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Oxford PPE student warns that Oxford law students risk being ‘left behind’ because their degree is too traditional

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Law schools need to adapt, even the best ones

The University of Oxford

A tech-savvy University of Oxford Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) student has rung the alarm bell on the future careers of aspiring lawyers.

Writing in student newspaper Cherwell under the headline ‘Oxford lawyers, quit your degrees. Now’, forward-thinking first year Michael Shao — whose CV includes a committee post at the Model United Nations — argues that software systems and artificial intelligence (AI) are beginning to encroach on lawyers’ turf. Not only can these systems now review documents “with increasingly higher levels of accuracy than their human counterparts”, Shao also thinks they are refining their legal prediction skills. The keen coder, who is originally from New Jersey, notes:

Researchers at Michigan State University and South Texas College of Law constructed a statistical model that was able to predict the outcomes of 71% of United States Supreme Court cases. Forget about Neil Gorsuch.

Though developments in technology are good, Shao concludes his piece — which *trigger warning* includes a photo of a gavel — by saying it’s important to think long-term and prepare for these developments. “When it comes to law”, he says, “there is no debate that some form of adaptation needs to be made.” While American high schools, for example, are teaching mandatory computer science courses, the law curriculum at the University of Oxford is not following suit. His piece finishes:

I do expect certain forms of law, like litigation, mediation, and negotiation that require a living-breathing lawyer to do something in person, to survive. But, if that’s not the case for you, young, budding, aspiring Oxford law student, then you’re out of luck… Welcome to the fourth Industrial Revolution, Oxonians. Don’t get left behind.

Shao’s thoughts bear similarities to Professor Richard Susskind’s. The top legal technology academic and author spoke to Legal Cheek during a live Facebook broadcast, during which he argued that law students are graduating ill-prepared for the challenges of modern legal practice. He urged law schools to future-proof students by offering unconventional tech modules on their LLB courses.

You can watch the video in full here:

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31 Comments

Anonymous

wow, taking advice from a PPE student, that’s new

(61)(1)

Charlotte

I PPE’d by self in an interview and it held me back.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

What does a PPEasy student know about the relevance of an Oxford law degree?

(59)(1)

MC NQ

What does a first year PPE student know about practising as a lawyer?

(73)(1)

Anonymous

“Researchers at Michigan State University and South Texas College of Law constructed a statistical model that was able to predict the outcomes of 71% of United States Supreme Court cases. Forget about Neil Gorsuch.”

That is actually a poor effort given that the USSC is invariably split down ideological lines. Any decent US appellate lawyer could give a better prediction than that.

(41)(1)

Anonymous

People doing LLBs at Warwick or London South Bank should be worried

A degree in sociology from Oxford is worth more than either

(16)(39)

Oxford Pupil

You do realise that Warwick, whilst not as ‘good’ as Oxbridge, is one of the best universities in the country? There’s no way in hell that you can compare it to LSBU.

(38)(6)

Anonymous

Why is Warwick being singled out here ?

(18)(2)

Anonymous

I sense a familiar culprit behind this troll post. Ignore it folks.

(3)(2)

Biased Oxford law student

I think this is rubbish. Teaching law students basic coding will not help us unless we devote the entirety of our degrees to it, reaching proficiency where we might apply legal knowledge to the back-end development of software. In any event, the factual knowledge we currently learn (Roman law, criminal law, tort law) is going to be irrelevant for those heading to the city, which is where AI is becoming a thing. The transferable skills are what matters to employers.

It’s probably true that AI will cause the job market to shrink, but it also means less monotonous work for trainee lawyers. A substantial part of city law is essentially business management, which cannot be replaced by AI to the same extent as proofreading can.

(23)(1)

Anonymous

“*trigger warning* includes a photo of a gavel” – funniest thing I’ve ever read on here!

(14)(1)

Anonymous

All this hype about AI transforming the profession such that junior lawyers need to learn coding is about as credible as Legal Cheek’s obsession that “rookie” lawyers will enhance their careers through a carefully curated twitter profile…

(13)(2)

Anonymous

Trash article

(6)(1)

Anonymous

What a pompous and sanctimonious young man.

So he’s put together the fact that the Oxford law course is traditional and that the legal world is using more technology and decided that Oxford law students should quit their degrees. What a mish mash of nonsense.

Only an Oxford student would be so arrogant to think that they, as an 18 year old, have anything useful to impart on a profession laced by our brightest minds.

No doubt Mummy was pleased. Sit down and go back to the library.

(51)(1)

Anonymous

Yeah, Oxford University graduates are one of the most persecuted minorities in the UK.

(20)(1)

Anonymous

I don’t get it.

(2)(4)

Anonymous

Has this guy ever done document review? I have and I can guarantee you most of it could never be replaced by AI. Technology has helped but won’t go much further.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

I disagree. Doc review is at the forefront of being carried out by AI. And that’s a good thing because it’s a bloody depressing activity.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

THE model united nations. Oh Katie…

(13)(0)

Scep Tick

Note that a PPE undergrad has the time to write an article in a student rag. This is because PPE is a piece of cake and requires maybe 10 minutes per week actual studying. But it gives them the time to shmooze politicians and land those SPADships.

(11)(2)

Anonymous

Lol from someone studying the doss course that is PPE

(5)(1)

Anonymous

LOL.

As much as this guy is well-meaning and probably quite right, he clearly has no idea how the UK legal industry works.

It’s old school tie, and most importantly old college scarf, particularly at the Bar.

He can try telling these people things, but they wont take any notice. The UK legal industry would literally go down like a sinking ship (along with the rest of the country post Brexit) before anyone took any notice. You see, being able to reminisce about your days on the Balliol playing fields and converse about the plans for the new accommodation block is worth more than up to date practical knowledge.

(3)(6)

Anonymous

‘whose CV includes a committee post at the Model United Nations’

You mean either his high school or university’s model UN (MUN) society, right?

(11)(0)

Michael T.

As much as he is well meaning and technology is making changes in the field of law, the accuracy of legal prediction is only because of finding buzz words, search terms, and the such. The large reason why it works in the USA is because of the heavy ideological stances of the justices there, and quite frankly, judgements from that area of the world are more akin to reading from a science textbook than poetry (as in the case in the UK and Australia).

But read through many of the landmark decisions in Australia (my jurisdiction – our longest judgment is a dissenting judgement going for 300 paragraphs in Workchoices, we also have this case: Westpac Banking Corporation v The Bell Group Ltd (in liq) [No 3] [2012] WASCA 157 which has a 3614 paragraph judgment) and England (where the House of Lords will differ on such minute points).

If you search for the key-word ‘neighbour’ in Stone v Dobinson or Donoghue v Stevenson, it will have too many hits across too many judges which may not all be law anyway but mere obiter. Not to mention circumstances where a lone dissenter later becomes the Chief Justice and what was a dissent becomes the majority. It would be like trying to say that all documents in your discovery where the word ‘Shareholder’ is mentioned is important – guess what, it’s in all of them.

You also have to take into account the human aspect – the common law by it’s very nature, is organic. Sure these programmes might be able to predict the next ruling, but that is based on what data exists. Judicial discretion by it’s very nature and society by definition can change at any moment, that is where a programme cannot succeed, it needs controlled variables, quantifiable data which can be put through an equation. But a part of being human – and your interaction with the law – is not quantifiable and so as long as humans make law, impart law, and are governed by law, it can only really be the human lawyer who would be able to translate this plane of differing theories into an outcome for a client.

And we haven’t even considered policy yet!

(8)(1)

Anonymous

Yawn.

(4)(4)

Anonymous

LLB courses have a lot more to worry about than this. Combination of Brexit (losing staff, students and funding), having to consider whether to adapt given the SQE proposals, and the Teaching Excellence Framework, means they have much bigger and immediate priorities to adapt to than technology.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

‘I am sure that Oxford law students are going to be left behind in the legal profession’ Absolute poppycock. Another silly article from you Legal Cheek, get somebody from the real world!

(2)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

This is a frankly ridiculous article – no competent Oxford graduate is going to ‘left behind’. Are you kidding me Michael Shao

(3)(0)

T Bowden

Briefcase Wanker

(3)(0)
(1)(0)

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