Why blockchain is important for legal services

16th October 2018

What is blockchain?

‘Blockchain’ may sound more like a heavy metal band than a disruptive technology that could transform the way you run your practice. But if you haven’t yet got to grips with blockchain and its benefits, it’s time to start paying serious attention.

There are many definitions of blockchain – we like this one, from business data and metrics specialist Bernard Marr:

Blockchain is an open, decentralised ledger that records transactions between two parties in a permanent way without needing third-party authentication.”

Marr also describes blockchain as ‘time-stamped’ and ‘transparent’ – two words that should be music to legal ears.

The benefits of blockchain

The idea of an open data ledger might set your alarm bells ringing. But it is the very transparency of blockchain that creates such high-level security for legal transactions and digital assets. In fact, the technology has been described as ‘balanced’, ‘secure’ and ‘impenetrable’.

Meanwhile, blockchain ledgers are virtual, and therefore paperless – which is a major benefit for legal firms looking to improve processes and reduce their reliance on paper.

But the most exciting attribute of blockchain is automation – virtual ‘smart’ contracts, agreed to by both parties, which automatically trigger performance.

Just imagine, for example, a public Intellectual Property virtual ledger, automatically recording who has listened to a song and then activating payment of royalties. Blockchain entrepreneur Kyle Cheung identifies these and other legal examples as major disruptors for the legal sector.

The changing role of legal practitioners

On the one hand, blockchain may lead to law firms being cut out of transactions as parties can create self-enforcing agreements. Transactions with a clear chain of custody and automatic performance have far less potential for disputes.

But according to Cheung, a whole new branch of law is emerging as clients seek guidance through the complex world of digital transactions and cryptocurrencies. An exciting opportunity for legal practitioners with a sharp eye on the future.

We’re in this together

While Bitcoin may not last, blockchain definitely will. It has already transformed digital asset maintenance across our business and legal worlds. Just as e-Discovery has become a term in ordinary legal conversation, blockchain is likely to do the same as it touches both legal practice and process.

Soon, it will be essential for leaders throughout the legal sector to understand the technology and use it to their best advantage.

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