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WVU Law Pedagogy on Forefront of AI

If you were to walk into the law school this fall, you would find many classes that have been taught for over a century: torts, contracts, criminal law, etc. But you might be surprised at some other classes today’s law students can take at West Virginia University College of Law.

Student sits in class at WVU Law

As the field of law has evolved, and especially as advances in artificial intelligence have changed the legal landscape, the College of Law has innovated its course offerings. For example, the College of Law has offered Artificial Intelligence and the Law since 2020. Professor Amy Cyphert, who developed the course, notes that it provides students with a background in the important concepts in the field of AI, as well as an overview of all the ways that AI is changing the practice of law. The class is so timely that Professor Cyphert builds days into the syllabus to cover all the breaking news that has happened in the field since the start of the semester. 

In a favorite moment from the spring of 2024, she was leading the class in a conversation on AI and antitrust when students started receiving breaking news announcements that the government had brought antitrust actions against Apple. Students learn about large language models like ChatGPT, hear from experts in cybersecurity, and review computer science research papers.

Also during the Spring 2024 semester, Professor Alison Peck pioneered a new course designed to prepare law students for work for the AI era, Entrepreneurship for Lawyers. In contrast with most law school courses on entrepreneurship, which teach law students to provide traditional legal services to entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship for Lawyers put students in the innovation driver’s seat as they practiced the method and mindset of being an entrepreneur. With AI set to disrupt not only the provision of legal services but every industry and the justice system itself, students engaged in exercises on identifying, developing, and pitching their own ideas for innovating across sectors. 

Moving from concept to practice, they also met with representatives of West Virginia’s exceptional “Entrepreneurship Ecosystem,” which connects new entrepreneurs in our state with the resources and support they need at every stage of their ventures. Students practiced skills like idea generation, lean business modeling, customer journey mapping, and rapid prototyping. Through these exercises, students not only learned foundational skills for creating and launching innovative ventures but also developed the types of human qualities that experts predict will be most in demand in the AI era – empathy, creativity, discernment, and dexterity.

Of course, generative AI can sometimes get things very wrong, and professors need to teach students about that possibility as well. Professor Elaine Wilson explicitly allowed the use of AI in two of her upper-level classes last year: Nonprofit Organizations and Estate Planning. Both of these classes require the production of client documents as the primary method of class assessment. The students were allowed to use generative AI to assist in drafting documents that, in practice, are often started from a base form, such as articles & bylaws and wills and trusts. Ironically, the explicit allowance of the technology and the discussion of its use resulted in the students being appropriately wary of AI - wary enough that they often chose not to use it. 

During a live exercise in Nonprofits class, AI generated a disastrously wrong answer, which was eye opening for the students. The hope is that through the actual use of these tools, students can see both their benefits and their limitations so that they can approach the use of generative AI in an effective and professional manner. After all, that is always the goal of any class taught on law school hill: helping produce the next generation of lawyers who are practice ready, ethical, and up to whatever challenges await them. 

For more information, please contact Professor Cyphert at  

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