Law and Computer Science: 2019-2020
The legal system is entering a period of profound transformation brought on by new technologies and alternative business models. Legal innovation backed by new technologies can drive down costs, make the delivery of legal services more productive, and facilitate better access to justice for citizens. As AI and digital technology permeate more of our lives, they increasingly becomes the source of legally significant events. This means that those who study and/or practice law increasingly need to understand the digital context. At the same time, those who study computer science and/or develop software increasingly need to understand potential legal consequences of design choices.
This course, jointly offered by the Law Faculty and the Department of Computer Science, will introduce students from both backgrounds to the terrain at the boundaries of their two disciplines. The overarching theme is understanding law and computer science at their intersection.
Such interdisciplinary understanding requires both lawyers and computer scientists to develop an appreciation of the way in which they typically approach problems, with very different analytic tools. A key pedagogical strategy for the course is to teach law and computer science students together, and in particular for them to collaborate on a groupwork practical exercise. This will accelerate both groups’ acculturation to each others’ analytic perspectives through learning from each other as well as from faculty.
The course will engage with three distinct but complementary sets of questions:
- The overarching, core theme is to explore how computer scientists and lawyers of the future will need to work together. Today, they do not share a common language or have a common understanding of concepts such as ‘rules’ or ‘fairness’? How can such mutual understanding best be forged?
- Digital technology in legal practice. How is digital technology being deployed in key areas of “legal work” such as contracting and dispute resolution? What commercial imperatives, and legal and technological constraints, operate on this deployment? How are they likely to shape its future trajectory?
- Digital technology and substantive law. How are concepts and analytic methods from computer science pertinent to the application of substantive law? Are there any gaps in existing legal doctrine that will need to be addressed, and if so, how? Do common themes emerge in the challenges that arise and the ways in which they should be addressed?
To foster close interdisciplinary dialogue and ensure balance, the course will be open to only 12 students from each discipline.
Students will participate in 32 hours of lecture-seminars, designed to promote in-depth discussion and dialogue between law and computer science. These will be divided into 16 x 2 hour sessions. With a few exceptions, each sessions will begin with a 30 mins lecture in law and a 30 mins lecture in computer science - followed by a 60 mins seminar-style discussion of related ideas. In all but one of these sessions, computer science and law students will be taught together. The sessions will be led by relevant law and computer science lecturers, who will lead the class through a group of relevant issues for discussion. The final content for each session will depend upon the particular interests of the lecturers.
Michaelmas term 2019 - Lectures will be held in the Law Faculty, Law Board Room, St Cross Building, on Tuesdays 11am-1pm.
The students will undertake a practical project in small groups, each with both computer scientists and lawyers. The practical project is explicitly dersigned to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and understanding. Completion of the practical will take a total of 20-30 hours, of which 10 will be spent in contact hours with Faculty members from both law and computer science. Assessment will be based on a group presentation, a short group written report, and a one-page individual report - with the practical as a whole graded individually as S-, S or S+.
Classes and Tutorials
Computer science students will receive 2.5 hours of classes on essay writing. Law students will have 8 hours of tutorials.
The course will be assessed by means of two 3,000 word essays, written in response to a selection of questions released during Trinity Term. Computer Science and Law students will be given the same paper. One essay will be on topics studies in the part of the course on digital technology in legal practice. The other essay will be on topics studied in the part of the course on digital technology and substantive law.
The principal learning outcome for this course will be that participants will gain the ability to talk to and work with students from the other discipline, in order to produce solutions to the kinds of practical, technical and legal problems that arise in this area. This will be achieved in part through the other learning outcomes, which are as follows:
- A grasp of the ways in which technology is changing the process of being a lawyer, including career structures, business models and legal practice.
- An understanding of the ways in which law has an impact on software development.
- An awareness of the ethical issues surrounding software development and how these can best be handled through both law and computer science.
- An understanding of the impact of technology on particular areas of black letter law and the need for joint solutions to the challenges that arise as a result.
- Improved presentation, writing and critical skills.
Introductory Sessions: divided by a common language?
Week 2: Introduction to Key Disciplinary Concepts
- Introduction to Computer Science for Lawyers - Tom Melham, Jassim Happa.
- Introduction to Law for Computer Scientists - Rebecca Williams.
Digital Technology in Legal Practice
Digital Technology and Substantive Law
Lecturers for each of the sessions will provide reading lists on the Course Materials webpage.
Students are formally asked for feedback at the end of the course. Students can also submit feedback at any point here. Feedback received here will go to the Head of Academic Administration, and will be dealt with confidentially when being passed on further. All feedback is welcome.
Taking our courses
Matriculated University of Oxford students who are interested in taking this course, or others in the Department of Computer Science, must complete this online form by 17.00 on Friday of 0th week of term in which the course is taught. Late requests, and requests sent by email, will not be considered. All requests must be approved by the relevant Computer Science departmental committee and can only be submitted using this form. Priority will be given to students studying for degrees in the Department of Computer Science.