Computational Law
CS 204 / Law 4019
Spring 2020-2021

Lessons Blog Piazza

Week 3

By this point, you should have mastered the material in Chapters 1 and 2. From Chapter 1, you should be familiar with the basic idea of Computational Law. From Chapter 2, you should understand the concept of ontologies and some of the issues involved in creating ontologies to describe application areas. In fact, you should be more than familiar with this material - ideally, you should be saying to yourself (and others) that, when all is said and done, this stuff is pretty easy. In fact, it *is* easy. But don't slack off - there are more interesting and more difficult things to come.

This week, we take a look at how to formalize the definitions of higher level relations in terms of lower relations. In some cases, we use this capability to define domain concepts, e.g. the definition of grandparent in terms of parent. In other cases, we use this capability to define what is legal and what is illegal.

FutureLaw Conference on April 8

This year's FutureLaw conference takes place on Thursday. FutureLaw is an annual conference on Legal Technology. It brings together researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, investors, and policy makers from around the world to share ideas about the cutting edge of Legal Technology. It is the best known conference of its type in the world.

The conference this year is going to be a good one. (1) The keynote speaker will be Alan Kay, a legend in CS, winner of virtually every CS award (the Kyoto Prize, the Draper Prize, Turing Award), and a great speaker. (2) Also, this year there will be a major award closely related to Computational Law. (3) There will a retrospective on the career of Stanford Law professor Deborah Rhode.

If you like, you can drop in for any or all of the conference. Click here for details. Registration is required, but the conference is free.

Week 2

Time now to begin our look at the underlying theory and technology of Computational Law. This week, we focus on ontologies and datasets. Ontologies are collections of objects and relationships relevant to the laws we want to formalize. Datasets are collections of facts about these objects and relationships. The notions are quite simple, but they play an inordinately important role in Computational Law, so we will devote our entire week to ensure that we have an adequate understanding of the concepts and to deal with related nuances.

Week 1

The course begins now. This Wednesday, we will introduce the subject matter of the course. We will introduce the week's assignments and talk a little about those assignments. And we will go over course logistics.

This week, you should read through and understand the first chapter of the course notes. You should take a look at the additional course readings.

You should also drop by Piazza to check out what others in the class are saying. Engaging in discussion on the Piazza forum is a good way to get your questions answered. And, even if you think you understand everything, you might consider using Piazza to help others and thus consolidate your understanding of the material.

And you should do the assignments. All assignments are due by the start of the subsequent class. The "Project" is due one week after the last class of the quarter.


Welcome to CS 204. We had hoped this would be a traditional classroom-based course, as in the past. However, due to the continuing Coronavirus situation, that is not an option; and so, once again, we are going to run the course entirely online. We ask for your patience as we proceed. If you think there is a way we could make the course more successful in this format, please feel free to make suggestions.

All of the course materials are online here. There are links to notes, background readings, and assignments. Click the Lessons tab at the top of this page to access this content. The Lessons tab is your friend. Use it. And be sure to check this page frequently, as we will be posting periodic updates here.

We will be using Piazza for class discussion. The system is highly catered to getting you help fast and efficiently from classmates and instructors. Rather than emailing questions to the teaching staff, we encourage you to post your questions on Piazza. Just click the rightmost tab above to go to Piazza. (Note that you may need to sign up in order to access the course page on Piazza.) If you have any problems or feedback for the developers, email

Throughout the quarter, we will be using Zoom for live presentations and discussions. To get details, go to Piazza and look for the Zoom link in a pinned post. All sessions will be recorded, and we will place links to the recording in this pinned post as well. Class meetings will take place Wednesdays from 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm PDT. The first session is scheduled for March 31.

Even though this is an online course, we would like to preserve the tradition of working in teams. Ideal size 3, but teams of size 2 or 4 are okay if there are good reasons. (Piazza provides a mechanism for you to find teammates. See the first announcement there to take advantage of this.) Note that, except in extreme circumstances, all team members will receive the same grade.

Course Overview

Computational Law (aka Complaw) is the branch of Legal Informatics concerned with the mechanization of legal reasoning. From a pragmatic point of view, it is important as the basis for computer systems capable of performing useful legal calculations - such as compliance checking, legal planning, and regulatory analysis.

Computational Law has the potential to change our legal system in significant ways. It can improve the services provided by lawyers. It can help lawmakers and regulators craft better rules and regulations. More broadly, it can bring legal tools to everyone in society, not just legal professionals, thereby increasing compliance and enhancing access to justice.

This course is an introduction to Computational Law. We begin with an overview of the underlying theory and current technology. We then turn to guest speakers to learn about various popular applications. Finally, we conclude with some presentations on related philosophical and legal issues.

The course is open to both law students and technologists. Law students will gain an understanding of the challenges involved in seeing legal analysis through the lens of technology. Technologists will gain an understanding of the complexities of the legal system and the many opportunities that arise from Computational Law.

If you have any questions, feel free to email us - Michael Genesereth ( or Roland Vogl (

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