Law and Computer Science: 2023-2024
See our video trailer for a brief introduction to the course.
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. Increasingly law firms are interested in hiring not just those with legal skills but also those with technical skills, and so there are exciting career opportunities for those working at the intersection of law and technology
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.
The interdisciplinary understanding this course seeks to foster requires both lawyers and computer scientists to develop an appreciation of how they typically approach problems with very different analytic tools. A key pedagogical strategy for the course is to put law and computer science students together for almost all of the course activities, and in particular for a number of group work exercises. This will accelerate both groups’ acculturation to each other’s analytic perspectives through learning from each other as well as from faculty.
The course content will engage with three distinct but complementary sets of questions:
- The core theme is this: How will computer scientists and lawyers of the future need to work together? Do they at present have a common language and a common understanding of concepts such as “rules” or “fairness”? If not, how can such a common approach best be forged?
This is then developed in two auxiliary themes:
- 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 legal questions: 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?
A varied group of colleagues from the Law Faculty and the Department of Computer Science, as well as the OII and legal practice, will contribute to the delivery of the course, bringing a wide range of relevant expertise.
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 hours sessions. With a few exceptions, each sessions will begin with a 30 mins lecture from the perspective of law and a 30 mins lecture from the perspective of computer science. These will be followed by a 60 mins seminar discussion of related ideas, based around group and individual exercises keyed to the lectures. 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 expose the class to relevant issues for the exercises and discussion. The final content for each session will be informed by the particular interests and expertise of the lecturers.
The students will undertake a practical project in groups of eight, each having both computer scientists and lawyers - ideally in equal numbers. The practical project is explicitly designed to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and understanding. Completion of the practical will take a total of around 25 hours of work, in addition to attendance at the scheduled practical sessions. Additional guidance and input to the projects will be available from the members of a group of engaged and expert industry mentors who have kindly offered to support the course in this way.
Assessment will be based on a group presentation, with the practical as a whole graded individually as S-, S or S+.
There will also be a workshop on Legal Design and Design Thinking, led by external experts.
Classes and Tutorials
Computer science students will receive 2.5 hours of classes on essay writing. The first session will be in week 7 MT, the second in week 1 HT. Law students will have 4 hours of tutorials, one at the end of MT and the rest in HT. Specific times will be arranged nearer the event based on students' own timetables.
The course will be assessed by means of two 3,000 word essays, written in response to a selection of questions released at the end of Hilary Term. Computer Science and Law students will be given the same paper. One essay will be on topics studied 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.
Course Materials and Participants' Website
The main website for course participants is hosted on the University of Oxford Canvas site linked here.
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.