Basu et al. on A Programming Language for Future Interests

Shrutarshi Basu (Harvard), Nate Foster (Cornell), James Grimmelmann (Cornell), Shan Parikh (Oracle), and Ryan Richardson (Google) have posted “A Programming Language for Future Interests” (24 Yale Journal of Law and Technology 75 (2022)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Learning the system of estates in land and future interests can seem like learning a new language. Scholars and students must master unfamiliar phrases, razor-sharp rules, and arbitrarily complicated structures. Property law is this way not because future interests are a foreign language, but because they are a programming language.

This Article presents Orlando, a programming language for expressing conveyances of future interests, and Littleton, a freely available online interpreter (at that can diagram the interests created by conveyances and model the consequences of future events. Doing so has three payoffs. First, formalizing future interests helps students and teachers of the subject by allowing them to visualize and experiment with conveyances. Second, the process of formalization is itself deeply illuminating about property doctrine and theory. And third, the computer-science subfield of programming language theory has untapped potential for legal scholarship: a programming-language approach takes advantage of the linguistic parallels between legal texts and computer programs.