Law Firm and Corporate Cybersecruity Presentation – UMB

By Joseph Raczynski

Recorded at the University of Maryland, Baltimore during the “Cybersecruity and You” morning session. Discussed is the current landscape of cybersecurity at law firms and corporations, the primary issues these organizations are finding and general awareness of what is happening.

Blockchain White Paper

By Joseph Raczynski

Abstract: This white paper discusses the history, inner workings and applications of blockchain, an online public ledgering system, and how it will soon significantly impact many aspects of the legal industry. The first part of this paper will show the marvels and the pitfalls of Bitcoin and its underlining blockchain technology. The second part will describe what full global adoption of a cryptocurrency and blockchain technology would entail. And the third will explain the potential legal implications of blockchain technology.

Building Our Blockchain Future (Part 3) – Beyond Bitcoin – Blockchain and the Legal Impact

By Joseph Raczynski

This is the third and final post in a series about blockchain, an online public ledgering system, and how it will soon significantly impact many aspects of the legal industry. In the first post, I demonstrated the potential and the pitfalls of Bitcoin and its underlining blockchain technology; and in the second post, I described what full global adoption of a cryptocurrency would entail. In this installment, I will explain the potential legal implications of blockchain technology.

Part 3: Beyond Bitcoin — Blockchain and the Legal Impact

While Bitcoin may disappear in a few years — doubtful, but possible — the underlining technology is by far the most important development going forward. Blockchain is a public ledger. It can be applied to almost anything that you would normally save to a database or spreadsheet.

In the Bitcoin example, the blockchain shows the exchange of all the money that has ever changed hands in Bitcoin transactions. It does not list who owns the coins per se, just that they exist or that they changed hands. It is controlled by no single person but by all parties connected to the exchange. This public, but encrypted spreadsheet in the sky is in theory more secure and open than our current system of money exchange. The network maintains a collective history of all of the transactions that have ever occurred on the network. You can view all of the Bitcoins changing hands every moment of the day at Blockchain.info.


I have little doubt that blockchain technology will revolutionize the legal industry in the coming years… there is almost no doubt that this technology will be a significant disrupter to the legal profession and the overall market on many fronts.


And as you see the transactions scroll up, you soon identify several important legal implications. For one, none of this money has been passed through a bank or other financial institution, nor has it be screened by any government agency. That is, if you have a major transaction of $10,000 or more coming or going from the US — one that is normally required to be reported — it is not being reported via Bitcoin today. As you might surmise, many positives with this technology exist, but significant challenges, mostly concerning government regulators and current US laws, are also present.

While Bitcoin created the first blockchain, many other such chains have been created since. For example, there are other cryptocurrencies that use the technology. However, where this becomes most interesting is how related businesses could use a ledger-based blockchain platform. Fundamentally it is a program from which to build a system of accounting or process. One network called Ethereum, which has been described as a “decentralized virtual machine that can execute peer-to-peer contracts” is leading the charge with smart contracts and the law.

Here is how I see blockchain affecting the legal industry.

Blockchain and the Law

Creation of Contracts: The blockchain could alter the landscape of contract attorneys. Part of what makes the blockchain so special is that not only does it keep records which are immutable, it also creates a process around that. For example, I could create a contract which stipulates that when my patent was approved by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), my four partners would receive a 10% share in my company. How would that work? The contract on the blockchain would check to see if the patent was approved, then trigger a process releasing the shares to the partners. All of this would be automated and fall outside of human legal action. Indeed, you could go one step further and tie-in a payment system so that when that patent was granted, bonus funds could be dispersed automatically into the accounts of said partners.

Intellectual Property: If blockchain is ripe for anything it is IP. This technology creates a publically accessible, indisputable ledger of each filing which could be held not solely by jurisdiction but on a global scale benefiting everyone. This information would offer clean and clear rights of use for all parties. You could even submit your trademark through the system. Leveraging an algorithm identifying any likeness to the trademark, the system could then grant or dismiss it. All of which would become part of the public ledger for anyone to review.

Land Registry: Some Latin American countries are beginning to use blockchain as a means to keep track of who owns which land deeds. Wealth is created through ownership, and one of the most challenging aspects of developing countries is determining who owns a piece of land. Disputes often occur because of corrupt governments or individuals taking advantage of the under-educated. Having a public blockchain ledger would allow for everyone to be aware of who owns which parcel of land; and it would make the exchange of those plots much easier and more equitable.

If a family were to buy a plot of land that could be registered on the legal blockchain, it would be much more verifiable than even perhaps government records. All parties would be able to authenticate this as compared to one entity (the government) holding onto all the records. This process would even create a better base for the government to fairly tax individuals and businesses.

Establishing Records: In some African countries they are looking at using blockchain technology to keep census information. Voter records could also be added to this process as a means to have a central repository of eligible citizens. In this area, currently under development, blockchain seems primed for tremendous growth.

Financial Service Industry: The banking industry also is jumping into this arena. The theory is that our stock exchanges will become blockchain enabled. The idea is simply that every stock bought or sold would be on the ledger. You could trace back your own ownership of that equity and even tie that to your estate-planning documents. Extrapolating this out, those documents also could be housed on a blockchain with respective triggers for when you eventually die. Ultimately that information is then released to your beneficiaries based on that event (Date of Death) recording by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Personally I have little doubt that blockchain technology will revolutionize the legal industry in the coming years. The question is if it will be more like HTML — a behind the scenes technology — or if it will be a more obvious, almost tangible technology that we will all reference by name. There is almost no doubt that this technology will be a significant disrupter to the legal profession and the overall market on many fronts. The biggest industries — government, banking, legal, healthcare and others will either use it or be significantly impacted by it.

Building Our Blockchain Future (Part 2) – Future Legal Payments Through Cryptocurrency

By Joseph Raczynski

This is the second post in a three-post series about blockchain, an online public ledgering system, and how it will soon significantly impact many aspects of the legal industry. In the first post, I demonstrated the potential and the pitfalls of Bitcoin and its underlining blockchain technology. The intent of this post is to describe what full global adoption of a cryptocurrency would entail.

Part 2: Future Legal Payments Through Cryptocurrency

First, I have little doubt that in a decade or less we will have a world currency akin to Bitcoin. The implications on both the legal world and government legislation will be significant. Right now there are dozens of cryptocurrencies out there: Dogecoin, Litecoin, Peercoin, and there are many more are on the horizon. Each has unique aspects but all have at their focus: security, ease of electronic money exchange, and the avoidance of a centralized banking system. Certainly the most popular cryptocurrency to date is Bitcoin which started the concept in 2009 after its creation by an anonymous inventor known as Satoshi Nakamoto, a Japanese equivalent to “Jim Smith”.

Bitcoin is incredibly intriguing because it is a natural product of the Internet, a decentralized forum of exchange and connectedness. Currently, for two people to exchange money we typically have to route money through various exchanges which all take fees merely for passing the money along. The success of cryptocurrencies demonstrates that those traditional fees are outdated and excessive for current transactions. While traveling in Thailand recently I took $100 out of an ATM. With the fees — i.e., Thai ATM fee, foreign transaction fee, and a cut of the exchange rate my bank charged — I spent $23 to get that $100. The fee for a similar transaction from dollars to Bitcoin would have been in the neighborhood of 20 cents. The fees of yesterday by the banks made sense decades ago, but now given today’s advanced and speedy technology those extraordinary fees bear little relation to the actual cost of transferring money.

 

Where do I see a cryptocurrency taking off?

  • Micro payments — Premium content on the Web will be changing. If you want to avoid the dominate Internet model of advertising, think about cryptocurrency micropayments. That is, with Bitcoin you can pay people in tiny fractions of a cent. You could then create an account with The New York Times that every time you wished to read a story you would click a link and automatically you would pay ½ a penny. That may not seem like much, but if everyone embraced this model, content providers would actually be paid rather than having to serve you ads to pay for the content. This model is similar to music providers offering unlimited music for a monthly fee, but with that fee broken down into per-play royalties.
  • Developing Countries — Instead of a widely vacillating currency in a country, people could rely on this world currency to be sturdier, because it is not solely dependent on how a single country’s economy is performing, but rather on the stability of the whole world’s economy. Local government action would not be a factor. In addition, money would not have to be printed, but people could exchange money from person-to-person on their phones. This is already being done in African countries as people send money via text messages. Having a cryptocurrency would be much more secure and reliable than the text exchange of money which is currently happening.
  • Small Fees — As I mentioned previously, with a cryptocurrency, Visa, American Express, Master Card, Discover Card and all of the other credit cards could be potentially threatened. In fact, most of their business potentially could go away, especially with those people that use debit cards or pay their bills monthly. Banks could also be threatened. Some ask, why would I house my money in a bank which has a set of rules and a multitude of fees and regulations? In addition, a lack of convenience with banks means walking or driving to receive money. All of that could be avoided with a digital wallet where the individual is the person in complete charge of the money.

The market for growth in this arena will increase substantially in the years ahead. That said, there is little question that several challenges to cryptocurrencies persist. One, a lost electronic wallet is gone forever. If you have not created a backup or saved it digitally in a safe place, you could lose all of your assets. Two, insurance does not exist. Cryptocurrency is not FDIC insured as are bank deposits. Again, it is the responsibility of the individual to own this and make sure they have diversified their assets in safe locations.

In my next post, I will review the countless — and there are legion — legal hurtles ahead. The legal industry will play a significant role in further defining cryptocurrencies and how its underlining technology, the blockchain, will be used.

Building Our Blockchain Future (Part 1) – Passage through Mt. Gox

By Joseph Raczynski

This is the first post in a three-post series about blockchain, an online public ledgering system, and how it will soon significantly impact many aspects of the legal industry. The intent of this first post is to show the marvels and the pitfalls of Bitcoin and its underlining blockchain technology. My personal account shared below is an experience with the virtual currency beginning five years ago until today; and the subsequent posts will embark on a legal discussion of the real magic behind Bitcoin, the blockchain system.

Part 1: Passage through Mt. Gox

I still remember the day of June 19, 2011, when I transferred $40 from a little-used, barely funded State Department Federal Credit Union account into Dwolla, a nascent electronic money exchange. Dwolla was an intermediary, allowing people to send money to others or into various accounts electronically. I used it once to transfer money from my State Department Credit Union account to a Mt. Gox account.

There was no question at the time that I thought every aspect of this was cybersecurity risky. Transferring money from an established credit union was the first chance I took. What were the implications connecting these two entities? Would that exchange compromise my credit union account? What was I doing transferring $40 into a mysterious Tokyo based company, which was previously a trading place for fantasy trading cards named “Magic: The Gathering Online eXchange” aka (Mt. Gox)? The owner of the exchange, Mark Karpelès, had picked up the burgeoning enterprise a few months prior. The original owner who had converted the business from fantasy cards to Bitcoin bowed out after not being able to manage the new exchange’s growth.

Rise and Fall of Bitcoin

This risky hoop-jumping money transfer I stomached in 2011 was to buy my first Bitcoin. I had heard about the new currency on an Internet message board focused on cybersecurity. As an undergrad studying economics, I believe that a decentralized, anonymous, secure currency was an amazing concept that absolutely made sense. But I was anxious for what might happen to my money, my account and my name in going through this process. After transferring the small sum into the Mt. Gox account I watched Bitcoin fluctuated from $11 to $22 per coin over a few months. When it hit $20 at one point I was able to buy two coins — thus turning the $40US into two Bitcoins.

blockchain

So what is Bitcoin and why is there an appeal? When asked, my simplest response is that it is like holding and using cash on the Internet. Even better, it is universal, international, secure and anonymous peer-to-peer electronic cash. All currencies in the world can be exchanged for Bitcoin. The currency is not backed by anything (gold or silver), but neither is the US Dollar, circa 1971. The cryptocurrency (mathematically created denomination) allows people or companies to digitally exchange money quickly, securely, and without having to go through a bank or using a credit card — which traditionally charge a fee. Simply download an online digital “wallet” from the literally ton of apps to choose from, and you can transfer your Bitcoins into it. How do you transfer money into your wallet? Each wallet has a unique address (string of numbers and letters) which you use to receive money. If you wanted to transfer money to someone else, all you need is their address, the amount of Bitcoin desired to transfer and you can send money to them.

Another means of sending money is to scan a QR Code from someone’s app to transfer money from one wallet to another. You can even snap a picture of the QR Code with your phone and transfer the money. The currency can be transferred between neighbors, across the country and anywhere overseas with ease. The transaction fee can be free to as high as several pennies or dimes. As you can gather, users can completely circumnavigate the banking and credit card communities — which poses issues, but also has many benefits. It is a fascinating technology; and the underlying architecture and its platform, called the Blockchain, is even more intriguing.

Think of all the legal implications here. Currently, individuals and businesses can transfer unlimited sums of money from country to country without notification, identification or taxation. It is completely unregulated. More on the legal implications of this later.

The Mt. Gox Crash

Back to my passage through Mt. Gox. In 2011, the coins I held with Mt. Gox simply sat in my account. Monitoring the currency infrequently, I noticed that it increasingly fluctuated and became widely unpredictable with a thrust upward, rising from $20 to $266. In 2013, I was stunned to see the change. My $40 had turned into $532. As time went on the rapid changes to its valuation continued to gain momentum. By November 2013 (two years later), Bitcoin peeked at around $1,250 per coin. My $40 became $2,500 in “electronic paper” money. I was flabbergasted. At that stage, my imagination had the thing hitting $10,000 per coin, but that never came to pass. In fact, from that lofty point, the currency has fallen to a current $400 US per coin in March 2016.

Unfortunately, I never was able to cash out of that Bitcoin, because like most early investors, I had my money with Mt. Gox, which handled 70% of all Bitcoin transactions. Two weeks prior to the exchange closing, like many others, I tried pulling my money out, but the system would not allow it. It was equivalent to a bank run of the 1920s.

As was widely reported, someone just decided to make off with all of the Bitcoins that were held within Mt. Gox. It certainly seems obvious, but having worked with multiple banks over my life, you are semi-lulled into a sense of security around an institution and money. If a bank goes under, you rely on the FDIC insurance — not so with Mt Gox. Sure, if I had thought about it, it seemed feasible that something like this could happen. However, never would you assume that a single individual could shut down an exchange with $473 million in assets by tossing that sum onto a digital wallet and walking out the door. My $40 investment which jumped to $2,500 vaporized and now is in bankruptcy proceedings. Many other Bitcoin believes and cryptocurrency hopefuls literally lost millions of dollars from this exchange going insolvent. This experience underlined the possibilities of the currency, validated great underlining concerns, and clearly demonstrated that the legal world would benefit from understanding this technology.

In my next post I will touch on how these currencies will impact all of us in the near future and where the law with play a role.