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Spring 2020, Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines

It's often said that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and in this course you will teach legal rules to the simplest learner that exists: a computer. I hope that you leave the course with a "programmer's mindset" to solving problems even if you never code again.

As part of this class, you will be asked to write computer code or to create an application using a drag-and-drop coding platform. Some of you may already have experience with computer programming, but this will be an unfamiliar task to many of you. Your most important job will be to think through the logic of a problem, break it into small components, and lay the tasks out in an appropriate order. Details of syntax may trip you up, and when they do, I ask you to reach out to me or your classmates for help without embarassment. Learning the technological tools is important, but not as important as walking away with a strong understanding of the concepts and techniques involved in solving a legal problem with technology. Please make sure you ask for help if you are stuck. You will not be penalized for having questions.

The computer code may be the most time-consuming part of this course, but we will spend a large amount of class time putting legal technology in context. We will discuss what it means for the future of the legal profession; how it is impacting today's legal practice across small and solo firms, public interest firms and corporate firms; the risks and benefits of legal automation and the ethical implications thereof; and the implications of legal technology for democratizing law and reducing the access to justice gap.

We will have a variety of guest speakers in this class, representing the public interest, corporate, and academic perspectives on legal technology. Guest names and bios will be provided in advance. You can also check the online version of this syllabus which will be updated when speakers are lined up.

No programming experience or other technical background is required.

Textbook/Course Materials

All readings and course materials will be available online. You may choose to download and print various articles. You will be expected to sign up for free accounts on publically hosted websites, while other accounts will be provided for you. Students are expected to bring an Internet-connected laptop with a modern web browser to each class session.

Software tools

We may make use of some of the following free websites and software applications:

Required software will not need to be installed on your computer. You can use a Windows, Macintosh or Linux computer for all course assignments.

Course Goals & Learning Objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to know/understand:Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:How the student will be assessed on these learning objectives:
Students will know what technologies are being used by lawyers and others to assist with distinctly legal work, and understand the possibilities and fit of different legal technologiesIdentify different kinds of legal technology, and compare the benefits and disadvantages of different tools for differerent scenariosIn-class discussion, presentations
What ethical and regulatory issues are presented by legal technologyDescribe the current regulatory landscape and challenges posed by ethical rules for additional legal technology, as well as the potential moral considerations in both additional automation and potentially failure to automate routine workIn-class discussion
Know how to break down a process analytically into component partsMap a process and identify inefficiencies and potential improvementsDemonstrated through project work
How to build a software application that does useful legal workIdentify a legal technology need, work with clients to create a project scope, develop software requirements and automate a single process from start to finishFinal project; interim assignments
How to model legal knowledge and reasoningBreak a legal rule or piece of legal knowledge into discrete, automatable components using diagrams and software toolsAssessments and in-class discussions
What career paths are available for technologically savvy lawyersDescribe the many roles of technology in the legal practice and how technical knowledge can assist in different job functionsIn-class discussion


Students will be evaluated in the following areas:

There will be a modest amount of background reading and/or online video for most classes. But the key requirement in this course is to make something that does useful legal work – i.e., a software application that assists someone with a non-trivial legal task. That will require analyzing, designing, planning, and managing a project. See the Project Work column in the course schedule below for more details. Important advice: Start Early! Backup your work frequently!


You will be evaluated in the following areas:

  • preparation for, and participation in, class discussions
  • timely completion of assignments
  • quality of project analysis, design, and implementation

The grade breakdown is as follows: 50% on progress/completion of final project; 25% on participation (to include class participation and in-class presentations); 20% completing small-task assignments in QnAMarkup, Docassemble, or Blawx; 5% completing Legal Tech Assessment.

Attendance and punctuality are basic requirements for an effective discussion- and project-based course. Your frequency and quality of contribution to discussions will be assessed and reflected in your grade. If you cannot attend a class please inform me in advance. We will be keeping records of attendance.

I measure class participation based on the following criteria: arriving on time; paying attention to presentations and discussions; respectfully listening when others are speaking; making thoughtful contributions; being fully engaged in your learning without texting, checking your phone or email, or participating in other digital distractions.

Please consider the online gradebook as a courtesy to you, subject to errors given various upgrades and shifts in the software. I reserve the right to make gradebook corrections to keep it consistent with the syllabus so that your grade reflects true performance, not software or user error. If you see something that doesn’t make sense, please alert me! Thanks so much for your help.