88 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 945 (2012-2013)
Liberty, Justice, and Legal Automata

handle is hein.journals/chknt88 and id is 987 raw text is: LIBERTY, JUSTICE, AND LEGAL AUTOMATA

This article expands on the analysis begun by the author in a re-
cent computer science journal piece called Are we free to code the law?i
The focus there was whether interactive online services for legal self-
helpers can be prohibited as the unauthorized practice of law. Put
more generally, how should legal 'automata' be regulated? Do they
serve justice? Are people at liberty to create and distribute them?
Few would contend nowadays that attempts to suppress books,
pamphlets, or speeches on how the legal system works, and what
forms one needs to interact with it, would pass constitutional muster
in the United States. Is restricting the creation and distribution of soft-
ware within the legitimate scope of state action? Is providing software
that helps people meet their legal needs an activity that government
can prohibit?
This article explores ways in which software-based legal assis-
tance systems can be understood for purposes of public policy and
First Amendment analysis.
An automaton is a self-operating machine.2 The term has histori-
cally been used in reference to physical devices like toys and robots
(and particularly clueless humans). Complex mechanical devices have
been a fascination since ancient times, and were fabricated with sur-
prising sophistication well before the industrial revolution. In modern
times, 'automata theory' emerged as the study of abstract machines as
* President, Capstone Practice Systems, Inc. and Legal Systematics, Inc. Research behind this
article was partially underwritten by LegalZoom.com. I am grateful to Pamela Samuelson and
Laurence Tribe for helpful suggestions and reactions.
1. Marc Lauritsen, Are We Free to Code the Law?, COMM. OF THE AsS'N. FOR COMPUTING
MACHINERY (forthcoming 2013).
2. Automaton, WIKIPEDIA, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automaton (last visited Apr. 20,


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