The Metaverse is coming: Is the legal market prepared?

Are you ready for the Metaverse? Probably not, but please bear with me, because the legal implications will be enormous. Open your creative mind first, and at the very end apply your critical thinking legal intellect. Here we go.

Originally published on Thomson Reuters Institute.

Imagine, if you will, a world resembling our physical one, but a completely virtual, immersive, colorful, all-encompassing one with land, rivers, houses, farms, people, animals, full cities, stores, businesses, concerts, and everything else contained in our physical world. Sauntering down a bustling city street, minus the smells, is as easy as walking on a moon that orbits an earthlike place. Platforms with full replication of our physical world are being built through a wearable device to create this Metaverse. Why? That seems a tad ridiculous.

Yet, before the iPhone was launched 14 years ago, we didn’t imagine the myriad of things we could accomplish by simply touching a piece of glass-faced, hand-held technology today. It would have been a leap of faith to see where we sit now. Thus, the Metaverse is that next leap.

Over the next 18 months, following an era of Zoom and Teams virtual meetings on laptops and mobile devices, Apple will be releasing the first mixed or virtual reality headset, allowing for people to interact virtually. Initially the focus will be on new Zoom-like meetings with far more immersive business engagements, but then it gets more profound. Wait for it.

MetaverseConcept of virtual reality glasses

Why now?

The Metaverse, or Web 3.0, is developing, but what led us here? First came layer one: blockchain, an immutable database to store information, in concert with the proliferation of cryptocurrencies, an ability to transfer value akin to currency initially, but later representing all assets. The tokenization of assets is a seminal concept and means that anything physical, or more important in this instance, digital, can be proven and has authority via code on an immutable ledger.

The latest manifestation of this authenticated representation of ownership are NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), and their popularity is the slippery slope of the Metaverse. Initially, people are buying digital art. In building out the Metaverse, art will be displayed on the walls of homes. However, the assets, living in smart contracts on the blockchain represent all assets. Homes, offices, land and even designer clothing of this world — legally represented by deeds, contracts, and leases — have been tokenized. This means you can buy digital land, homes, and other objects on a platform like OpenSea, to prove you own it. That value creates a network effect, enabling interactions within an ecosystem, and therefore a new Metaverse (world) is born.

MetraverseDigital land for sale on Decentraland

Indeed, OpenSea is just one of several marketplaces where individuals can buy the future of asset ownership in the Metaverse. All asset ownership, both digitally and physically, could be ported over to an NFT on blockchains. All of these critical pieces are then layered on top of a platform of animation — the actual space inside the headset, which has been with us for many years. It is the asset tokenization that makes this paradigm shift most pivotal. Transactional attorneys should beware, and litigators should feel their eyes widening at the possibilities ahead.

The virtual spaces being developed have cities in which you can buy almost anything. Land, upon which you can build your house, then you can fill that house with pieces of art (via NFT), and wear an outfit that is a verifiable Ralph Lauren suit with Nike shoes. The concert you attend requires a ticket (another NFT), and the subsequent music you want to purchase is also digitally saved and copyright enabled. Again, all of this is purchased from companies with underlining NFT ownership.

These digital worlds will likely be our future in the next decade, and a substantial amount of your time will be inside of these worlds. I know, it’s terrifying. If you are skeptical, however, note that OpenSea processed transactions of more than $3.3 billion in August alone, and this is just the beginning.

In the Metaverse, people will interact, transact, own assets, have relationships, build things and companies, create intellectual property (IP), have copyright issues, and advertise. Further, crimes may happen, insurance likely will be developed, and a massive host of other IRL (In Real Life) concepts that now all now require will evolve — and that will require legal professionals to be involved.

Not to mention the scaling of DeFi (Decentralized Finance), which has already begun and will continue to ramp up. Clearly, this is a burgeoning market. While I have been engaged in this space for several years, a recent white paper from Reed Smith on the Metaverse underlined its importance for the legal industry. It is a worthy read if you wish to continue down the rabbit hole.

What’s next?

What is on the horizon as we move into the Metaverse? DAOs, for one,

DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) are entities that have been built by humans. Likely a business initially, but once the code has been written, the code acts as the law and it runs the business autonomously. These DAOs will proliferate both inside, but more importantly for the foreseeable future, outside of the Metaverse. They are already very successful, supporting $25 billion on one DeFi DAO right now. (I will examine the magnitude of DAOs in an upcoming post.)

The implications of the Metaverse for the legal community and within the regulatory community as well as every other facet is enormous. While this space is being built, it is still early. Over the course of the next several years, the Metaverse and all its implications will move from the fringe to a more important arena for lawyers to contemplate and eventually address. Now is time for those lawyers to apply their critical thinking legal intellect.

Podcast: The Hearing – David Brown – Legal Director at Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund

In this episode I am joined by David Brown, Legal Director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF). TLDEF is a transgender-led organisation fighting for transgender rights through litigation and other legal avenues.

Working with numerous law firms, David and his team bring lawsuits to demonstrate how statutes are unequal and discriminatory. David tells me how his family inspired him to want to fight injustice. And he explains how TLDEF strategically selects cases with the ultimate aim of moving the law and the equality agenda forward, while also ensuring they authentically represent transgender people’s lives.

David talks about the importance of finding commonalities when discussing transgender people and the discrimination they face. Like anyone, transgender people want a nice place to live, a steady job and access to healthcare. But in many parts of the world, such fundamentals of life are often denied.

David and I also discuss intersectionality, and how transgender people of color are even more likely to face discrimination due to greater distrust and fear.

Listen here:

Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/ep-59-david-brown-tldef/id1389813956?i=1000488977873

Google: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9wb3J0YWwtYXBpLnRoaXNpc2Rpc3RvcnRlZC5jb20veG1sL3RoZS1oZWFyaW5n/episode/aHR0cDovL2F1ZGlvLnRoaXNpc2Rpc3RvcnRlZC5jb20vcmVwb3NpdG9yeS9hdWRpby9lcGlzb2Rlcy9FcDU5X0RhdmlkX0Jyb3duX21peGRvd24tMTU5ODAxNDQ4NzYxODkwMzQyMS1NekE1TlRZdE5URXlOamswTnpBPS5tcDM?sa=X&ved=0CAQQ8qgGahcKEwjIzoqL_7PrAhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQAg

An initiative for global prosperity: tech savvy start-ups compete to solve world problems

Originally published on AnswersOn.

By Joseph Raczynski

The Global Maker Challenge is an online open-innovation platform that offers an opportunity for “makers” and innovators to connect and collaborate, across the globe, and try to solve real-world problems affecting people’s lives.

 

ABU DHABI & DUBAI, UAE — Recently the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, facilitated by MIT Solve in partnership with the United Nations and University of Cambridge, held their pitch event where 16 global sustainability start-up finalists from a pool of 1,200 applicants competed for an award of $1 million.

The Global Maker Challenge is facilitated by the Initiative for Global Prosperity, which seeks to unite the world’s leading manufacturers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, governments, UN agencies, philanthropists, academia experts, and researchers, and form a community dedicated to spreading global prosperity through innovation.


The cumulative energy from the 16 finalists working on solving real world problems in the neediest areas around the world was palpable. The solutions that people devised from cutting-edge technology available to benefit the masses was astonishing.


This global initiative is supported from the very top of the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I had the high honor to sit down with Chief Executive Officer of Alliances for Global Sustainability, and royal family member, Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, and discuss how and why this initiative means so much. Indeed, it became clear in the conversation that the UAE does not just promote these ideas but acts on them.

“Our government sees artificial intelligence (AI) as a significant component in improving efficiency and resources across all public sectors, and facilitating ease of access to court services and processes for the people of the UAE,” Sheikha Shamma said, stressing the importance of the role start-ups play to “make” new ideas and innovate. While the Global Maker Challenge finalists focused on how to improve lives globally, the UAE also is pushing ahead with these emerging technologies locally, explained Sheikha Shamma.

“The UAE is very progressive in its use of technology, both within the private sector, but more specifically at a government level, adopting new tools such as blockchain and AI with the aim of leading in this area by 2031.”

The finalists

Focusing on the finalists, I had the opportunity to speak with many of them who fell into four distinct categories in the competition; Sustainable Energy; Digital Divide and Digital Literacy; Rural Transformation & Zero Hunger; and Sustainable Cities.

One finalist, Otago Ltd., is a start-up that produces eco-friendly char-briquettes for clean cooking in Cambodia. “Nearly three billion people rely on open fires and traditional stoves to cook their food,” said Otago founder Carlo Figà Talamanca, adding that these fires emit massive amounts of air pollution inside homes and contribute to nearly four million deaths per year, impacting mainly women and children. Otago’s concept of biomass briquettes (coconut shells, corn cobs, and bamboo), produce less sparks, pollutants, and do not contribute to deforestation as traditional charcoal production does.

global maker
Sukhmeet Singh discussing his pitch on sustainable energy in India at the Global Maker Challenge

Another finalist, OffGridBox, provides affordable clean water and renewable energy for rural communities in Rwanda. It is a financially sustainable and environmentally friendly metal crate that leverages solar energy in an affordable way. Each box, through micro-payments, provides 400 families with lighting and phone charging within their homes and purified drinking water — all for only 18-cents, or less than half of what they currently spend. (Amazingly, while people often do not have running water or electricity, they did have mobile phones.)

The Rumie Initiative, another finalist, aims to reduce the digital divide by delivering online learning resources on mobile phones to communities with limited or no Internet connectivity. And LearnCloud — an online repository of high-quality, digital educational content — is crowdsourced by educators and other passionate volunteers in different languages and for different contexts. This program allows kids in the most remote locations around the world to have all the books they would need from 1st grade through 12th, all on a donated Android tablet or phone.

Ada Health was originally developed for doctors by doctors to advance patient symptom reporting. Then, doctors and AI experts spent seven years developing a sophisticated medical reasoning engine that now encompasses the complex constellation of connections between the currently known 12,000 symptoms and 10,000 conditions that can affect the human body. Hila Azadzoy, managing director of the global health initiative at Ada, stated that the organization goes into areas around the world where doctors may be scarce and helps individuals understand and manage their health through personalized symptom assessments and recommend next steps. The patients can also share these results with their healthcare professional via a chatbot on a mobile device. Ada speaks five languages, and it has more than five million users worldwide who have completed more than nine million symptom assessments.

The finalist pitched their ideas to panels of judges from around the world. After the pitches, the panelist, judges, consultants, and other participants entered into several workshops on innovation, design thinking, mentoring, and women entrepreneurs mobilizing positive change.

The cumulative energy from the 16 finalists working on solving real world problems in the neediest areas around the world was palpable. The solutions that people devised from cutting-edge technology available to benefit the masses was astonishing.

And having these initiatives facilitated by a public and private partnership is critical to bettering a world in need. As the Initiative for Global Prosperity explained, “the well-being of our world is based on fostering the values of resilience, community, harmony, and dignity.”

The winners of the Global Maker Challenge will be announced in Yekaterinburg, Russia in July.

Consensus 2019: Blockchain’s Biggest US Conference Sees Increased Legal Oversight Coming

Originally published on The Legal Executive Institute.

By Joseph Raczynski

 

NEW YORK — The fifth annual Consensus — the preeminent cryptocurrency and blockchain conference powered by CoinDesk — wrapped a rousing three-day event in mid-May that produced several legal-leaning themes in the ever-mingling world of technology and the law.

On the anti-money laundering (AML) front, Sigal P. Mandelker, Under-Secretary for the US Treasury Department’s Terrorism and Financial Intelligence unit, cited several salient points around cryptocurrency. First, he said, there is a need for more guidance from regulatory agencies.

 

Since 2013, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has received more than 47,000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) that mention bitcoin or virtual currency with half of these filed by virtual currency exchangers or administrators themselves. If your institution forgoes more robust Know Your Customer (KYC) rules for anti-money laundering efforts, you could be significantly impacted. The positive, Mandelker noted, was that forthcoming Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidance could arrive as early as June which will help crystalize how to handle cryptocurrency in the AML quagmire.


Around cryptocurrency, there is a need for more guidance from regulatory agencies.


The Consensus conference also demonstrated that avid interest in understanding the blockchain space persists. While I have spent the better part of the last three years discussing blockchain and cryptocurrency with law firms of all sizes in the US, the UK, the UAE, and Australia, the thirst for learning is not quenched.

 

Steve Quirk, TD Ameritrade’s executive vice president for trading and education, spoke candidly that the interest in this area spans across all generations. He noted that attendance has been “off the charts” at the bitcoin education events facilitated by TD Ameritrade, which is exactly what I have found when presenting to law firms and corporate counsel. Within the legal ecosphere, lawyers seek to know more about the technology around blockchain, and what impact it will have on their clients and their business.

consensus2019

The SEC Weighs In on IEO

Another theme emerging at Consensus was the eager discussion concerning Initial Exchange Offerings (IEOs) which is similar to Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), but in this instance the cryptocurrency exchange is the one responsible for running the financials.

 

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) weighed in on this frothy topic, as Valerie Szczepanik, the SEC’s Senior Advisor for Digital Assets and Innovation, made it abundantly clear that these IEOs fall under the oversight of the SEC. These crypto-exchanges which facilitate token sales likely meet the legal definition of securities dealers if the issuer or any of the buyers are based in the US, she explained.

 

So again, we could see a flood of business move outside of the US — however, some exchanges balk at this threat, noting that it’s very similar to the run up of the ICO market. To comply in the US, the exchanges need to follow the same procedures for registration and licensing requirements as do broker-dealers, alternative trading systems (ATS), or national securities exchanges. Forgoing those steps, any IEO who promotes or sells such tokens will find themselves in the SEC’s direct line of fire.

 

There were several other themes likely to impact the legal industry in the coming years that were brought up at Consensus. For example, so-called “stable coins” were discussed in detail at multiple sessions. Stable coins are cryptocurrencies designed to minimize volatility, usually by pegging them to another asset, like US dollars or other cryptocurrencies. It is feasible that real estate transactions — or indeed, transactions for any financial agreement — could be executed using these more stable digital assets.


Internet 3.0 is here, and that rests on the Internet of Value, which is built on a distributed ledger.


Another concept being talked about was “staking”, or the evolution of cryptocurrency mining and the confirmation that transactions are legit on a blockchain. This confirmation is changing from the energy-intensive Proof of Work to Proof of Stake, in which those who wish to confirm transactions stake a large sum of tokens or money on a blockchain. Then, if they try to cheat the system or confirm erroneous transactions, they face the prospect of losing their stake. This will be a bourgeoning area for lawyers to aid users and companies because we will see many tokenized systems placed into custody for management, with these details baked into smart contracts.

 

As the conference came to close, ConsenSys founder Joe Lubin discussed the evolution through which we currently are being catapulted. Internet 3.0 is here, he said, and that rests on the Internet of Value, which is built on a distributed ledger.

 

This new trustless state, is a far cry from our current Internet, he added, which was built “in naive times” which has left us “running our economy on a network that was built by academics to trade research papers.”

 

Today’s new trustless environment is going to require skilled lawyers to navigate a concept where distribution of information is decentralized and increasingly self-executing.

Kleros.io (a Thomson Reuters Incubatee) Publishes Handbook of Decentralized Justice

Kleros.io is a blockchain startup which Thomson Reuters incubates in the Legal Technology space.  They recently published a book about dispute resolution using blockchain technology.  I had the good fortune to work with Federico Ast, Founder & CEO on a chapter for the book.

Please feel free to download a digital copy here:

Kleros’ Handbook of Decentralized Justice available for download NOW!

PDF: https://lnkd.in/ehA-5VF 

ePUB: https://lnkd.in/epCFpu2 

MOBI: https://lnkd.in/e26PxQc

Here is a section from my conversation with Federico:

***

One of the cores of our work at Kleros is researching the prospects of legal tech and the impact it will have on the legal business in the coming years. Joseph Raczynski, Thomson Reuters’ resident legal futurist is one of the select few we always love discussing.

Joe has a wide view of the legal industry and the business and technology that will affect it in years to come. Let’s dive into the conversation!

What’s a legal futurist, what’s the job description of that?

There is none. I think they’re still working on that in some dimly lit back room. It comes down to this – I’ve spent a lot of time on the core pieces of technology, either building computers, working on networks, white hat hacking systems and delving into how businesses processes work by studying sociology and believe it or not, nature, which inevitably impacts how we interact and develop.

I have an undergrad in economics and sociology, so I hope I understand the business world, but also believe I have some thoughts on how humans think, how we work as groups. The grad school education formalized and enhanced some of my thoughts with an MBA, and a Masters of Science in e-commerce.

I tried to spend my time on what people are doing in other businesses, in the financial world, in the medical world, and then pull that into what is happening in the legal industry.

Sometimes the legal profession might be a tad further behind the curve with what we see in other industries, so what I can do is peer into how others are working and parlay that into what may happen for legal.

As a practical example, I was mining Bitcoin in 2011 trying to understand how it works. Most of my friends and colleagues asked ‘what is this, what are you doing?’ They thought it was pointless, and the jury was out in my head about it, but I found it very intriguing, so I continued to explore it.

If you play around with these technologies before most know about them, at very early stages, you can get a better picture of what is going to happen in the future with different industries, the legal industry being one of them.

The next thing to take a gander at is memory on organic materials – imagine saving all of your firm information to a tree? Seems bizarre, but at some point these things will happen.

You don’t have a background as a lawyer, but in business and social science. How did you become interested in the legal industry?

I see the legal industry as one of the spaces with the greatest opportunities. You know this is growing because of all of the startups that have infiltrated the industry. There are so many startups that are looking at the legal space right now, because there are two parts to it – the business of law and the practice of law. Both of these are ripe for great efficiency across the board.

These startups are looking at different aspects of these two facets, thinking of how to make it more efficient, to make it a bit easier for the clients to better serve themselves, or to work with law firms and have law firms better service their clients.
I see AI and blockchain leading the way – the AI algorithms making things faster and more efficient and blockchain saving this information and hopefully making it so that the trusted third party is now a computer network.

The perfect example of this is what you guys are doing with Kleros. I honestly think this is one of the best examples out there in terms of how we can create better efficiency in a “trustless” environment, working with blockchain to be able to save information, secure it, but also have people leveraging this tech to create a better environment for all parties involved in a dispute.

 

Since you mention Kleros, what caught your attention about our project?

What I find the most fascinating about Kleros is the idea that you are going to leverage blockchain as a space in the ether that allows people to file a complaint, process that complaint, and eventually resolve it, using a system based on blockchain, and wisdom of the crowds.

Crowdsourcing enables the expansion of the pool of people making the decision. This makes a lot of sense, as it can greatly enable efficiency and reduce costs in a large number of dispute resolution processes.

The economic model that aligns individual incentives with honest decision making is a great innovation within the legal industry.

 

How do you see a new technology like blockchain interacting with traditional government courts and regulation? Are legacy legal systems going to adapt to blockchain or are they going to be disrupted?

That is a great question and I think the answer depends on where you are in the world.

In time, I think blockchain will absolutely disrupt the way the government interacts with information and the way they verify it. I was in Dubai some weeks ago and met with government officials working on a full-on blockchain enabled verification system that, when decisions are made, puts everything on the blockchain.

Anyone will be able to look up that decision with ease and they want to have this up and running within the next 18 months without having to go through a proprietary company. In Dubai, it is the government who is pushing law firms in this direction. The government is leading there.

In the United States, on the contrary, you find that traditionally it is the corporations that lead change. Law firms tend to follow, then eventually, a little bit further down the road, you may see the government starting to get involved in the space.

Depends on where you are and how this works, but clearly some changes are afoot in the next five years.

 

What about AI? How is it likely to impact the legal industry?

It’s a funny one. All we see in the news is the AI and how it’s going to disrupt law firms or the legal industry in general. There is so much talk about this every single day, how the robot attorney is coming…

I had the good fortune to meet the pre-eminent legal technologist, Richard Susskind last year in London. One thing he says is that, in the short term, we are probably overestimating the power of AI, but in the long run we are probably underestimating it. We’re at a stage that AI is in the news and most of the attorneys, partners, and managing partners of law firms that I meet ask – is this really happening?

It’s clearly cresting atop Gartner Hype Cycle, similar to what is happening with blockchain, there is a lot that may happen with both of them. On the AI front, you are seeing companies that come along and have very smart ideas about how they can change a section of how the practice or business of law works.

For example, let’s say there is a merger between two massive organizations, both have 50,000 employees. One of the core things they want to look at are the employees they have for both organizations to see if they mesh well. In order to do this, they need to review all 100,000 employment contracts identifying golden parachute language… For example, if anyone got a $50 million bonus if the merger took place.

Currently, many global law firms do this due diligence. They put 100-200 attorneys on it by having them read every single contract and making sure that those documents are standardized – not containing that golden parachute.

Increasingly there are algorithms and associated programs on the market that go through all the contracts, looking for all the standard language, kicking out those contracts that don’t have the common phrases or terminology. Those kick-outs are then reviewed by a human, resulting in a massive increase in efficiency and less people hours.

These startups who are creating these applications, are pushing the bar in legal. They are devising better ways to get the job done using AI – in an incremental way. Will we see a robot attorney in the next few years? No. But these types of tools leveraging some AI will ramp up quite considerably across the board.

 

What is the result of all this? In the world of AI and blockchain, in fifteen years, say, what’s the place of lawyers in all this? What does the legal system look like?

Ten years out, and these are just guess, all of the lower tier work that we traditionally see law firms doing, be it the e-discovery, some of the contract work, all of that will probably go away.

E-discovery now still has a lot of human eyes looking at a lot of these documents, after a first pass that maybe a computer completes. In time, that will probably be all computer. The documents that are out there right now, the normal contracts, that will all go away.

It’s that very top level where you need human imagination, human thought, collaboration that will be the furthest out to be disrupted. But there are a lot of attorneys that are doing just day-to-day work, canned phrases that you use to build up that document, a lot of that stuff will be impacted in the next, say, five years. In ten ten years, I’d say it’ll definitely be impacted. That’s the direction that I personally see it going in.

Law firms that don’t change the way in which they work will probably go away.
Lastly, what we are starting to see in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand, is that the Big Four of auditing and accounting are starting to take away some of the business from law firms.

Not only can they now handle law firm work, they can handle everything else – they have full-on accounting, the business processes, all of that is going to be fulfilled by these massive organizations. That will absolutely impact law firms.  This will come to the US soon, it is inevitable.

 

What advice would you give to a law student preparing for this new world?

Don’t practice law. (Laughs) I’m kidding.

I think it’s still a fantastic profession which requires a great deal of talent and unique thought processes. The advice that I actually gave to a few people who were interning here this summer, who were looking at law school: spend as much time on understanding the basics around law.

If your passion is around helping people and the love of law, go to law school. In preparation for your studies look at some of the startups like Kleros and try to work there to see what a lawyer will be doing in the future. Understand the growing relationship between technology and the law.

Clearly law rules the roost, but technology will continue to play a role in how it is practiced, and frankly what will be done by the future attorney.

I think companies should bring in a few aspiring attorneys to help them understand where we are going as a society, as a business. The future student should work with startups, work with bigger companies that are involved with e-discovery or anything in the legal technology world to help them get an understanding of how the technology works, how the vendors work and how this stuff may impact the way they practice law. Getting a full-rounded perspective of where the world is heading is essential – especially if you are dropping 300K USD on education.

One last thing I’ll mention about this is – I don’t know who originally thought of this concept, but there is a phrase called a T-shaped attorney. It’s literally like the letter T. Across the top of the letter T, those aspiring attorneys are learning everything they can about the business and the practice of law. They are learning a bit about project management, maybe they’re learning a bit about how to code or how vendors work.

More and more we are hearing about attorneys learning to code in different languages, so they have a better understanding of how that works. Understanding how vendors work, how startups work in the legal tech space. That’s the top of the letter, and the deep part, the extension of the letter T is the practice area they’re in, litigation, automotive practice or any else which they know almost as an expert. We are really talking about a well rounded attorney.

What books or other resources can you recommend to people to read and start learning about the future of law?

Some of the best books out there about legal technology and what impact its’ going to have are by Richard Susskind, most are aware of him, but if you haven’t seen or heard this gentleman from Scotland, he is on tour frequently, he talks about amazing things which should be happening in the legal industry.

He has a plethora of works out there. I spend a lot of time on YouTube in my off hours, looking at what people are thinking, what they’re talking about in many different industries, clearly within the legal tech industry as well, so that’s a great resource. Twitter has a plethora of great discussions that are happening as well.

Shameless plug, you can always check out my blog at https://JoeTechnologist.com, there’s always one or two hopefully decent ideas there that could be something worthwhile.

A presentation of Kleros with some extra flavor given by Joe Raczynski

Traveling Around the World (literally – 37,503 miles or 60,355 KM) – A Global Jaunt to Connect with Customers

Over the last eight weeks I have traveled around the world to meet our customers, with enough miles technically to have traversed the earth one and a half times or over 37,000 miles.

Background:

I had the good fortune to visit customers and present in London, Grand Cayman, New York, Dubai, Washington DC, Auckland, and Sydney.  The discussions have been intimate gatherings of global law firm leaders, head’s of startups, medium sized regional firms, and leaders in the US and UAE government sector.  I had the opportunity to present to the local offices of Thomson Reuters in Dubai and take the “Orange Chair” Q&A for the Sydney office (video coming soon).  I completed a Thomson Reuters ‘Corporates’ session for the Insurance and Financial Industry webinar on Cybersecurity, and performed several live talks demoing to several hundreds the legal implications of the Dark Web.  In London the wildly successful and innovative Generate Conference were presentations on the future of blockchain with TR Incubator Kleros, and another talk on cybersecurity to hundreds.  Over the last week, I spoke and moderated panels at both a large law and another medium law firm leader dinners, and at forums in Dubai, Auckland, and Sydney.  This experience has been amazing!  Having that as some background here are some thoughts on legal technology today across the globe.

 

Brief Customer Observances:

First, I am incredibly impressed with how quickly the legal industry is pivoting and how many now care about legal technology.  For the last decade I have traditionally met with law firm and some corporate CIOs, CTOs, Technology Directors and Librarians of all sizes.  Now the door has blown open to everyone else.  Various practice areas, partners, associates, internal support group, and the executive committees are asking for these meetings and leaning into the conversation around how technology is impacting the legal industry for both the practice and business of law.  Reasons are several fold; their clients are asking them, and quite frankly, people are worried about their own jobs.

 

UK: My experiences have led me to believe that the UK legal market is on average ahead of the curve when it comes to the use and implementation of legal technology.  Medium sized firms are rapidly testing and using many of the latest AI infused application to seek efficiency.  Partnerships with universities and joining consortia is an increasingly popular option.  Having met with the University College London recently, they echoed these same sentiments of active participation from law firms and corporations.

 

US: The US market is rather bifurcated.  There are firms pushing the envelope along the same lines as what the progressives are doing in the UK, but still many law firms seem to keep to the plan that they have had for the last few decades with incremental change.

 

UAE: The firms are also pushing what they can do with all currently available technology tools in the market.  Their courts, especially the International courts might be leading the world.  In fact, in the UAE, it is the government which seems to be pushing the private sector.  Along with the use of digitalization of workflow and automation of the courts, they are also implementing solutions around blockchain and AI which are bleeding edge.

 

New Zealand:  Besides the top eight firms, many are working on building out their portfolio of technology tools to assist their practitioners in order to be more efficient.  There is slow acceptance of AFAs by firms as they await the results of early adopters.  There are also several firms going it alone in building workflows and homemade solutions for documentation automation which require multiple developers both onsite and in India.

 

Australia: After spending time with numerous managing partners and innovation officers, it seems that Australian firms have the potential to lead the way into newer technologies.  That said they seem to be on the same page as what we see in New Zealand.  Fixed fee arrangements have been around for years, but are not used frequently yet.  Australian firms have leaders that can make bold decisions, but for now are testing the waters with newer forms of legal technology in their marketplace.

 

Appreciation: Internal Partners at Thomson Reuters:

I am extraordinarily fortunate to have made wonderful connections colleagues all over Thomson Reuters.  To a one, these individuals clearly have our customers best interest in mind at all times.  They epitomize the quality of being there for others as they diligently work through large and small issues in an effort to make our customers happy.  There are far too many examples to highlight, but I would like to recognize the following people for their help as I traveled these last eight weeks.

 

UK:  For the Generate Conference, customer meetings and internal strategy meetings, I wish to thank;  Kaley BottingLeila LoboAndy WishartLucie AllenSimon SmithAnn LundinJoe DavisJoel BlackVassil VassilevChristopher JefferyBabar HayatKathryn DaviesRob MartinJennie BygraveBrian CarrollBruce Frampton, and the rest of the client management, technical, and marketing teams in the UK.

US: For the panel on cryptocurrencies and blockchain for the Federal Government team; Gina ScialabbaKate FriedrichRobert BuergenthalDavid Wilkins For the Corporates partnership with the Association of Insurance Compliance Professionals and Financial Industry on Cybersecurity: Melissa BerryMatthew Ashley, J., Lauren WilkinsDaisy RowanDorian Buckethal and the rest of the marketing teams on the Federal Government, Corporates, and Refinitiv.  The Demoing the Dark Web talks with Wendy Maines and Blythe McCoy

UAE: For the Managing Partner Dinner, customer meetings, and internal presentations and meetings, I wish to thank;  Haley O’BrienDanny CrouchIbrahim Abdel RehimSuhayl HendricksNicholas CronjagerEslam MahmoudMark Freeman, M., Yasincan Gabriel Altiparmak, and the rest of the client management team in Dubai.

New Zealand: Annette VaoChris Hewitt

Australia: Chris HewittAelwyn NortonKim de KockJames JarvisPhillip InghamCarl OlsonRob Gitell

 

The vice grip of cybersecurity concerns on law firms

Originally published on Legal Insights UK & Ireland

By Joseph Raczynski

Law firms stand in a very precarious position in the cybersecurity world. Next to financial institutions, private legal institutions are a virtual honey pot for cybercriminals. Any breach, no matter the size, impacts the client, and certainly could destroy a firm’s reputation.

Four years ago, I toured over 50 law firms discussing cybersecurity with chief information officers (CIO), managing partners, lawyers and support staff. Each year since, it remains one of the hottest legal technology topics with my clients. The unfortunate situation is that, while law firms have dramatically shored up the barriers of defence, criminals have new methods to circumnavigate the ramparts.

Why law firms now?

Recently, I was at a CIO conference with 350 medium and large law firm CIOs in attendance. The keynote speaker stunned the crowd with a singular statement: “do you realise you [CIOs] are the gatekeepers to 71 percent of the non-public intellectual property (IP)?” The first reason law firms are attacked is because of IP. Criminals of all sorts see law firms rife with IP that can be pilfered.

One Asian country has allegedly lifted massive amounts of IP from technology companies, not from the companies themselves, but rather their law firms. Once obtained, they pass the IP to their nation’s internal network of state owned companies for development. Apple could have trade secrets stolen and then developed and sold in China before Apple could get it to market in London. To this end, Joe Patrice, Editor of Above the Law, once called law firms “the soft underbelly of the cybersecurity world”. The good news is that law firms have fortified their gates more recently to stymie the IP raiders.

The second reason why law firms are attacked is business information. Last year a known hacker in Russia targeted the top 25 law firms in the world to pull out any merger and acquisition (M&A) information. The criminals silently slip past firewalls, identify M&A documentation of companies set to merge, then can use that information to purchase stock—all before it is publicly announced.

Methods of attack

There is a myriad of tried and true means to crack networks and computers. Having been a white hat hacker script kiddie, years ago, I recently dipped my toe back into the space to see what has changed. My conclusion: it is easier to hack now than it was 10 years ago.

I bought a £4 specialised USB the other day, which will load any sort of script onto a computer in under four seconds. Simply choose the script from 100’s publicly available on the web, convert the code through a free compiler, load it onto the USB stick—and voila! In my testing, I could scrape the user names and passwords entered on my computer, and have it automatically sent to a test email account, simply by placing the ’bad USB’ or ’Rubber Ducky’ into my drive for a few seconds. Does your firm lock down USB ports? Perhaps it is worth considering as an attack of this nature can be executed with relative ease.

There are countless other ways to hack a computer or IoT (Internet of Things) device, but no greater risk is higher than email. Allen Paller, of the US-based SANS Institute, cites 95 percent of all malware and breaches start with email. Phishing attacks, discussed in a new government report published by the National Cyber Security Centre: ‘The cyber threat to UK legal sector’, states that 80 percent of law firms in the UK have had attempted phishing attacks in the last year. These sorts of attacks can be prevented in several ways:

  • Have processes in place when dealing with accounting so emails are not approval for funds transfer—use an internal application for requests and verification
  • Use software to distinguish ‘external’ emails from ‘internal’
  • Link protection—use real-time analysis of URLs and domains so that the user is safely redirected to valid domains when clicking ‘unknown’ links in emails
  • Assuring that all applications are running their most up to date versions

One of the largest law firms in the world, DLA Piper, was hit by ransomware last year. Fortunately, DLA Piper survived, though weeks of recovery at a tremendous cost. Still, these types of attacks can be devastating. They encrypt all files on your computer or network—leaving you two options: pay the ransom to get the password, or delete everything off the computer and rebuild with your backup files. Either option can leave a law firm, for a short or long period of time, with limited ability to address client needs.

The future of cybersecurity will be a multi-pronged approach. No longer is antivirus software the ultimate defence. Instead, law firms will need tools that detect intruders using artificial intelligence infused algorithms to figure out abnormal activity on the network. Blockchain will help securitise information and identities with a distributed network—compared to a central repository of sensitive information. Lastly, the General Data Protection Regulation has already, and will continue to, force all parties to take security more seriously or risk significant fines.

Legislating for the future: Drones in the UK

Portions originally published in The Guardian.

by Joseph Raczynski

 

1. What are your thoughts on the UK’s drone regulations/regulatory approach, and how does it compare to other approaches around the world? Are there any ideas we should borrow from Australia, the US, etc?

 

Drone enthusiast beware, a new era of regulation is about to hit the air.  On July 31, 2018 a new set of laws will go into effect in the UK.  The rules are more restrictive than in the past, stating:

  • Do not fly higher than 400 feet
  • Stay at least one kilometer outside of the airport walls
  • Keep the drone in constant direct eyesight
  • Fly no closer than 150 metres from crowds of 1,000 or more people (think stadiums)
  • Kept it 50 metres away from people and private property

 

  • On November 30, 2019 everyone who owns a drone that weighs 250 grams or more will need to study up. After that date you will need to register your drone with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and then pass an online drone safety test.  Failure to do both will land you a fine of £1,000.
  • There are multiple sights that drone owners can go to understand the landscape better. Drone Safe UK is one of them.

 

These rules are not the most restrictive found around the world, but they are certainly not the most lenient either.  In fact, if you strictly adhere to these rules, it is more than likely that your drone will remain grounded, unless you live in a very rural location.  The most challenging of the above is keeping the quadcopter 50 metres away from people and private property.  Just launching your drone in an urban or suburban area will break this rule.  Operators will need to do considerable research before taking flight.  To that end, numerous mobile apps are available to assist in your planning before you fly.

 

Every country around the world seems to have issued guidance in this area.  While the UK is more restrictive than most, the norm, also the rules in the US, seems to be keeping the drone within eyesight, flying no higher than 400 feet, staying away from crowds, possibly registering the device, and not flying closer than five miles from airports.  There are more restrictive countries like Morocco where drones are now completely banned.  If you bring a drone into the country without declaring it, they will confiscate the device.  Australia has very similar rules to the US which are less onerous than the new UK rules.  I have flown in UAE, Costa Rica, US, UK, Colombia, Switzerland, and several other countries and most allow you to fly following the aforementioned rules.

 

All countries are grappling with their policies on drone usage.  The concerns range from privacy to safety.  Privacy issues will always be a concern with a small minority of pilots flying over private property recording video where a private citizen has the expectation of privacy.  The safety concern is one most likely to fade away over the next five years, when the devices become even more reliable and safe.  Currently there has been marked improvement in the way the software on drones handle a dying battery, location awareness, and object avoidance.  These are now standard on most new drones, so that the devices can return home safely and therefore tend to drop out of the sky far less frequently than a few years ago.

 

2. How do we balance regulation and technology to ensure drone innovation isn’t held back? Do we have a good balance so far?

 

The newest drones are amazing!  My current version can fly four miles away, shoots in 4K video, and can go at least a mile high – not that I have flown it that far.  The technology is well beyond what we are currently allowed to do.  The alarm bells sounded recently, and subsequent regulation created when some operators did dumb things.  People have been caught flying over football stadiums during games, others have flown in the path of airplanes or over forest fires putting emergency helicopter workers in danger.  The issue is that these devices are powerful and now put into the hands of the masses, some have made poor decisions, which could impact general safety and people’s privacy.  I think in the short term we are going to see more restrictive rules like what the UK is enacting now, but in the long term these will ease.  They will relax, as the devices become safer with newer technology – software and sensors.  They will have better obstacle avoidance and baked in no-fly zones will be a norm across all manufactures.  Currently a handful of drone producers have software that if you try to take off next to Big Ben, the drone won’t even move because it uses GPS.

 

Since we have people sometimes making poor decisions, the current set of normalized rules found in most countries make sense.  I would suggest that the UK has gone a bit further than I would deem reasonable, but still generally acceptable.

 

3. How do you see drones influencing city planning? What do drones mean for residential development (delivery pads on apartment roofs)? What about noise considerations and safety?

 

The next great leap into the future that is happening at an exponential rate will be service drones in densely populated areas.  Clearly delivery drones are coming.  Amazon is testing this now.  So you will be able to purchase your bag of crisps and soft drinks via your mobile and have them delivered via drone in short order.  This will impact how buildings are constructed.  You will see more landing pads off of balconies.  In addition, non-balcony flats will have landing pads on the roof, with autonomous rolling rovers which will pick up the drone dropped package and deliver it to your front door.   If you live by a beach, drones are starting to be used in saving lives.  Instead of a lifeguard having to jump off from their perch, run across the hot sand, battle the waves to get to the struggling person, they will launch a drone fly it above the person in distress and drop the life preserver.  The first water rescue of this manner happened in March down in Australia.  Another plan is to have drones help guide you to open parking spaces in the city.  Do you want to get a closer look at out of reach parts of London Bridge as a tourist?  You will be able to dawn a headset and a mini drone will take you to parts of the bridge unseen by most.  Drones might monitor traffic.  Helping with real-time incident reports for accidents, and giving real-time feedback about troubled areas.  We will also see drones watching over as police helpers. Making sure that areas which might have more crime are being monitored more closely.

 

The noise issue is also temporary.  Companies are now creating “props” or propellers that make far less noise than even a year ago, and this will continue to improve until we have something that is nearly silent.

 

There are countless other areas that will be impacted with drones.  Fire and rescue, compliance for real estate ordinances – did you build a deck without a permit?

 

4. How can drone rules be enforced? What good technologies have you seen in use so far?

 

Right now drone rules are being enforced by the drone companies.  They are baking into their software all of the rules and regulations mentioned earlier based on your location and common standards.  This is being done proactively for fear of the Morocco situation – an outright ban of recreation drones.  Every time I turn on my drone, it asks me to update my software, it adds new “no-fly zones” as more and more areas around the world request a no drone area.  Companies are simply trying to self-regulate.  On the other side, honestly it is very difficult for enforcement to go after operators.  They essentially need to witness a drone flying in a restricted area, then find the person flying the device.  They typically find them as the drone runs low on battery and the pilot brings it down.  It is only a matter of minutes for the enforcement to find that person before they take off.  In very restricted areas, some countries have devices to scramblers the communications of the drone operator, which can do a few things to the misguided drone; drop it out of the sky or take over the flight from the owner.

 

5. How do you see drones actually being used in the next five years? What use cases are over hyped and which are realistic?

 

I believe in some areas we will have drone delivery.  I actually think in the next 5 to 10 years we will have the flying vehicles people always dreamed about.  The first human drone vehicles have been made.  The major hurtle will be regulation of these devices.  Drones will routinely monitor forests looking for hot spots to prevent massive forest fires.  I think we will start seeing some policing with drones, observing areas with high crime.  Selfie drones, the size of a deck of cards will be in most tourist’s pockets.  They will have a very limited distance and primarily take pictures and video from cool new perspectives… like you rock-climbing 500 feet above a ravine and you simply call it out to take a video and then returns to your momentarily free hand.  I think you will also start to see ambulance drones – is someone having a heart attack near you.  You call 911 and the drone is dispatched much faster and arrives in a few minutes compared to the ambulance itself.

 

This tech is just about to take off.  The next few years are going to be a mix of tech pushing the boundaries and regulators having to make new decisions.

Artificial Intelligence and the UK vs. US Approach

Originally published on Legal Insights UK & Ireland

By Joseph Raczynski, edits, questions and preface by Ann Lundin and Joe Davis.

Artificial intelligence will threaten most jobs at some point soon—and new jobs will emerge’

The impact of innovative technology is undoubtedly going to radically reshape the delivery of legal services in the years ahead. To help consider the extent of this impact within the legal industry – and indeed, the current state of play, Legal Insights UK & Ireland spoke to Technologist and Futurist at Thomson Reuters, Joe Raczynski.

Tell us something about Joe Raczynski. You have been labelled as a ‘super geek’. How did you achieve this unique status?

It’s actually ‘Sir Super Geek of the Square Table’—as the Queen kindly bestowed recently. More seriously, I am very fortunate. My personal passions and professional career have spectacularly collided. Since I was young I would tinker with electronics, including building a home security system from spare computer parts, penetration testing networks as a white hat hacker, building websites and eventually fiddling with all things computer and technology related. For me, pure satisfaction is derived from being an early adopter of a technology, immersing myself in it, and then sharing that with others—ultimately seeing their eyes grow in amazement, interest and most importantly extrapolation. I still recall describing ‘digital cash’, e.g. Bitcoin, in 2011 to friends and seeing their awe and skepticism. On the other side, I bought Google Glass and trumpeted its potential, until the overwhelming collective societal shame forced them back into their box. The technology in a more robust form will return in a few years, I promise.

Tell us about your role at Thomson Reuters.

I oversee a wonderfully nimble team of technical client managers. Our collective goal is bifurcated. Part one is to assure that all our (80-plus) Thomson Reuters Legal products and services work well for our customers. Part two, which is ever growing, is sitting down with our customers across law firms, corporations, and government agencies to understand their technology initiatives. We are able to see the trends across the various facets of our legal customers, and serve as technology evangelists to share those insights with our customers. Historically, we have also listened to them about where ‘tool gaps’ lie, and either code those solutions ourselves, or work with the larger Thomson Reuters to build solutions.

Does the progressive development of AI and robots threaten your job or anyone else’s? If so, how soon?

AI will threaten most jobs at some point soon, mine included but a tad further out. Anything repeatable, routine, or even easy to adapt to ‘if then’ statements, will be impacted. Many of the traditional services positions will fade away first: drivers, wait staff, store clerks, and then some professional positions, such as project managers, will be next. Mentally, we all need to prepare for this eventuality. The positive is that new industries will evolve which haven’t been invented yet, which will spur new jobs.

How is AI currently disrupting the legal industry?

In the legal space, you can already see it on the eDiscovery front. Eight years ago, new lawyers might be tasked with document review spending 80 hours a week. Now law firms need far fewer eyes reviewing documents, because of AI infused tools. Document automation tools like Contract Express or Drafting Assistant make law firms much more efficient by replicating and modifying exemplar documents with ease. Those firms that adapt soonest, will be best positioned moving forward.

What do you make of law firms engaging more directly with incubators/tech start-ups?

There are several things afoot. Law firms traditionally were technology risk adverse, but that is rapidly changing. The first tug on the law firm are clients asking for them to be more agile forcing new mindsets. Another pull is that law firms tend to be a highly profitable industry, and for that reason small companies have now cast their gaze on their large margins. You have hundreds of new start-ups seizing upon niches of the legal business, be it the practice or business of law. Lastly, law firms are seeing the above and deciding to band together with start-ups to test the waters on new products and services. This has a secondary purpose, it also better positions the firm as forward thinking for new clients.

How do UK and US large law firms’ attitude differ in their receptiveness to new legal technology, and willingness to invest?

I have seen a wide variety of responses on adoption of legal technology at US law firms. Recently one firm stated, ‘we are not going to invest in AI because we are an insurance firm and it will not help us’. Conversely, I have seen several large law firm tossing millions of dollars at internal initiatives to develop new tools. My experience with UK firms demonstrates a real tilt toward innovation perhaps more universally than in the US. It seems that currently the push to be more efficient in the UK surpasses that need in the US. Despite major transformative landscape changes in the US, there are clusters of firms that will not change—until forced to do so, which will likely happen within five years. In general UK firms are thinking more like a business.

Does the growing necessity to adopt time-saving, efficiency-driven legal technology put pressure on small and medium-sized law firms to invest? What will likely happen if they don’t?

Personally, I believe the medium sized firms could be best positioned with new efficiency driven legal solutions. To that end, I am starting to see medium sized firms competing against the biggest law firms. Five years ago, this wasn’t as feasible. No matter the size of the firm, they must have a keen eye to investigate the latest legal technology trends, tools, and service models. If they don’t, they will miss opportunities—and a streak of missed opportunities will lead to significant risk of survival.