Computational Law: the next logical step in the legal system?
On April 30th, CodeX – The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics hosted the third annual FutureLaw 2015 conference, which focuses on how technology is changing the landscape of the legal profession and law as a whole. The program brought together academics, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and policymakers at the forefront of the technological transformation in the industry. Effacts CEO Harm Bavinck participated in a panel on “New Breakthroughs in Computational Law,” that covered issues relating to computable contracts, open data and legal applications of the blockchain. What is computational law? In his white paper, “Computational Law: The Cop in the Backseat” Michael Genesereth defines computational law as the legal branch that is concerned with automating legal analysis. Computational law has the potential to transform the legal profession by improving the quality and efficiency of services. The ultimate goal of the field is to develop computer systems that are capable of performing legal calculations such as compliance, planning, and regulatory analysis. Computational law software systems operate on the principles of representing facts and sentences in formal logic and use mechanical reasoning techniques to formulate consequences of the represented facts. Uses & applications Although it is clear we live in a complex regulatory environment with many layers, the good news is that the data necessary to conduct legal analysis already exists. While the technology has obvious implications for those seeking legal help, Genesereth contends in a broader sense it could be embedded in applications for everyday use to help people predict the consequences of their actions. For instance, if somebody is driving on an unfamiliar road and needs to make a U-turn, their legal app will inform them that it is not allowed and they could be subject to a fine. Limitations However, one major obstacle in computational law is that many laws can be openly interpreted. Genesereth points out that a regulatory sign stating “No vehicles allowed on grass” may be problematic to the legal software because it is unclear whether only cars are considered vehicles in this case, or whether skateboards, bicycles, and motorcycles fall into the same category. The Future of Computational Law Due to the complexity of the legal system and the number of ways in which laws can be interpreted, computational law can be used to ensure laws are applied properly for achieving social good. In this day and age, simply writing laws down is not sufficient, especially when they are difficult to interpret. More likely than not, computational law has the potential to be the next step in the evolution of the legal system.