Lauritsen: Are We Free to Code the Law?

Marc Lauritsen, Esq., of Capstone Practice Systems has published Are We Free to Code the Law? CACM: Communications of the ACM, 56(8), 60-66 (August 2013) (a free version of the article is available at

A video is available of Marc’s presentation of this article — under the title Liberty, Justice, and Legal Automata — at CALICon 2013: Conference on Law School Computing.

Here is the introduction:

The emergence of interactive online services for legal self-helpers has triggered suppression efforts by the legal profession, as well as by state government officials in the U.S. While couched in terms of consumer protection, and at least partly motivated by such concerns, these efforts are also seen by some as blatant turf management by a profession anxious to avoid further erosion of its monopoly over legal advice and representation.

Often neglected in these discussions is whether restricting the distribution of software is within the legitimate scope of government action. No one would contend that attempts to suppress books, pamphlets, and speeches on how the legal system works and what forms one needs to interact with it would pass constitutional muster. Is providing software that helps people meet their legal needs an activity the state can prohibit under the U.S. Constitution?

Here, I explore ways software-based legal-assistance systems can be understood for purposes of public policy and constitutional analysis. The focus is on circumstances in the U.S., but many other countries face the same issues. […]

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