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Written by Alexis N. Chun

Last week we spoke about the status quo in law and how we at Legalese and the Computational Law Centre (CCLAW) at Singapore Management University are working together to make Computational Law a reality. This is part 2 of this 3-part series. 

If you recall, we discussed the (natural) language problem of law and how perhaps a domain-specific language (DSL) for law might be the foundational technological innovation to fix it. Because a DSL gives “Law” (which term we use to collectively refer to statutes, regulations, contracts, guidelines, business process logic, rules, quasi-legal documentation, you name it) a common denominator, the disparate bits can now “talk” to each other. This is what makes “Law” computable and computational. And in our vision, this foundational technology gets us from pseudocode to real code. That’s what we suspect a contract wants to be when it grows up:  a program. And the marvellous thing about programs is that Law can graduate from simply expressing syntax (i.e. words on a page, legalistic expressions) that are essentially pseudocode to semantics (i.e. what does it mean in an objective or clearly defined fashion), to pragmatics (i.e. what does it mean for me). Semantics and pragmatics are the traditional demesnes of lawyers; these are things you’d pay and ask for a lawyer’s advice on. But lawyers’ service of semantics and pragmatics may be too much like a priesthood (and too expensive) for most end users: go forth with this blessed document, but don’t break your back carving out the laundry list of assumptions, professional indemnities, and deciphering what exactly it means for you. Take faith. This just might not cut it anymore for the increasingly tech-savvy and knowledge-driven common man on the Clapham omnibus who reviews and background checks everything including their drivers, romantic dates, and restaurants.