Law Schools Are Lagging in AI Instruction, Newly Released MJLST Analysis Indicates

June 2, 2021

When a person writes software, makes a medical diagnosis, creates art or orders a drone strike, the law resolves many issues that arise. Take the coder, the physician, the artist or the military leader out the picture — as artificial intelligence (AI) is doing and increasingly promises to do — and the law will struggle.

In fact, the law already is struggling as artificial intelligence spreads beyond the realm of science fiction to intersect with legal theory and practice, according to Francis Shen, professor and McKnight Presidential Fellow.

“The law knows what to do with things that humans make,” Shen said. “But once humans are out of the loop, we’re in more difficult territory legally about how to handle it.”

The mounting real-world implications of artificial intelligence — in such sectors as patent law, torts, criminal law, human rights and health care — make it essential for law students to engage with AI and the law, said Shen. His leading research into the nexus of brain science and the law drove Shen’s interest in artificial intelligence, prompting him to develop and teach a Law & AI seminar.

Yet, Shen and Brendan Johnson ’19, who was a student in that course, found that less than a third of U.S. law schools — just 26 percent — offer at least one course with significant coverage of Law and AI. Thirteen percent offer more than one such course.

The results of Shen’s and Johnson’s research, the first detailed analysis of the extent to which U.S. law schools are exposing students to law and artificial intelligence issues in their coursework, was just published in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. The results are based on a review of 197 law school course catalogs that were available online.

“Students are going to see it in their practice whether they want to or not,” Shen said of AI. “Whether you have an interest in this or not, you’re probably going to encounter AI somehow in your practice. And, indeed, you should issue spot because it might be lurking under the scenes and you’re not even aware of it.”

Analysis of the data suggests that higher-ranked law schools are more likely to offer Law and AI courses, Shen said. 

“These courses are most heavily concentrated at the top-end schools, like Minnesota, Harvard, Yale and Stanford,” Shen said. “We’re clearly in this group that has a cluster of faculty and students who are thinking seriously about this and are going to be part of this conversation.”

At Minnesota Law, that includes, in addition to Shen: 

  • Susan Wolf, McKnight Presidential Professor of Law, Medicine & Public Policy, Faegre Baker Daniels Professor of Law, and Professor of Medicine, whose federally funded work in health law, law and science, and bioethics regularly confronts AI issues.
  • Jonathan Choi, associate professor of law, who specializes in tax law and computational analysis of law.
  • Daniel Schwarcz, Fredrikson & Byron professor of law, who in March published a paper on the potential for artificial intelligence to mirror human discrimination in health-care decision making
  • Ralph Hall, professor of practice and specialist in Food and Drug Administration regulation and health care, who helped to organize a symposium on law and policy regarding artificial intelligence in health care.

In their paper, Shen and Johnson, now a deputy public defender in Pennington County, South Dakota, recommend that law schools add Law & AI courses if they don’t have them and called on those with such courses to expand AI issues throughout their curriculum. Interdisciplinary partnerships within universities and involvement of local experts can support those goals. They also suggest that U.S. News & World Report create a new “Best Law & AI Programs” ranking category to spur law school investment in the subject.

Shen said he hoped to update the Law & AI course findings regularly in future papers.

“The point for law schools is to recognize, as the top law schools are, is that there are lot of legal issues here,” Shen said. “Instead of waiting on this stuff to hit the fan, let’s get out in front of it. Credit to my colleagues and to our dean [Garry W Jenkins] for being supportive of this type of work. At Minnesota we’re leading the way.”

—By Todd Nelson, a freelance writer in Lake Elmo, Minnesota

Professor Francis X. Shen
Professor Francis X. Shen

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