueira is communications manager for the North Carolina Bar Association.