New Technology? Cue the Panic

With the emergence of ChatGPT and similar AI products and the panic it’s brought in the education sphere, I thought it would be a good exercise to take a look at what was happening in the 1990s when computer technology was being introduced into law schools and legal practice. Admittedly, I was in high school at this point and using a dial-up modem to write emails from my family’s shared Compuserve account, so I saw no reason to be afraid of this technology. But what was happening in legal scholarship and bar journals? Was there panic like there is with ChatGPT? Let’s take a look.

There were concerns about legal scholarship, copyright, and making those articles available online. Questions arose about federal government record-keeping laws and whether they were sufficient to ensure government entities preserved email messages. Another article (Oops – Can I Take It Back) cautioned practitioners about pitfalls around attorney-client privilege and electronic communication, including fax messages, cell phone calls, and email messages. One author cautioned attorneys that not using computerized technology in their practice could be malpractice. And the tale as old as time: in Research the Old-Fashioned Way we read that not everything is available online, so sometimes print is better (or necessary).

Some of the above concerns are still being talked about today. There are now ABA rules on tech competency (see comment 8 to Rule 1.1). Conversations are still happening about print and online research. But the potential problems with email, cell phones, computer-assisted legal research, or even fax machines did not stop the widespread adoption of new technologies in the 1990s. We may be hesitant about the continued development of AI products but I think the past has shown us that the future marches on. Our job is to learn how to teach students and attorneys how to use these products the best way, the most professional way, and the most competent way. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.


Stuart W. Hubbard & Gregory S. Johnson, Avoid Malpractice – Automate – Computerization Is a Necessity for the ’90s, 79 A.B.A. J. 88 (1993).

Margaret M. Joffe & Edward J. Rice Jr., Oops – Can I Take It Back, 62 DEF. Counsel J. 450 (1995).

James D. Lewis, White House Electronic Mail and Federal Recordkeeping Law: Press D to Delete History, 93 MICH. L. REV. 794 (1995).

Sidney A. Rosenzweig, Don’t Put My Article Online: Extending Copyright’s New-Use Doctrine to the Electronic Publishing Media and Beyond, 143 U. PA. L. REV. 899 (1995).

Charlotte W. Smith, Research the Old-Fashioned Way: Finding What’s Not Online, 32 Trial 60 (May 1996).

Research Librarian, Perkins Coie LLP