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.

The impact of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs on the legal industry with Joseph Raczynski

It was a ton of fun recording this podcast with the omniscient and ever engaging Joseph Gartner at the ABA Center for Innovation – (full transparency, I sit on the Council). With Joey’s new role as Director and Counsel, we chatted all things #blockchain#cryptocurrencies, and #NFTs and their impact on the legal industry.  It is fantastic to be a part of a group pushing on #innovation in the legal industry at the ABA with Chair, Don Bivens and the entire Center for Innovation Governing Council.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1784333/8764341-the-impact-of-blockchain-cryptocurrencies-and-nfts-on-the-legal-industry-with-joseph-raczynski

Podcast: The Hearing – Stevie Ghiassi, Co-founder Legaler and Legaler Aid

Question: What do the Iranian national football team, NFTs, Hotel Rwanda and tennis great, Andy Murray have in common?

Answer: Stevie Ghiassi, Co-founder of Legaler and Legaler Aid. And my guest this week!

In this episode, Stevie chats with me about his unlikely journey from running a chain of souvenir shops to becoming a legal tech entrepreneur. He also talks about the important work that Legaler Aid is doing, and ways in which legal tech and blockchain have helped them pivot after Covid took away traditional fundraising streams.

Yet again we’re seeing innovative ways that cryptocurrency and blockchain are being used, and how they offer real opportunities for the legal industry.

Apple:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ep-78-stevie-ghiassi-legaler/id1389813956?i=1000524478029

Google: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9wb3J0YWwtYXBpLnRoaXNpc2Rpc3RvcnRlZC5jb20veG1sL3RoZS1oZWFyaW5n/episode/aHR0cDovL2F1ZGlvLnRoaXNpc2Rpc3RvcnRlZC5jb20vcmVwb3NpdG9yeS9hdWRpby9lcGlzb2Rlcy9FcDc4X1N0ZXZpZV9HaGlhc3NpX21peGRvd24tMTYyMjgxMTgwNDQ2MjA3MzUyNi1NekkyT1RFdE56VTVNelkxTkRBPS5tcDM?sa=X&ved=0CAUQkfYCahcKEwjAm42r05XxAhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQCg&hl=en

Bye-bye, banks! Hello DeFi… Our bankless society has officially begun

Decentralized Finance (DeFi) is a multi-billion-dollar movement that may end up changing the way we all bank

Imagine a time where banks are not needed. Think about all the financial instruments we use today — currency, loans, insurance, bonds, credit cards, stocks, futures, options, interest bearing accounts — being converted to a new model, one that doesn’t require a traditional banking institution.

This is happening now. For those of you who sit on the bleeding edge of technology with me, this has been looming for a few years. However, I have purposely held off writing about it until the data was sound. Now, we have the data.

Decentralized Finance (DeFi) is a multi-billion-dollar movement involving several intermingled concepts. At its core it is blockchain-based and uses an immutable, trustless computer network that verifies transactions without human intervention. The most established platform on which DeFi is built is Ethereum, which was the first major blockchain to move beyond a simple currency replacement, such as Bitcoin. Instead, Ethereum has moved toward completely revolutionizing our ability to automate actions with the introduction of smart contracts, which themselves enable code to facilitate actions stored on that blockchain public ledger.

What is pivotal here is that you can establish complex financial ecosystems that run based on rules; thus, eliminating the need for traditional third parties, like banks and brokerage houses. These rules can dictate action, lock-in value, automate transactions, and create immense efficiencies in the marketplace at a fraction of the cost of our current systems.

DeFi

There are hundreds of examples of DeFi applications on the Ethereum ecosystem today. For context, Ethereum has a $475 billion market capitalization, just shy of JPMorgan Chase and Visa, making it the 14th largest company in the world. We are extremely early, and I project Ethereum to be the most valuable asset in the world within the next few years; and there is $90 billion invested in Ethereum-based DeFi protocols as of this writing. Addressing concerns since its inception, the platform is currently being upgraded to speed transactions — that is, provide scalability — as well as moving from proof of work to proof of stake, meaning that the previous maladaptive environmental impact will be reduce dramatically.

Prepping for DeFi

Practically speaking, how does this all work, and where is it going? Your blockchain-based “digital wallet” — such MetaMask — is your new on-ramp to DeFi. This will be a nearly universal tool all over the world in the coming years. And while the majority of people in this space now use a wallet stored on a centralized exchange, the path forward will be to “own your own keys”, meaning the private and public keys (which are essentially two elongated number-letter strings) that prove you own that wallet. The private key is akin to your password and should never be given out, while the public key is your address (like your mailing address) to where people can send you assets.

When you use a central exchange, like Coinbase, you do not own your own keys. Once you own your wallet you can load any number of assets into that wallet, including Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Soon this wallet will contain all your assets, including deeds to your house, car, health information, your own digital identity, and much more.

How do you interact with DeFi?

To navigate this process, you begin with an asset (like Ethereum, or ETH, for example) in your wallet. Now you have countless possibilities to go bankless. With that token, you can simply hold it and hope its value appreciates. Each token has a fluctuating value in currencies from around the world.

Another option would be to “stake” that token, which means you are paid to offer that token up as collateral to participate in the network which confirms transactions from one person to another. When you stake a token, a binding smart contract is being created on the blockchain. You are committing to offer your 1 ETH to the network for a set amount of time, and during that time, you may get 10% or more interest. The legal contract is in the code.

Progressing down the complexity scale of DeFi, nearly all financial instruments can be leveraged on this platform through various applications. You could loan out that 1 ETH and receive a yield, which tends to be very high these days, at around 7% to 100% per annum. There are hundreds of tokens on the Ethereum platform that have distinct purpose, although there are other competing blockchain platforms in this space. These platforms too are building out DeFi solutions.

One of the most prominent examples of DeFi is Uniswap. It is the most popular Ethereum-based decentralized exchange (DEX), which allows people to swap tokens that run on the Ethereum network. What is special about Uniswap is that it is an Automated Market Maker (AMM), which means it uses algorithms to price assets instead of buy and sell orders. Individuals can also earn money on the platform by providing liquidity by locking up tokens they own; others can then borrow the tokens and pay interest to the liquidity providers. All of this is using smart contract code without human intervention. All of these assets can be sent from one wallet to another without a bank — this DeFi in action now.

DeFi

But what does this mean for the legal industry? In short order, government agencies, law firms, corporations, and others will be impacted by DeFi. Each party will need to look at it through their own lens, examine the benefits and understand the risks as well.

  • If you are a law firm with a big bank as your client, partial short-term disruption is a risk. DeFi offers firms the opportunity to leveraging this technology for the “banks” of the future, which of course, will be code-based. The long-term disruption to the traditional banking sector is real. Unless banks can figure out how to compete when code can facilitate what they’ve been doing for the last 200 years.
  • For government agencies that provide guidance, this technology can usher in opportunities that previously were only available to the wealthiest people and organizations. The vast amount of “unbanked” individuals — those without access to a bank or credit — can now participate in the economy. However, these same agencies need to determine if there are enough regulatory rails to prevent harm to individuals or businesses.
  • As for corporations, if they see themselves as “middlemen” that facilitate loans or provide currency, bonds, credit cards, stocks, futures, options, or interest-bearing accounts, they might have to pivot.

DeFi will change the way we bank and interact with assets of all sizes. This shift is as large as the move onto the internet with the tokenization of all assets and value represented digitally.

The legal industry needs to lean into the conversation now, to better digest how to help their clients, and possibly properly guide regulation for the coming codification of our financial world. Because the next iteration of this space will be Decentralized Autonomous Exchanges (DAOs), which will not only impact the financial industry, but will carry over to any entity — firm, business, or government agency — that can and will be run by code.

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs): Asset ownership via blockchain rockets into legal

In a two-part series, we will look at Non-Fungible Tokens, explaining what they are and how they will impact numerous industries; and how decentralized finance (DeFi) is critical to understanding NFT’s importance within the legal industry.

Originally published on the Legal Executive Institute.

By Joseph Raczynski

Welcome to the early days of where blockchain goes mainstream, and the legal industry needs to take notice.

While Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) have been around for several years — remember CryptoKitties or even the original NFT, called CryptoPunks? Even if you don’t, NFTs have officially exploded into popular culture, begging the question: So, what are they?

A Non-Fungible Token is a token stored on the blockchain, which itself is a secure distributed database with redundancy, immutability, and clarity into tracking data or ownership. A token proves ownership of an asset. For example, a deed to your house is a sign of ownership to that plot of land and building. In the case of the first digital token, Bitcoin, a single Bitcoin is the title of ownership to the underlying value of the Bitcoin.

The best part about a token on the blockchain is the ability to track ownership and therefore authenticity, undeniably proving ownership.

CryptoPunk #7129 Sold for $90,000 recently

Fungible refers to an asset that is easily exchangeable. In the classic example, a dollar is very fungible — you can hand a dollar to me in exchange for some gum, and I can then re-use that dollar for a can of soda. The physical dollar maybe different because I swapped with another in my wallet, but it is easily replaceable and exchangeable, so it is fungible.

Now, it gets interesting. A non-fungible token is a unique token that is not easily exchangeable or replaceable with another. With the mania that is occurring with NFTs, the best example is with art. Recently, Mike Winkelmann, known as @Beeple, a renowned artist who has worked with Nike and Apple, sold 20 pieces of his own work on the digital marketplace Nifty Gateway for a total of $3.5 million. And in the latest eye-opener, he sold a collection of many of his works combined into a masterpiece, titled EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS at Christie’s for $69 million. These transactions occurred on Ethereum, the primary blockchain platform of record for storing value, but Winkelmann’s art itself was simply digital images.

With the NFTs, we are proving that rare and scarce representation of things can create value, and that value can be captured on the blockchain. Let your imagination run wild for a moment: What this means is that nearly anything and everything that is represented digitally could also carry provable value.

Would you pay 2.5 million for ownership of Jack Dorsey’s first Tweet?

For example, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, is in the process of selling his first Tweet, the original Tweet of Twitter. It is, as of this writing, estimated at a value of $2.5 million and projected to go higher. Why might you ask? Well, it is feasible to collect royalties on that tweet once you own it; or, you could hopefully resell it in the future. Lastly — and again, I beg your imagination for this thought — in the not too distant future, with people living in virtual reality, these pieces of art will have a home inside those worlds, too. Other examples, the NBA has now gotten in on the action by leveraging NBA Top Shot, selling limited edition, finite numbers of virtual basketball cards, including a short clip of a LeBron James dunk, which recently sold for more than $200,000.

In the past, I discussed asset tokenization, which is the simple idea that nearly anything could be represented on the blockchain as having value. It this is now happening. This could be a painting, your car, a house, or even a Tweet. Essentially, if you have something original, that you can then prove is yours, that item can derive value.

Through the lens of the legal kaleidoscope, we are entering a complicated but colorful place, and there are an incredible number of areas this will touch. As technology push us to rethink what we know, NFTs shall do the same. In this nascent area, contemplation about the impact on both the practice and business of law will hit multiple fronts. Here are just a few:

  1. Intellectual property — NFTs carry a huge target on their virtual backs from the IP angle. At the heart of these tokens is uniqueness and ownership, and that means that eventually, litigation will follow.
  2. Trust & estates — Possession comes in the form of a digital wallet. Access to the private and public keys will need to be accounted for and administered for these sorts of new assets.
  3. Anti-money laundering — One worry, at the moment, is that the buying and selling of these digital assets could be a way to disguise or launder dirty money. Although the underlining technology of the blockchain is leveraged, a general misunderstanding of its complexity makes it a temporary safe haven for the scofflaw.
  4. Tax & accounting — Millions of dollars are being transferred, soon to be billions; and those in the tax & accounting field will need to better understand this space to assist their clients. How are sales treated? What does appreciation impact? And how can we account for the transactions?

NTFs are likely here to stay. They will continue to evolve, however, representing nearly every assets class going forward. Law firms, corporations, tax & accounting firms, and government agencies will need to pay attention to this space in order to account for how this new technology impacts their individual [digital] pictures of the law.

Podcast: The Hearing – Federico Ast – Cofounder & CEO – Kleros

From the producer: Here at The Hearing HQ we’ve really missed travelling. So being whisked (virtually) to Buenos Aires for this week’s episode was a real treat!

Meet Joe’s guest, Federico Ast, the CEO and founder of Kleros. He’s deeply intelligent, thoughtful and one hell of an aggravator in the world of justice. Federico has a philosophy-centered approach to improving judicial systems around the world, and talks to Joe about how deliberative democracy can fast-track access to justice.

Kleros is an online dispute resolution system based on blockchain, crowdsourcing and game theory. We hear how Federico has used his experience of the Argentinian economic collapse of the 90s to problem-solve dispute resolution for the internet age.

Listen Here:

Apple: The Hearing – A Legal Podcast – EP. 73 – Federico Ast (Kleros) 

Google: The Hearing – A Legal Podcast – EP. 73 – Federico Ast (Kleros) 

Podcast: The Hearing – Doug Pepe – Partner – Joseph Hage Aaronson LLC

From the producer: You may have watched as Mark Zuckerberg explained the internet to Congress in a way that felt a bit unnecessary. Well, this episode is sort of the opposite of that. Joe Raczynski is joined by legal and mathematical macroeconomics genius Doug Pepe, to take us through blockchain, tokens and cryptocurrency in a way that’s genuinely enlightening.

The legal industry is sometimes accused of not keeping up, but we know that’s not true. Lawyers are occupying this space now. Their clients are very active and they have a crucial role to play in the serious policy issues being debated.

Doug, a partner at Joseph Hage Aaronson, started his blockchain journey by building gaming computers with his young children, and then teaching them how to mine bitcoin. Fast forward and Doug is now an expert on blockchain privacy, smart contracts and digital identity.

Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ep-68-doug-pepe-jha/id1389813956?i=1000503066806

Google/Android: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9wb3J0YWwtYXBpLnRoaXNpc2Rpc3RvcnRlZC5jb20veG1sL3RoZS1oZWFyaW5n/episode/aHR0cDovL2F1ZGlvLnRoaXNpc2Rpc3RvcnRlZC5jb20vcmVwb3NpdG9yeS9hdWRpby9lcGlzb2Rlcy9FcDY4X0RvdWdfUGVwZV9taXhkb3duLTE2MDgzMDQxMDgzMzgzNDc3MDctTXpFMk9UVXROelF6TVRNME16WT0ubXAz?sa=X&ved=0CAUQkfYCahcKEwjo-ObCpN_tAhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQAw

Find out more at tr.com/TheHearing

Justice for all? The impact of AI & blockchain on legal accessibility

Originally published on AnswersOn

By Joseph Raczynski

I have been incredibly fortunate to have traveled extensively, which has impacted my global vision. Visiting almost 40 countries, I have witnessed firsthand the enormous discrepancies in wealth, opportunities, and lifestyles that exist around the world today.

I’ve seen the lavish gilded rooms, complete with Picassos on the wall, in the homes of 35-year-old billionaires in Dubai; and just a five-hour flight away, I’ve seen families hover around an open fire to stay warm alongside their metal sheet home on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal, in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. And I’ve observed the steep mountain face of the drug-scared city of Medellin, Colombia — a concrete jungle with the activity of an ant hill. I’ve walked the rural farmlands of Cambodia, which are still littered with signs for landmines, and seen some children showing the stark evidence of their life-changing encounters with these mines; and I have wandered the extremely remote rain forest of Panama with its indigenous people.

The one element that buoys my spirits besides the genuine kindness of people, the promise of technology and our future.

One unexpected item that is omnipresent for both the wealthy and the less fortunate — a mobile phone. This is likely the most significant key to empowering people; and with a mobile phone, people around the world can connect, share ideas, and exchange money.


Joseph Raczynski will be speaking at the World Bank’s Law, Justice and Development Week 2019: Rights, Technology & Development in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4-7.


Now, I am also seeing that connectivity energizing people’s legal liberties and human rights. We are evolving to a point where each person around the world has a computer in their pocket. Through this technological leapfrogging, a high school student in a remote village of Cambodia can be almost technologically on par with her counterpart in Amsterdam.

Exponential growth globally

Way back in 2015 I wrote about how we are entering a phase of Exponential Growth, and how that will impact the legal industry. What is evident now, however, is that this growth is not solely for the global law firms in the Western world, but is cascading to individuals in the most remote parts of the globe. Most importantly, we see how they will be able to take advantage of legal services which previously were nearly impossible.

Increasingly available chatbots empowered with Artificial Intelligence can now offer improved access to justice, helping people make decisions or even seek asylum. These applications, which are essentially legal workflow tools, can generate questions and answers via a mobile phone from anywhere in the world.

Further, blockchain is already impacting trust with small businesses. A family-run business in Argentina that enters into an agreement with a distributor can do so via a legally binding contract supported by smart contract technology securely saved to a blockchain. If a problem arises, for a small amount of money, arbitrators around the world can weigh in and help resolve the issue, all enabled through a mobile device.

The power of blockchain and AI is at work in Africa, where a farmer can opt into an insurance program on their phone. With as little as a dollar placed toward insurance, if the farmers crops don’t survive a drought, AI-powered satellite imagery can automatically pay those affected. Combing smart contracts on a blockchain with the AI-image recognition technology, people previously without legally binding contracts to support their business can sustain themselves. These types of significant changes will impact people positively.

I am extremely optimistic and passionate about our future, as technology-infused legal processes filter into all communities around the world. This new age will lift people out of poverty, reduce domestic violence and hunger, and improve the lives of people globally. With the technological power of a mobile phone and legal solutions infused by AI and blockchain emerging, there is a bright spot for all of us on the horizon.


For more on the World Bank’s upcoming event, listen to a podcast with Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at the World Bank, conducted by Thomson Reuters’ Joseph Raczynski.

 

 

The 4th Annual Government Day: The Reality and Skepticism of Innovation and Blockchain

Originally published on the Legal Executive Institute

By Joseph Raczynski

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Government sector strives to ramp up its efforts to more widely integrate cutting edge technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT), it is running into a myriad of challenges.

Not the least among them, is separating the reality from the hype of these miracle tech solutions.

At Thomson Reuters 4th Annual Government Day, panel attempted this separation by focusing on blockchain, working to uncover the reality of this technology today for governments and cut out the hype of this innovative technology.

Government supply chain management

One area the panel focused on with blockchain is the tech’s potential to change supply chain management, offering a scenario in which a state or federal agency needs to identify the ground zero genesis of a fruit or vegetable foodborne illnesses. The newest proof of concepts utilizes a blockchain-enabled IoT supply chain management technology ecosystem that can save lives by greatly reducing the time it takes to track contaminated tomato from the salad bar back though delivery, distributers, wholesalers, to pickers and finally to the farm.

The panel also discussed how a Massachusetts-based farmer could partner with a technologist to track his tomatoes from vine to fork. The farmer uses IoT temperature gages from the pickers to the platers. This is an example of a public and private partnership where produce with clear data on temperature, handlers, and distributers can be audited through the entire supply chain, all supported on a distributed ledger.

Harnessing this collection of technologies, any listeria outbreak can reduce seven days of research to just seven minutes, ensuring that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have rapid response and control.

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Sovereign identity

Another area the panel discussed included identity management solutions. Breeches to our own private information are commonplace. In fact, recently Facebook suffered yet another attack where 200 million users’ phone numbers were found in a publicly facing open database, including the number of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (In case you are wondering, calling Mr. Zuckerberg’s phone number goes to a generic voicemail.)

Not surprisingly given the stakes, various federal agencies have been surveilling this space for some time. An emerging concept about how to prevent such breaches and other identity security mishaps in the future is taking form.

The panel also took up the “radical” idea that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could issue a new unique identifier to replace a citizen’s Social Security Number (SSN). In a major shift, this identifier would exist on a blockchain. This decentralize system would place the control of the identifying number into the hands of the individual, removing a central repository, which could be hacked.

Panelist Alan Cohn, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, pointed out how this could more securely enable our current voting system, curtailing the chance of fraud and make voting easier for all.

Digital assets

Finally, the panel explored the shifting landscape of digital assets. Cohn said he expects a huge swing in the way we look at assets from a personal perspective and in how the government views it.

The panel concluded that with Facebook launching its own cryptocurrency, Libra, this process has been legitimized. The discussion amped up around what will happen next. I suggested to the panel that Libra could be dead in the water in the United States because of a heightened regulatory concern, but this blockchain-enabled asset cannot be placed back into the bottle. Indeed, with years of consternation ahead from regulators on Libra, companies around the globe will move forward, and the next organization to create what amounts to a world currency will be a messenger app which has 500 million users, Telegram. (Expect its launch before Halloween 2019.)

In all likelihood, governments around the world will be spooked by the immense power an app founded in 2013 will create. They will have a scalable, frictionless asset with features that could bypass anti-money laundering (AML) rules and Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations.

Panel moderator Jason Thomas, Manager of Innovation at Thomson Reuters, and panelist Gail Gottehrer, of the Law Office of Gail Gottehrer, noted that there is significant promise ahead with the intermixing of multiple technologies in combination with blockchain. Indeed, governments are beginning to adopt and adapt in this environment; and with a push from the private sector, state and federal agencies will continue to adjust.

The synthesis of technologies like IoT, AI, and blockchain will create processes which should stamp out farm- and distribution-based foodborne illnesses. New initiatives around the security of personally identifiable information through blockchain will place the control of information into an individual’s hands, removing central points of failure and reducing costly and damaging data breaches.

Lastly, one of the most significant changes ahead is the look and feel of our ownership of assets when everything becomes digital. The opportunity is immense, but so are the concerns around our government’s ability to counter AML as assets become increasingly liquid and frictionless across the globe.

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