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Michigan Law School Bans ChatGPT Generated Applications

By Natasha Bakirci, LLB, LLM | Last updated on

At a London party in 1883, Oscar Wilde, arguably one of the greatest literary geniuses of all time, begrudgingly remarked on painter James McNeill Whistler's witticism with "I wish I had said that." Whistler reportedly quipped "You will Oscar, you will."

American playwright William Inge famously claimed, "Originality is undetected plagiarism."

So, what's with all the quotes you ask? This age-old quest for ingenuity is increasingly coming to the fore with the whirlwind rise of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI), such as the November 2022 launch of ChatGPT, which has already raised a plethora of ethical questions (as well as getting some people in serious trouble).

Generative AI Worrying Educators

Oh, those stressful days of university applications and the daunting task of submitting your personal statement and application essays. They take time and effort, and the rewards of doing a good job are uncertain. Will they even be read? The temptation to use large language models (LLMs) as a workaround is understandable. Enter in a prompt or two and wash your hands of it. Easy as pie, right?

Perhaps not. If you are hoping to apply to the University of Michigan Law School better steer clear of ChatGPT. In the Summer of 2023, their admissions department imposed an outright ban on the use of any so-called Chatbots or AI tools. Michigan appears to be the first law school to require candidates to certify that they have not made use of any AI tools to draft their applications. Michigan Law School hopefuls will also have to attest that they have not allowed another human to do more than "basic proofreading or general feedback." Although difficult to prove, anyone found to have lied about this runs the risk of having their admission revoked or eventual expulsion.

However, enrolled students are not precluded by Michigan Law School's Honor Code from using AI, and this is left for professors to decide individually.

Other Schools Take Different Approach

Other law schools have adopted a more flexible approach. ChatGPT aficionados might feel more comfortable applying to Arizona State University Law School, which has announced that it will allow applicants to use ChatGPT and is even offering a course on it, open across majors. The University of California, Berkeley School of Law also appears to be more amenable to the use of AI and was one of the first law schools in the country to adopt a formal policy on the topic.

Is Generative AI an Unescapable Reality for Lawyers?

Lawyers are especially susceptible to the proliferation of AI tools, due to the nature of the job — and its heavy emphasis on finding relevant precedents and drafting submissions.

Blind use of AI is a perilous minefield, however, as large language models are prone to "hallucinations" also known as "confabulations." That's when AI eloquently and convincingly drafts something that has no factual basis. It is any lawyer's (and client's, for that matter) nightmare. This is a fact attorneys at Levidow, Levidow & Oberman P.C. found out perhaps a little too late, when the judge held that their ChatGPT-generated federal court brief relied on "bogus judicial decisions with bogus quotes and bogus internal citations." Their team was eventually fined $5000 for acting in bad faith.

It's not only law school faculties that are having to establish parameters for the safe use of AI. The extent to which lawyers are required to declare any use of AI to their clients and the court is a professional conduct issue that regulators all over the world are currently considering. This also raises confidentiality concerns, should clients' details be inputted into open AI generative tools, such as ChatGPT.

Modern Working Methods

Unless you're bold or reckless enough to copy and paste reams of text verbatim, what is the difference between using AI as a source of inspiration and how previous generations would discuss ideas with teachers and friends? Or even consult printed library books and encyclopedias?

Could tools such as ChatGPT be seen as Millenials/Gen Z's equivalent to the beloved calculator or the "spinning jenny," the 1764 invention of which led to a great number of people being replaced at work by machines? Is history merely repeating itself?

Perhaps accepting the use of AI whilst being mindful to eliminate as far as possible its potential deficiencies and pitfalls is the best way forward. In any event, might it be argued that originality is oftentimes paraphrasing at best, and provided that one's sources, due diligence, and personal interpretation are clear — there should be no foul? Whatever your opinion, the legal industry, and particularly law schools, are still working through the best ways to incorporate this emerging technology. Until those rules become clearer, law students and legal professionals should be thoughtful about their use of LLMs in their work.

What would ChatGPT have to say about this, we wonder?

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