Have you been tracking the progress of generative artificial intelligence (GAI) technologies? If not, the rapid advancements may feel overwhelming. I’ve been covering emerging technologies in the legal space for almost 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.
So if you’re feeling a bit behind, you’re not alone. Technology is changing — and fast. GAI tools, including large language model (LLM) chatbots are taking the legal space by storm. Legal professionals are showing an incredible interest in learning about this technology, and the thirst for knowledge about artificial intelligence tools is both surprising and refreshing.
If you haven’t yet gotten up to speed on this emerging technology, the good news is that there are a lot of opportunities to learn about it. Whether it’s legal conferences, CLEs, articles, or online courses, an abundance of educational opportunities are available.
One key area of focus has been prompting. The current GAI tools provide better results when the prompts, or questions input, are well crafted and provide the necessary foundational information. However, prompt creation is a relatively new concept, and as a result, a novel one to most people. For that reason, many law firms and law schools are focusing on teaching, not only about GAI, but also the art of the prompt.
While some in the legal profession have reacted to generative AI with knee-jerk bans, others have taken a more innovative and forward-thinking stance. A great example is Professor David Kempt’s approach.
Over the summer he taught a two-week course at Rutgers Law School that focused on generative AI tools like ChatGPT. The course covered “the fundamentals of how ChatGPT works (and the essential vocabulary, like AI, ML, NLP, and LLMs), the strengths and weaknesses of the tool as applied to specific tasks within law practice, and the ethical considerations — with an emphasis on developing the ability to assess the suitability of any AI-driven tool for use in a legal practice setting.”
It’s not just being taught at law schools; law firms are also jumping into the AI fray. An increasing number of law firms are relying on online courses to teach the ins and outs of GAI, including the risks and benefits, prompt engineering, and appropriate use cases.
For example, the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has been working with AltaClaro, an experiential learning provider for legal professionals. AltaClaro developed a course on GAI that includes training on prompt engineering. I recently spoke with AltaClaro co-founder and chief learning officer Julie Ryan, who explained that the course focuses on many different tools and is regularly updated to keep up with the rapidly changing technology.
According to Kate Orr, global head of practice innovation at Orrick, summer associates received training using the interactive online course. Due to the summer program’s success, there are plans to expand the training to other lawyers in the firm this fall.
Another example is SkillBurst Interactive, which is developing an on-demand online series, Generative AI Fundamentals for Law Firms for a consortium of firms that include Eversheds Sutherland, Hogan Lovells, Perkins Coie, Taft, Thompson Coburn, Womble Bond Dickinson, and Norton Rose Fulbright. Steve Gluckman, CEO of SkillBurst, shared that the first two modules of the series have already been rolled out, “Generative AI: Facts and Foundations” and “Generative AI Security: An Overview of Risks.” Going forward, two additional modules will be released every month to participating firms.
In other words, opportunities abound when it comes to learning about GAI and crafting prompts, whether you are a legal professional or a law student. Of course understanding prompts may be a short-lived need. Because GAI is advancing at such a rapid clip, it’s entirely possible that in a year or less prompts may no longer be an issue.
Soon, the software may very well have built-in functionality that will automatically interpret your request and craft an appropriate prompt on the backend of the software. Some legal software already does this for you, and this trend will likely increase as time goes on.
However, in the interim, understanding prompt engineering is important since it’s currently the only way to obtain useful and accurate results, especially with commercially available tools. Even if the need to understand prompt engineering disappears over time, this foundational knowledge will likely still be useful in the future. Just as was the case with legal research and Boolean inputs, or blogging and HTML, it’s always helpful to have an understanding of what’s happening on the backend of a software tool, should you ever need to troubleshoot an issue that you may encounter.
The bottom line: the rapid pace at which GAI is advancing poses both a challenge and an opportunity for our profession. As GAI tools evolve, staying abreast of these rapid changes is imperative. Rather than ignore this reality, law schools, and law firms should embrace change. Providing robust GAI training will empower legal professionals to keep pace with this rapid technological evolution. Investing in education now lays the foundation for learning and ensures the full potential of GAI is realized in legal practice tomorrow.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business and Community Relations at MyCase, web-based law practice management software. She’s been blogging since 2005, has written a weekly column for the Daily Record since 2007, is the author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York. She’s easily distracted by the potential of bright and shiny tech gadgets, along with good food and wine. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack and she can be reached at email@example.com.