Formalizing the Code

33 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2017

Date Written: June 15, 2017


The Internal Revenue Code is notoriously complex, both substantively and structurally. This article examines one source of structural complexity in the Internal Revenue Code: dependency among sections that stems from defined terms. In particular, the article examines what it terms the problem of “definitional scope”: when the structure of the Code leaves unclear to what a term refers. The article uses the problem of definitional scope as a case study to suggest that those who draft tax legislation should formalize proposed statutory language — translate it into logical terms — prior to its enactment. Formalization could help drafters avoid unintentional ambiguity and refine the language used in the statute; it could provide helpful guidance for those wishing to interpret the statute; and, most importantly, it could help move the law closer to legibility by a computer — that is, it could help on the journey to actual legal artificial intelligence.

Keywords: Tax, Formalization, AI and Law

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Lawsky, Sarah B., Formalizing the Code (June 15, 2017). 70 Tax L. Rev. 377 (2017), Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 17-14, Available at SSRN: or

Sarah B. Lawsky (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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