In a March 26 article in Les Echos, Clara Le Stum reported on the general absence of exposure to new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, in French legal studies. As Professor Bruno Dondero of the Sorbonne Law School/Paris 1 stated, “It is remarkable that when I ask an amphitheater of 300 third-year students who has previously heard the term “legaltech” . . . only one student raises their hand.”
Although legal professionals agree that legal technologies are too little discussed in French law schools, Le Stum noted that “justice is moving fast towards digital technology and the new technologies strongly impact the uses, the practice, and the professions of the law.” She rightly recognized that law students must be sensitized to technological developments “without becoming computer experts.” Professor Dondero’s approach is “to make as many references as possible to new technologies in his classes. In his words, “Teachers and students have a duty to be vigilant about what becomes possible with new technologies.”
Another approach that Le Stum highlights is the “LAB,” a project of the Paris School of Law (EFB) that offers “a mandatory module for all new promotions to make them aware of the digital transformation of their profession.” As Alexis Deborde, LAB’s pedagogical manager, explained, “We help future lawyers to adopt digital tools so that they are better and more productive, we put them back in the 21st century.” But Deborde also recognizes that “it is only at the end of their law studies, when they are about to be a lawyer, that they are given keys to practice in another way.”
In general, American law schools appear more attuned to the need to integrate information about new technologies into their curricula. For example, at the law school where I teach, Georgetown University Law Center, the curriculum for J.D. students addresses AI in multiple courses on the law of AI and robotics, and addresses blockchain in multiple courses about derivatives law and regulation, technology policy, and FinTech law. Georgetown is hardly alone in that respect. Duke Law School, for example, not only has several courses on AI on the law and a Law & Policy Lab on blockchain, but a university-wide Blockchain Lab in which students, professors, and professional participate.
In one branch of the curriculum, however, law schools everywhere need to ensure that law students are introduced to new technologies. That branch is courses and seminars dedicated to corporate-compliance issues. Many courses that focus on key areas of compliance, such as anti-money laundering, bribery and corruption, and sanctions, are taught by practitioners who provide excellent coverage of the legal, policy, and ethical issues associated with those areas. But they often do not do enough to inform students about the roles that new technologies play in corporate compliance, or to sensitize them to the ethical and compliance issues that those technologies can pose.
Once they graduate, many students will enter private law firms or consulting firms, in which they may soon be called on to assist in representing corporate clients with serious compliance issues. To function effectively as lawyers in those environments, they must know how AI and other digital systems need to be designed and operate to meet compliance, legal, and ethical obligations.
For that reason, law schools here and abroad should review their compliance-related courses and seminars, and prevail on professors teaching those courses to include specific information about new technologies in those courses. At law schools such as American, Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford, law students are already demonstrating the keenness of their interest in new technologies by forming student associations dedicated to AI, blockchain, FinTech, and legal technology, and by supporting law school websites dedicated to such topics. The earlier in their law school careers that law students can integrate legal, ethical, and technological knowledge and understand the real-world implications of that collective knowledge, the better equipped they will be as lawyers to meet the increasingly complex needs of their clients.