On April 7, attorneys and tech luminaries gathered at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, for “ Blockchain and the Law ,” a conference dedicated to the future of distributed ledger technology in the legal realm.
The event, sponsored by Vanderbilt Law School’s Program on Law and Innovation , along with Frost Brown Todd Attorneys, Bart Durham Injury Law, BTC Media and others, offered a chance for leaders at the fledgling cross-section between the worlds to give brief, TedTalk-esque presentations to a wider audience. The program included opportunities to engage speakers in one-on-one conversations, as well as a “Music City Legal Hackathon” and blockchain bootcamp following the event.
“The conversation today is one that we in the field of law are acting at our peril to ignore,” said Larry Bridgesmith, the coordinator of Vanderbilt’s Law and Innovation Program and an organizer behind the event, during his opening remarks. “The whole topic of blockchain and how commerce is driven and how professions are called to deliver their legal services is something we all need to pay attention to.”
Projecting the Future
By dedicating the bulk of the day to brief presentations from thought leaders, “Blockchain and the Law” afforded attendees the chance to hear discussions on a range of issues, opportunities and use cases that are emerging around the new technology and to consider how lawyers can make the most of it. One theme that was consistent throughout the presentations was the fact that it is a matter of when, not if, blockchain technology becomes a central part of attorneys’ lives.
Cat Moon, the COO of Legal Alignment , began the series of presentations by describing what that future could look like.
Moon described a typical, hypothetical lawyer named Jane, who consistently notices blockchain technology popping up in the normal course of her day. Rather than continue to practice as she always has, she decides to embrace this new technology, learn as much as she can about it and utilize that knowledge both for her clients and for her own business.
“Her epiphany was that blockchain or distributed ledger technology would in fact confer super powers on her,” Moon said. “She firmly believes in what blockchain technology promised… She would be able to practice at a much higher level if she really dug in and figured out what this was all about.”
Moon used her allegorical figure to illustrate what the day-to-day world could look like for a lawyer who embraces blockchain technology. By 2020, Moon said, Jane would manage her own business, with client transactions taking place on a blockchain and payments occurring through a digital wallet. She would regularly rely on her expertise to advise clients in the financial services sector or elsewhere on blockchain-related legal issues.
Ultimately, however, it is not yet possible to paint a fully-detailed picture of Jane’s future.
“I wish I could tell you more about how Jane spent her day but unfortunately, I can’t,” Moon said. “We’re looking at it from 2017 and we don’t know what we don’t know.”
Detailing Use Cases
In addition to evangelical portraits of the soon-to-be-realized importance of distributed ledger technology for lawyers, the presentations delved into specific use cases to give the audience a sense of exactly how and why the blockchain can be implemented in legal services.
Bennett Collen, the CEO of Cognate , dove into the specifics of how the technology will disrupt the world of trademarks.
Collen described the proprietor of a makeup store who had spent nine years cultivating business under a specific brand name. When the Kardashian family targeted the name for use with its own brand, she felt they were infringing on her company’s brand. While she was technically the owner of the name — since a trademark begins as soon as a brand name starts being used — the original proprietor faced an expensive, uphill battle against the full might of the Kardashian’s legal team in order to prove it.
The complications and expense surrounding traditional trademark filing are why 98 percent of trademarks are never registered, said Collen. He went on to point out that trademarks cost owners $275 and only 59 percent are accepted.
Cognate has levered the blockchain to offer a new approach to this legal issue. Utilizing a distributed ledger, it helps clients create an immutable, time-stamped and legally-defensible record of when a trademark was first used. If and when these clients decide to apply for a traditional federal trademark, this record can be leveraged to do so more easily.
“The blockchain is the perfect mechanism for achieving these goals,” said Collen. “By nature, records in a blockchain network are time-stamped, secured and scalable.”
It was one of many use-case presentations that put the technological possibilities into a real-world context.
“The blockchain is going to significantly alter the practice of law in the near future,” Collen said. “It creates a new system that is more transparent, more fair and more affordable.”
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