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Introduction to Quantitative and Computational Legal Reasoning
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Introduction to Quantitative and Computational Legal Reasoning


This is a course, to be taught by Paul Gowder (me) in the Spring of 2019 at the University of Iowa College of Law. It now has the unofficial name (and website) Sociological Gobbledygook, in (dis)honor of Chief Justice Roberts and his proud innumeracy, the disinspiration for the course.

The course is currently in the early stages of development, and I have decided to open source it in order to borrow from the wisdom of the wonderful legal technology and legal data community.

Course Goals

The primary goals are threefold:

  1. To equip law students with a basic comfort in data-driven and computational reasoning---to have some idea of the capacities and the limitations of those tools, and can communicate intelligently with technical and scientific professionals.

  2. To equip law students with more powerful bullshit detectors, especially in the domain of statistical reasoning, by giving them the capacity to poke at data-driven claims made in legal practice---generate visualizations, tweak models, and discover errors.

  3. To show law students the initial steps along more involved technical paths, so that they can discover latent interests they might have in, e.g., programming, data analysis, or more directly commercial opportunities like law practice automation.

The course will be aimed at an introductory level, for students who have no substantial programming experience and no math beyond high school algebra. It will introduce very basic programming (a few steps beyond Hello World) primarily as a route into computational data analysis (data visualization, basic statistical modeling). It will not go into too much mathematical depth, but will focus on manipulating data with code in order to understand it.

Contributions solicited!

As I said at the beginning of this document, this is an open source course. I have about 6 months to put it together, and I would love to have access to the wisdom of the vast legal tech/data community about how to best provide an introduction to this kind of material to law students. So, please, explore the repository, make suggestions! Feel free to file an issue, or just go all the way and file a pull request. (All text contents are in Pandoc-style Markdown.)

It's licensed under a very forgiving Creative Commons license, and as it develops, I'll be creating some of my own issues with calls for suggestions and discussion (Update: just created the first one. What are your suggestions on the tech stack for this course?). After the course is taught for the first time, I'll also invite the students to make their own contributions.

Because it's licensed under Creative Commons, I hope that when the course is complete it will inspire other law professors to remix it and create their own technical offerings. Let's tech up the law!

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