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The Modern Law Library… and AI

Harvey Morrell

Harvey Morrell

“Libraries in the future are going to be mostly digital,” former SUNY-Buffalo Law Library Director Jim Milles said in 2005.

What do you see when someone says “law library”? I suspect most people picture a large room full of law books, with attorneys or law students sitting at long tables poring over a stack of those books. Until recently, this picture would have been a fairly accurate representation of academic law libraries due to the rigid interpretation of ABA Standard 606, the Standard that governs the type of collection a law library must have to gain or maintain accreditation. Because the official interpretation of Standard 606 noted that a collection consisting of only one format was likely to violate the Standard, most libraries continued collecting the same materials in digital and print formats. 

It wasn’t until the financial crisis hit in 2008 that academic law libraries were forced to change (law firm libraries had already changed in response to rising prices and space limitations). Suddenly, academic law librarians were required to make drastic budget cuts. For example, the materials budget went from over $1 million to just under $500,000 at the library where I worked. First to go were print copies of regional and state case reports from states outside the library’s jurisdiction and the state codes from other states. Law reviews and many loose-leaf materials followed. When all these materials are available digitally 24/7 from at least three fee-based providers and many free sites, not to mention being updated faster and more reliably, it doesn’t make sense to continue collecting them in print. 

Another change that facilitated the transition toward a more digitally-driven future was eliminating volume and title counts from statistics collected by the ABA and U.S. News. The ABA mandates law libraries to align with the mission of their respective institutions, which can vary significantly across universities. Consequently, law libraries catering to diverse institutional missions will adopt distinct approaches.

In line with the mission of Wilmington University Law Library, the institution aims to provide an affordable education that equips aspiring lawyers with the skills necessary to navigate today’s increasingly competitive and digital marketplace. This training involves utilizing various legal research databases and leveraging artificial intelligence (AI).

AI has become a prevalent topic in news stories, with numerous reports covering its influence in the legal field. One story highlighted a lawyer who faced sanctions after incorporating several fabricated cases (machine hallucinations) generated by ChatGPT into a court filing. Another story celebrated the fact that AI achieved scores in the 90th percentile, demonstrating its capability to pass the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE).

These stories predominantly describe generative AI, a type of artificial intelligence that leverages machine learning algorithms and large language models (LLMs) to generate novel content. Unlike traditional AI, which is programmed to respond to specific inputs, generative AI is designed to be creative and produce original outputs, encompassing diverse domains such as art, music, text, and voice synthesis.

The use of generative AI in law schools is still in its early stages, but it clearly has the potential to revolutionize legal education. Legal databases like Lexis and Westlaw have used traditional AI for several years to generate search results in response to natural language search prompts. With the maturation of generative AI, both services are investing in AI and integrating it into their product offerings. It should be mentioned that when Lexis and Westlaw first came onto the legal market, they suffered some of the same deficiencies that generative AI currently has with reliability and scope of coverage. Now they are how most legal research is done today. 

The use of AI in law schools is likely to continue to grow in the years to come. As AI technology develops, it will become more powerful and sophisticated. 

This will allow AI to automate even more tasks and provide more insight. AI can help law students become more effective lawyers by offering assistance in the following ways:

Legal research: AI-powered legal research tools can help law students find relevant case law, statutes, and regulations quickly and easily.  These tools can also help students identify and analyze legal issues. 

Document review: AI-powered document review tools can help law students review large volumes of documents quickly and accurately. These tools can also help students identify potential legal issues and to flag important documents. 

Document drafting: AI-powered drafting tools can help law students draft documents, like contracts, quickly and accurately. These tools can also help students identify and address potential legal issues. 

Legal writing: AI-powered legal writing tools can help law students improve their writing skills. These tools can provide feedback on grammar, style, and clarity. 

However, there are some challenges that law schools face in incorporating AI into their curriculum, including:

Cost: AI-powered tools can be expensive. This can make it difficult for law schools to afford to implement these tools on a large scale. 

Accuracy: Currently, AI-powered tools are not always accurate. This can lead to errors in legal research, document review, contract drafting, and legal writing. 

Ethics: There are ethical concerns about the use of AI in law schools. For example, some people worry that AI could be used to automate tasks performed by lawyers, which could lead to job losses. Others worry that AI could be used to create biased or unfair systems. 

Despite these challenges, the use of AI in law schools is expected to continue its growth trajectory. The benefits AI offers are too significant to disregard. The dynamic landscape of legal education demands an embrace of technological advancements that can empower law students and equip them with the necessary skills to thrive in an evolving legal profession. As AI continues to evolve, its integration into legal education will play an increasingly vital role, fostering innovation and driving progress.

— By Harvey Morrell

Harvey Morrell is the law librarian at the Wilmington University School of Law.

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