Legal Writing or Dating Profiles?

Nov. 6, 2023

A new article from Professor Diana Simon discusses the shortcomings of Generative AI in legal writing.

Diana Simon

A recent article on generative AI in legal writing by Associate Clinical Professor of Law Diana Simon has received widespread attention. With a humorous approach to the capabilities of ChatGPT, it discussed how currently available AI tools can and should be used.

In the article, “More True Confessions of a Legal Writing Professor: Chat GPT Makes a Better Therapist Than a Lawyer,” Simon wrote about how she tested ChatGPT and Google Bard on common tasks for law students, like identifying issues in a case and writing research memos. The article noted that the legal writing capacities of the current generative AI models lag behind lawyers and law students. For example, she pointed out where AI had overlooked a key issue in briefing a case. She concluded that tools like ChatGPT right now may be better suited to other tasks, like “creat[ing] a very funny dating profile.”

“The article was designed to be an irreverent tongue-in-cheek article about ChatGPT,” said Simon. “I was surprised at the attention that it got over much more serious articles that approached [the subject].”

Currently, Simon is incorporating generative AI into her legal writing course, though students can only use ChatGPT and other tools with professor permission. For example, students will be experimenting with the use of ChatGPT to assist with writing transitions, use of passive voice, and punctuation. 

According to Simon, exercises like these will familiarize students with AI tools, but “they’ll still have to do their own thinking on the research and the writing portion. They’re not going to be in a position to judge whether ChatGPT is doing a good job or not until they learn all the fundamentals.”

Simon has built a niche out of somewhat irreverent musings on the finer points of legal writing. The recent article was part of a regular “True Confessions of a Legal Writing Professor” column she writes for “The Arizona Lawyer.” She also writes frequently for Law360, including another recent column called “Yada, Yada, Yada: The Magic of 3 in Legal Writing.”

In 2022, Simon published “The (Not Too Serious) Grammar, Punctuation, and Style Guide to Legal Writing.” Another book is in the works, this time more straightlaced. The working title is “A Legal-Writing Casebook: Opinions, Problems, and Commentary.”

Prior to joining the University of Arizona Law faculty, Simon was a litigator for nearly three decades. Despite her lighthearted approach, she believes in the basics. “When you first learn legal writing, some students will feel like you’re squelching their creativity because you’re imposing a structure on them that they’re not familiar with,” Simon said. “And what I say is, ‘Let’s learn best practices. Let’s learn what the structure is and then when you get really comfortable with that structure, and you’ve you gained expertise in it, then you can deviate from that structure.’”

Readers can continue to look forward to Simon’s insight. Wearing a bright turquoise shirt emblazoned with a semi-colon during the interview for this article (a gift from students, she said), she noted, “The topics are endless because there’s always another grammar or punctuation issue.”