Blockchain, THE Blockchain, BlockTech, even, whatever you want to call it, blockchain will alter the way lawyers go about their business in a way that may be as significant as the Internet itself. And those jumping on the ‘chain’ first are likely to score a win over others who struggle to understand what’s happening here.
How can lawyers best get to grips with what is happening with blockchain technology and how it impacts law firms and their work?
There are numerous publications on the technology and its legal impact, including those like this report from Clyde & Co.
Consider some of the legal issues as a ‘fly over’ of blockchain technology:
- Jursidictional issues that arise in respect of dispersed servers and the cross border issues that need to be considered when an error or issue arises.
- DAOs – The used of decentralized autonomous organisations (DAOs) which minimizes human involvement as a result of computerized, coded ‘smart contracts’ will impact upon the way contracts are handled and disputes resolved. But what liability does the DAO have? Where are they located and what legal status do they have.
- Enforceability of ‘smart contracts’ hard-coded and implemented via the blockchain.
There are a raft of issues affecting every industry and which the blockchain connects to. It’s necessary for the lawyers to connect also.
1. Understand How it Works
Blockchain may not have yet been adopted on a wide-scale, but it is going to be and there are many proof-of-concept projects in just about any and every industry you can point a stick at.
It’s coming and law firms need to know about the technology so that they can advise clients on how it works and the legal implications.
The best thing lawyers can do is to bone up on the new technology because clients in every industry from property and mining to healthcare and hostpitality will be wanting to know what they need to do to use or adopt the technology in terms of policies, procedures, contracts and everything else.
2. Securities issue.
The uncertainty of cyrptocurrency offerings like initial coin offerings and the like, as well as selling securities of cryptocurrency funds is developing rapidly.
Lawyers who can understand how securities law and blockchain intersect will be able to garner some significant benefits.
A useful article on this issue involves the interview with Addiston Cameron-Huff, a highly regarded Canadian expert in the field who spoke about developments in the field, noting how US firms are well ahead of the game with firms like Perkins Coie having had a blockchain practice for several years.
The biggest questions in “blockchain law” right now are not about what new rules will be created but about how existing rules will be applied. Canada is a common law country, and most new technologies can be dealt with within the existing legal framework.
3. Smart Contracts
The ability of blockchains to store digital information of any kind means that contracts can be created based on a huge range of variables. Inevitably of course these will wind up in court and a new protocol and set of precedents for contracts will evolve, which will likely be markedly different from anything we use today.
One example is the fact that ‘auto contracts’ or self executing agreements that will alter the roles people have and impact upon the typical review process involved in contract execution and enforcement.
4. Property Transactions
Property transactions, ownership and other issues can be readily verified using blockchain technology. This will permit anyone and everyone involved in property issues, from the government down, to see and verify exactly what ownership issues arise and the facts of property ownership via a blockchain ledger.
The same sort of transactional visibility occurs with public records of any kind and will make the often opaque documents that are required to be verified or reviewed to become so via the blockchain.
5. Intellectual Property
As with property issues, the blockchain will also be used with regard to ownership of intellectual property rights. The nature of the blockchain with is secure, time-stamped identity is that is is a near bullet-proof way to identify first use of an IP property and other such applications.
There is no issue that blockchain will alter the way law firms go about their business – or their clients’ business – and the sooner firms get to grips with the impact of the technology the better they will serve their clients and their bottom line.
Toby George is a freelance technology consultant and writer who has consulted on blockchain technology for IT start ups and other companies involved in blockchain.