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Can You Ethically Use AI in Law School?

Justine Griffin


  • While generative artificial intelligence, or GAI, has the potential to revolutionize research and writing, there are concerns about academic dishonesty and plagiarism. Many educational institutions are grappling with how to regulate GAI use while still allowing students to benefit from it.
  • The article provides five guardrails for using GAI ethically, including using it for research rather than writing, always citing sources, using it to supplement learning rather than avoiding it, checking work for facts and plagiarism, and seeking feedback from professors or librarians.
Can You Ethically Use AI in Law School?

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In academia, the use of generative artificial intelligence (GAI), which includes tools like ChatGPT and, has been a topic of much discussion in recent months. It has the potential to revolutionize the way you and your professors approach research and writing but could also lead to academic dishonesty and plagiarism.

This has led many educational institutions to grapple with how to regulate the use of GAI best—either through software tools, ending take-home exams, or putting further restrictions on papers—while still allowing students to take advantage of its many benefits. Other schools are implementing AI-focused education classes.

You’re probably also grappling with how you can use GAI in your projects and essays without risking your academic integrity. 

Law Students Wary of AI

A recent report shows that, surprisingly, law students are more apprehensive about using Generative AI than lawyers—with specific concerns about the accuracy and validity of GAI output as well as the potential academic integrity pitfalls from its use. At the time of publication, 83 percent expressed concerns with the ethical implications of generative AI; only 13 percent indicated it would positively impact industry, and 8 percent responded that they had fundamental concerns and would not use generative AI. Certainly, those numbers are likely to change, but the concerns stay the same, especially in light of recent reports about lawyers misusing  the technology.

The good news is that there are ways you can use GAI ethically and effectively and without crossing the line into academic dishonesty. Here are five guardrails you should follow to maximize your productivity and knowledge-gathering without risking your academic integrity:

1. Use GAI for Research, Not Writing.

GAI can be incredibly useful for generating topic ideas, research, and outlining your writing. But when it comes time to write papers or essays, it’s critical that you use your own words and ideas.

The best way to use GAI is as a tool to help organize your thoughts and research, not as a shortcut to doing the work itself. Frankly, GAI’s writing leaves much to be desired, and most law students are much more proficient with the pen. Many schools are implementing technologies to catch AI use, but professors with a practiced eye can usually spot its “canned” prose as well.

2. Always Cite Your Sources.

Citing sources is a must with any research, including when using GAI. This includes academic journals, websites, and other sources, but to be safe, you should also cite when you’ve used GAI to generate ideas or structure a document. This can include the name of the tool, the website where you accessed it, and any other relevant information.

3. Use GAI to Learn, Not to Avoid Learning.

While GAI can be incredibly helpful for learning new concepts and improving writing skills, it’s not a replacement for learning. Going back to the recent survey of law students, some law students recognized that GAI could increase their efficiency but also decrease the quality of their work or inhibit critical thinking.

Don’t rely on GAI to complete your assignments or projects. Rather, use it as a tool to supplement your learning and research. There’s no substitute for doing the work, and taking shortcuts now will be detrimental to your future career.

4. Check Your Work for Facts, Plagiarism, and Hallucinations.

This may seem obvious, but avoiding simply copying and pasting text generated by GAI is important. As we’ve seen, GAI has earned its place in infamy for fabricating (and defending!) plausible-sounding but nonexistent case law, news, events, and more.

Before including it in your papers and essays, take the time to read, understand, and fact-check any GAI output—and redraft it in your own words. This helps you avoid plagiarism (and looking foolish if erroneous information is discovered) and ensures that you truly understand the material.

Some of the top legal research platforms already have tools baked in to help with this. But you can also use plagiarism-checking software like Turnitin or Grammarly to identify instances where your writing might be too similar to existing sources.

5. Get Feedback from Your Librarian, Professor, or Teaching Assistant.

If you’re unsure whether using GAI would compromise your academic integrity, one good idea is to get feedback from a campus librarian, law professor, or TA. They can help you understand what is and isn't acceptable in using GAI, enabling you to leverage the technology’s benefits while upholding your school’s academic policies and principles.

The legal tech industry is still figuring out how to ethically and responsively implement GAI into its products and services so the profession can receive the maximum benefit while mitigating the risk of using AI models trained on the open web. It may take time for this to fully come to fruition, but it’s more important to get it right than do it quickly—and potentially alienate practitioners.

For law students, this means that—for now—you’re on your own. And you must understand both the benefits and risks of using open-web GAI tools to supplement and optimize your studies.