Law at large underpins modern society, codifying and governing many aspects of citizens’ daily lives. Oftentimes, law is subject to interpretation, debate and challenges throughout various courts and jurisdictions. But in some other areas, law leaves little room for interpretation, and essentially aims to rigorously describe a computation, a decision procedure or, simply said, an algorithm.

The current state of affairs is concerning: in many cases, human-critical systems are implemented using technology that is several decades old, resulting in e.g. the IRS relying on assembly code from the 60s or its French counterpart relying on a home-made language from the 90s with tens of thousands of global variables. For institutions stuck with this unfortunate status quo, consequences are many: legacy systems cannot be evolved, in spite of hundreds of millions of dollars spent on “modernization” budgets; mistakes are made and rarely noticed; automatic analyses remain elusive, meaning policymakers are “flying dark”; and in the worst case, as happened with the French military pay computation, families are on the verge of bankruptcy because of incorrect code. In recent years, the programming languages community has begun to tackle the problem of creating transparent, user-friendly, and accountable systems that model, operate within or interface with legal domains and problems.

This will be the third annual meeting of the Workshop on Programming Languages and the Law. Past workshops included participants from around the world, drawing from both academia and industry. Presentations included work on languages for legal domains, verification tools for legal expert systems, and emerging platforms and technologies like smart contracts. This year, we will expand the scope of the workshop to explicitly include any application of programming languages, software engineering, or formal methods to law or policy.

Call for Papers and Structured Activities

This will be an informal workshop without any proceedings. All submissions will undergo a lightweight review.

The workshop will be single track and consist of varying formats. We are soliciting submissions of the following types:

Full papers (conference talks)

Submissions in this category should be at least six pages long, with a maximum length of 20 pages. We envision this session being used for two main purposes: for experts in law or policy to disseminate existing work to the PL/SE/FM community and for experts in PL/SE/FM to seek feedback (including suggestions potential archival venues) on completed work.

Work submitted to this session should be completed and focus on results or findings. We encourage participants to submit work that produced negative findings as well as positive ones. Accepted papers will be invited to give a 10 minute talk during this session.

Please note that the review committee must be able to assess whether the work is relevant to potential conference attendees and tailor your submission accordingly.

Extended abstracts (Short talks + feedback groups)

In-progress work should be submitted as an extended abstract no longer than 3 pages. Participants will be given the option of selecting a 5 or 10 minute talk. Please only select a 10 minute talk if your work requires significant background in order to explain.

As a part of their submission, participants will be asked to submit a single question for which they would like to solicit feedback. These questions will be displayed after the short talks are completed. Participants will break into groups to discuss questions raised.

Structured Activities

We strongly encourage the submission of interactive and/or structured activities designed to build connections between PL/SE/FM communities and law and policy communities. Some (not currently real!) example activities of the style we’d like to see include:

  • What programmers and lawyers get wrong about privacy policies I will begin this session with an overview of how privacy policies are implemented at large firms. We will then as a group look at two real-world privacy policies and break into groups to discuss our interpretation of the legal ramifications of the text in an example jurisdiction as well as some of the technical (implementation) choices that are consistent with their text and some of their possible operational consequences.

  • Vocabulary impedance Bingo Interdisciplinary collaborators often use the same words for different things. In this session I will display a set of words or phrases and ask participants to write down their interpretation in a think-pair-share activity. After each round, I will share my experiences with these interpretations and will solicit the audience for stories or insights into the cause or effect of these misunderstandings. There will be no actual Bingo played in the course of this activity.

Questions? Use the ProLaLa contact form.