From Lex Informatica to the Control Revolution

24 Pages Posted: 28 May 2021 Last revised: 24 Jan 2022

See all articles by Julie E. Cohen

Julie E. Cohen

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: May 26, 2021


Legal scholarship on the encounter between networked digital technologies and law has focused principally on how legal and policy processes should respond to new technological developments and has spent much less time considering what that encounter might signify for the shape of legal institutions themselves. This essay focuses on the latter question. Within fields like technology studies, labor history, and economic sociology, there is a well-developed tradition of studying the ways that new information technologies and the “control revolution” they enabled—in brief, a quantum leap in the capacity for highly granular oversight and management—have elicited long-term, enduring changes in the structure and operation of economic organizations. I begin by considering some lessons of work in that tradition for law understood as a set of organizations constituted for the purpose of governance. Next, I turn the lens inward, offering some observations about techlaw scholarship that are essentially therapeutic. The disruptions of organizational change have affected scholars who teach, think, and write about techlaw in ways more profound than are commonly acknowledged and discussed. It seems fitting, in a symposium dedicated to Joel Reidenberg’s life and work, to use the process of grief as a device for exploring the arc of techlaw scholarship over its first quarter century. The fit is surprisingly good and the takeaways relatively clear: If, as I intend to suggest, the organizational forms that underpin our familiar legal institutions have been in the process of evolving out from under us, we still have choices to make about how legal institutions optimized for the information economy will be constituted. Finally, I identify two sets of important considerations that should inform the processes of organizational and institutional redesign.

Keywords: code, institutions, organizations, surveillance, privacy, content moderation, CDA 230, First Amendment

JEL Classification: K14, K20, K23, K40

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Julie E., From Lex Informatica to the Control Revolution (May 26, 2021). Forthcoming, Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Vol. 36, no. 3, 2022, Available at SSRN:

Julie E. Cohen (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
202-662-9871 (Phone)
202-662-9411 (Fax)


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