With artificial intelligence (AI) growing at a rapid pace, many industries are looking at how AI, as well as new tech innovations more generally, can influence their ways of working. When looking at the legal sector in particular, AI presents a range of new opportunities, whether that’s supporting with research and drafting briefs or analysing contracts and reviewing documents.

The key to using this technology, like with anything new, is to ensure people are equipped with the knowledge to use it correctly. While AI may be new – this is a challenge we’ve faced before. When Google launched there were concerns raised over how it would impact assessments, and now it is so embedded into education we can’t imagine life without it. That is to say, let’s not be afraid of AI.  Instead let’s educate our future lawyers on how to use it sensibly and ethically, so they have all the tools, including AI, to be desk ready when they secure employment.

How AI is already being used in the sector 

Already we’re seeing that many practising lawyers are embracing AI, with 54% believing that it is a tool that can help with legal matters. In fact, earlier this year we saw law firm Allen & Overy launch its very own AI platform ‘Harvey’, a tool which will be rolled out to 3,500 of its staff to support with drafting contracts, generating insights and predictions, regulatory compliance and litigation.

Although this proved a successful trial, there have been plenty of stories on how AI has been a hinderance instead of a help. A recent court case in the US is the perfect example; an airline lawyer referenced legal cases that did not exist, after using an AI tool for his research. We will no doubt see other similar cases of unintended AI misuse as lawyers try to navigate the application of this new technology.

There’s no question that AI is being adopted across the sector, although with varying levels of success. With any new technology, as people learn how to use it safely and effectively, mistakes will be made. As those training the next generation of legal talent, it’s our responsibility to properly prepare them, and how to use AI effectively must play a key part in that.

The importance of training the next generation to use AI

Even though it’s still in its infancy, AI, just like the introduction of Google and Microsoft Teams, is likely to have a significant impact on how lawyers operate day-to-day.  As the technology develops, AI will likely become common place in the sector and training providers will need to adapt and consider how we prepare students to use AI in the workplace effectively and ethically.

We all have experience of AI in our personal lives, whether that’s using facial recognition to unlock our smartphones, getting personalised content on our social media or using Google maps to navigate our way around. However, to ensure future lawyers are desk ready and confident using AI in the workplace, there’s some further steps we need to take.

A good place to start is providing students with hands on experience and opportunities to use AI in a professional capacity before they join a firm. For example, our students have access to an AI powered personalised adaptive earning platform which uses machine learning technology to create personalised pathways for our students to learn at their own pace and gather insight on their performance. As a result, students can experience firsthand the benefits of using AI applications within the comfort of an educational environment, and stand them in good stead for when they move into the world of work.

Although the capabilities of Al are far reaching, and it’s likely to become embedded into the legal sector and education more widely, just as Google and Microsoft Teams have, I don’t think we’ll reach a point where it can replace lawyers or legal educators.

When it comes to legal education, while AI can be a useful tool to support learning, by providing personalised learning routes and new opportunities for student to connect with each other, it is by no means a silver bullet. Lecturers with experience and supportive classroom environments are still essential for students to become the desk ready lawyers of the future.

Jo-Anne Pugh is dean of BPP University Law School