Beyond Cryptocurrency: 5 Questions about the Future of Blockchain for Thomson Reuters Technologist Joe Raczynski

Written by Gina Scialabba and originally published by the Legal Executive Institute

Blockchain — we’ve all heard about it, and also heard that it will certainly disrupt the financial, legal and public sector worlds near you.

The real questions surrounding the future of blockchain, however, relates to the evolution of its virtual ledger technology and the ways it will change the way we do business — regionally, nationally and globally.

Financial professionals wonder how this digital ledger will impact their day-to-day activities such as regulatory compliance or combating money laundering. Legal professionals are asking how blockchain will revolutionize their practices. Public sector employees want to know how to incorporate blockchain to improve security and efficiencies.

However, the overarching question pertaining to blockchain, no matter what industry you work, is whether or not we trust the technology.

For answers, Legal Executive Institute spoke to Thomson Reuters Technologist and Futurist, Joseph Raczynski, who recently was a featured panelist at the three-city, 2018 Thomson Reuters Public-Private Partnership Forums (P3) which held its first event in New York City on March 7.

Raczynski also recently interviewed Judith Alison Lee, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Co-Chair of the firm’s International Trade Practice Group, about the nuts and bolts of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. (You can hear Part 1 and Part 2 of that interview here.)

Legal Executive Institute: In the financial services industry, blockchain is now touted as the future infrastructure of the industry. Clearly, this could be disruptive to traditional banking operations, but also may also enhance the way anti-money laundering (AML) professionals and regulators do their job. How do you see blockchain changing the way financial institutions reduce losses from economic crimes?

Joe Raczynski: There is tremendous promise with this technology in the banking industry. Its core strength is to create permanent, immutable, redundant ledgers, which are auditable. This is the Holy Grail of an accountant or anyone who wants to see a chain of events or track money.


If you’re riveted by blockchain and want to know more, you can catch Raczynski at further P3 events on April 24 in Charlotte, N.C. and on April 26 in Washington, D.C. (You can also follow Raczynski on Twitter at @joerazz.)


There are some significant challenges. Currently, virtual currencies or cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are unregulated, there is not a central authority that can dictate or control this, as by its very nature, it is decentralized. So, I could send $1 million in cryptocurrency to someone in Iran or North Korea in about 20 minutes, and that could pose problems for some governments. Another major issue that lies ahead are the anonymous virtual coins or tokens that are becoming more popular.

With these, any bad actor could use this to store or launder money without traceability. For the AML world this is probably its biggest challenge in the near term with blockchain technology.

Legal Executive Institute: Financial institutions spend tens of millions of dollars complying with regulations related to Know Your Customer (KYC) rules, as well as due diligence. What impact will blockchain have on KYC or other due diligence procedures?

Joe Raczynski: Fortunately blockchain has the possibility to create structured, yet decentralized data on people and businesses. These stores of information will be permanent ledgers of information. They will be another tool in the ongoing saga to identify people that investigators should be able to rely on.

Legal Executive Institute: Let’s turn to law firms for a moment. As blockchain technology matures, it seems likely we will continue to see applications impacting the legal profession. What role will blockchain play in contract form and estate planning? Should legal professionals be worried their jobs may become obsolete due to smart contracts or self-executing contracts?

Joe Raczynski: Lawyers should not be worried about their jobs becoming obsolete in the near future. However, in time, when smart contracts begin to truly take shape, it will make the drafting and execution of these documents more automated. In the majority of situations, you will have web forms that ask questions, anyone can fill out the answers, and then the document is drafted. Once the document is completed, it is stored on a blockchain. If there are contingencies — for example, sell all shares of a stock upon the death of Person A — the contract will do this. A “Smart Contract” is essentially a few pieces of code that executes or does something based on some perimeter. It is essentially an “if/then” statement.

blockchain

Thomson Reuters’ Joe Raczynski

Legal Executive Institute: Blockchain has a lot of potential to change the way government agencies work, both in the immediate future and with a long look ahead. How do you see blockchain changing the way public records are kept and maintained, such as census data or even birth and death records? Could you see these impacting day-to-day functions such as land conveyances and tile registries?

Joe Raczynski: The State of Illinois is already producing birth certificates on a blockchain. Delaware is moving all corporate records to a blockchain. This is happening now. Dubai plans on having all government records on a blockchain by 2020. In time, all public records will be on a blockchain, which should make it easier to track and interact with the files.

It will also provide higher levels of security and transparency and should be more efficient. As people start to use tokens for all assets that they own, tracking this via a blockchain will become even more important.

Legal Executive Institute: Will blockchain or cryptocurrencies change the way government works with the private sector?

Joe Raczynski: It is possible that some of the traditional models of records keeping which were once maintained by the government will become more open and not run through those traditional central authorizations but will be exchanged through private hands. The safeguard is that these transactions would be auditable as the chain of title will be transparent on the blockchain. It is feasible that you will not have government agencies involved in the oversight of this as they have in the past, instead, a nebulous network that all parties have insight into will evolve.

Podcast: The Technology of Blockchain & Cryptocurrencies with Judith Alison Lee of Gibson Dunn (Part 2)

Originally published in the Legal Executive Institute.

By Joseph Raczynski, Gregg Wirth, and Judith Alison Lee

In the second part of our podcast on the technology behind blockchain and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, I speak with Judith Alison Lee, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Co-Chair of the firm’s International Trade Practice Group.

Gibson Dunn

Judith Alison Lee of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher

Among her other areas of expertise, Ms. Lee advises clients on issues relating to virtual and digital currencies and related blockchain technologies.


How to Launch an ICO Token on Ethereum in 90 Minutes

By Joseph Raczynski

So you want to have your own cryptocurrency, eh?  It is surprisingly not too cumbersome to create.  If you have some very basic coding skills, general understand of a digital wallet, and the ability to follow point by point instructions, this should take about 90 minutes.  I will guide you through the process of launching your own token to fund your company, or more than likely simply test how to create an Ethereum (ERC20) token.  I am not responsible for anything that comes from your use of this code or the outlined process.  Use at your own risk.

Recently I was asked to put together a more formal booklet on how someone could technically launch an ICO (Initial Coin Offering) in order to create a blockchain enabled cryptocurrency.  I wrote up all of the various components and loads of caveats around all of the considerations.  In order to do this properly, you should have a full blown business plan, marketing master plan, have sought legal compliance, and a whole host of other services.  To that end, there is a new cottage industry surrounding taking companies through the ICO process.  ICO Box is one such company that specializes in this end to end consulting.

For the sake of this guide, I will walk you through all of the steps to create your first token for your project right here.  Some context, I based this off of my upcoming ICO for DC WiFi as the example.

Part 1: You will need the following:

  • Buy some ETH (if you are new to this, buy it from Coinbase)
  • A text editor for your code modification (Open a Text file on Windows)
  • Download a digital wallet (MetaMask)
  • Easy Compilier (via the web Solidity Remix IDE Compiler)

Part 2: Business Decisions

You shockingly need very little to get started with your token creation.  You will need four pieces of information;  1) Name of the Token, 2) Token Symbol (like a stock ticker), 3) The Token Decimal Places (making the token divisible), and 4) The total number of tokens in circulation.

In short:

  1. Number of Tokens You Will Assume (Will be all of the coins initially)
  2. Total Tokens in Circulation (ranges from 10,000 to 1,000,000,000)
  3. Name of the Token
  4. Token Decimal Places (usually 18 places)
  5. Token Symbol (use three or four letters)

My real example: (see live)

  1. Number of Tokens You Will Assume = 1,000,000,000
  2. Total Tokens in Circulation = 1,000,000,000
  3. Name of the Token = The Joerazz Crypto Token of Greatness 
  4. Token Decimal Places = 18
  5. Token Symbol = JoRa

Part 3: The Contract Coding

Now that you know the basics, copy and paste all of the code below into your your code editor, or a text document.  Simply focus on changing the five facets from above in the red section of code below. 

pragma solidity ^0.4.4;

contract Token {

    /// @return total amount of tokens
    function totalSupply() constant returns (uint256 supply) {}

    /// @param _owner The address from which the balance will be retrieved
    /// @return The balance
    function balanceOf(address _owner) constant returns (uint256 balance) {}

    /// @notice send `_value` token to `_to` from `msg.sender`
    /// @param _to The address of the recipient
    /// @param _value The amount of token to be transferred
    /// @return Whether the transfer was successful or not
    function transfer(address _to, uint256 _value) returns (bool success) {}

    /// @notice send `_value` token to `_to` from `_from` on the condition it is approved by `_from`
    /// @param _from The address of the sender
    /// @param _to The address of the recipient
    /// @param _value The amount of token to be transferred
    /// @return Whether the transfer was successful or not
    function transferFrom(address _from, address _to, uint256 _value) returns (bool success) {}

    /// @notice `msg.sender` approves `_addr` to spend `_value` tokens
    /// @param _spender The address of the account able to transfer the tokens
    /// @param _value The amount of wei to be approved for transfer
    /// @return Whether the approval was successful or not
    function approve(address _spender, uint256 _value) returns (bool success) {}

    /// @param _owner The address of the account owning tokens
    /// @param _spender The address of the account able to transfer the tokens
    /// @return Amount of remaining tokens allowed to spent
    function allowance(address _owner, address _spender) constant returns (uint256 remaining) {}

    event Transfer(address indexed _from, address indexed _to, uint256 _value);
    event Approval(address indexed _owner, address indexed _spender, uint256 _value);
    
}

contract StandardToken is Token {

    function transfer(address _to, uint256 _value) returns (bool success) {
        //Default assumes totalSupply can't be over max (2^256 - 1).
        //If your token leaves out totalSupply and can issue more tokens as time goes on, you need to check if it doesn't wrap.
        //Replace the if with this one instead.
        //if (balances[msg.sender] >= _value && balances[_to] + _value > balances[_to]) {
        if (balances[msg.sender] >= _value && _value > 0) {
            balances[msg.sender] -= _value;
            balances[_to] += _value;
            Transfer(msg.sender, _to, _value);
            return true;
        } else { return false; }
    }

    function transferFrom(address _from, address _to, uint256 _value) returns (bool success) {
        //same as above. Replace this line with the following if you want to protect against wrapping uints.
        //if (balances[_from] >= _value && allowed[_from][msg.sender] >= _value && balances[_to] + _value > balances[_to]) {
        if (balances[_from] >= _value && allowed[_from][msg.sender] >= _value && _value > 0) {
            balances[_to] += _value;
            balances[_from] -= _value;
            allowed[_from][msg.sender] -= _value;
            Transfer(_from, _to, _value);
            return true;
        } else { return false; }
    }

    function balanceOf(address _owner) constant returns (uint256 balance) {
        return balances[_owner];
    }

    function approve(address _spender, uint256 _value) returns (bool success) {
        allowed[msg.sender][_spender] = _value;
        Approval(msg.sender, _spender, _value);
        return true;
    }

    function allowance(address _owner, address _spender) constant returns (uint256 remaining) {
      return allowed[_owner][_spender];
    }

    mapping (address => uint256) balances;
    mapping (address => mapping (address => uint256)) allowed;
    uint256 public totalSupply;
}


//name this contract whatever you'd like
contract ERC20Token is StandardToken {

    function () {
        //if ether is sent to this address, send it back.
        throw;
    }

    /* Public variables of the token */

    /*
    NOTE:
    The following variables are OPTIONAL vanities. One does not have to include them.
    They allow one to customise the token contract & in no way influences the core functionality.
    Some wallets/interfaces might not even bother to look at this information.
    */
    string public name;                   //fancy name: eg Simon Bucks
    uint8 public decimals;                //How many decimals to show. ie. There could 1000 base units with 3 decimals. Meaning 0.980 SBX = 980 base units. It's like comparing 1 wei to 1 ether.
    string public symbol;                 //An identifier: eg SBX
    string public version = 'H1.0';       //human 0.1 standard. Just an arbitrary versioning scheme.

//
// THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO DO - CHANGE THE BELOW TO REFLECT YOUR CHOICES FROM WHAT YOU CHOOSE ABOVE IN RED
//

//make sure this function name matches the contract name above. So if you're token is called TutorialToken, make sure the //contract name above is also TutorialToken instead of ERC20Token

    function ERC20Token(
        ) {
        balances[msg.sender] = NUMBER_OF_TOKENS_HERE;               // Give the creator all initial tokens (100000 for example)
        totalSupply = NUMBER_OF_TOKENS_HERE;                        // Update total supply (100000 for example)
        name = "NAME OF YOUR TOKEN HERE";                                   // Set the name for display purposes
        decimals = 0;                            // Amount of decimals for display purposes
        symbol = "SYM";                               // Set the symbol for display purposes
    }

    /* Approves and then calls the receiving contract */
    function approveAndCall(address _spender, uint256 _value, bytes _extraData) returns (bool success) {
        allowed[msg.sender][_spender] = _value;
        Approval(msg.sender, _spender, _value);

        //call the receiveApproval function on the contract you want to be notified. This crafts the function signature manually so one doesn't have to include a contract in here just for this.
        //receiveApproval(address _from, uint256 _value, address _tokenContract, bytes _extraData)
        //it is assumed that when does this that the call *should* succeed, otherwise one would use vanilla approve instead.
        if(!_spender.call(bytes4(bytes32(sha3("receiveApproval(address,uint256,address,bytes)"))), msg.sender, _value, this, _extraData)) { throw; }
        return true;
    }
}

This code is from the good people at Code-Factory.  You can see if they have any newer code here. The above code is displayed in three parts, combined into one section for ease here.  The code is from February of 2017, v 0.4.4.

When you are filling in the four fields, one funky aspect that you will want to pay attention to is the decimal portion.  Examples: If I wish to create 1,000,000,000 billion tokens and I want 18 decimal points, then I have to add 18 zeros onto the 1 billion number.  This number is added to two fields in your code.  So for 1 billion coins with 18 decimals point would look like 1000000000000000000000000000 and do not add commas to your code.  Another example, if you do not want any decimal points then you would not add any extra zeros.  Last example on this, if you want 8 decimal points, you would add 8 zeros to the 1,000,000,000 billion so it would look like 100000000000000000.  Most cryptocurrencies have 18 decimals.

  • Number of Tokens You Will Assume = 1000000000000000000000000000
  • Total Tokens in Circulation = 1000000000000000000000000000

Part 4: Testing via Ropsten Test Net

It is time to take your modified code – all four lines – and test it out.  You could test this in Ethereum’s live environment, but that would be a waste of money (a few dollars up to $8) for each time it doesn’t work.  So make sure you are on the TestNet of Metamask.

Download MetaMask Chrome plugin.  This is a digital wallet which can store Ethereum bmetamaskased tokens (ERC20), like the one you are going to make.  You can also deploy smart contracts via this robust little app.  MyEtherWallet, is also another option, but for this overview, I am using MetaMask for ease.

 

 

 

When you create any digital wallet, the seed (a bunch of random words) is something that you will want to take the utmost care around securing.  If you lose these words (essentially your password) you will lose complete access to your wallet on the blockchain and there is no way to recover this – none.  So keep it safe and secure – preferably offline.

The next step is to drop your doctored code into a compiler, which reviews the code for errors, identifies code that could be better defined, and then publishes that code directly to Ethereum’s blockchain.  Click on Solidity Remix IDE Compiler and copy and paste the code you modified in your text editor into the compiler.

Open your MetaMask wallet, which should be a tiny icon on the upper right corner of Chrome.  When it is open, make sure you change the network to “Ropsten TestNet” by clicking the little arrow.

testnet

Once you do this, you will need to add fake ETH to the TestNet.  Since this is a test network, you get free fake ETH from the network, but you have to request it.  If you don’t have any of the foe ETH, you will not be able to send your contract to the blockchain.

code

If you get a bunch of yellow errors in the right panel, don’t worry, these are cautionary and not fatal.  It may look like this.  Again, it should pose any problems.

errors

Next you will need to go to the actual version of the compilier and make sure you are not using a “nightly” version.  It defaults to the correct version for me, but just make sure it does not say “nightly”.  The arrow drop down is where you can change the version, if necessary.  Make sure you write down which version you choose, as you will need this later.

version

Now head back to to the “Run” tab on the same screen and click “Create”.  What is fascinating is that the compiler automatically connects to your MetaMask Wallet in your browser to create the contract.  As previously mentioned, more then likely the first time you do this you will have to request or add fake ETH to the TestNet.  Since this is a test network, you get free fake ETH from the network, but you have to request it.  If you don’t have any of the foe ETH, you will not be able to send your contract to the blockchain.  This sometimes take a bit of finagling.

So below, click “create” and the MetaMask wallet will pop up over your browser.  As mentioned, if you don’t have any fake ETH, will ask you to generate them – request 1 ETH.

run

Click “Submit” to generate the contract.

confirmcontract

Now click on the date listed below and it will take you to the live generation of the contract via Etherscan.

wallet confirm

If all went well, you will see something like the below.  A green check is great.

success

If you made it this far, now it’s time to load your tokens into your wallet.

Part 5: Loading New Token in Your Wallet

contract

Grab (copy) your contract address which will be different than what you see above and go to MetaMask.  Click “Add Token”

tokenadd

You should see the following where you enter your Contract Address which you copied from Etherscan.  Also add the Token Symbol and Decimals and click “Add”.

token18

There you go!  It should be added to the list.  I have 1 billion JORA tokens now.

listoftokens

Part 6: Verify Your Code

One item, which is not essential, but shows that you are not too shady is verifying the code you used.

On the Etherscan page, where you have the contract ID, click on that link.

contract

Then on the following page look for the “Contract Code” tab and click “Verify And Publish”

proof

The next screen will look like this with the contract ID already populated.  You need to fill in the “Contract Name” with “ERC20TOKEN”, then select the correct “Compilier” – make sure it is the same version you wrote down earlier which is not the “nightly” and change “Optimization” to “No”.  Then copy and paste the whole section of code from the compilier into the big text box.  Forget all of the other parts and click “Verify” at the very bottom of the page.

verify2

Now if that all worked, you should get the following:

finalconfirm

If that all worked, you are good to go!  The next part is actually doing on the real official Ethereum blockchain.

Part 7: Launch Your Token on Prod

Now simply go through the same process by on the live Main Network site.  So go to MetaMask and hit the drop-down box and change it to “Main Network”.

mainnet

Now go through Part 4 – 8.  You will need ETH for this final stage.

Part 8: Verification:

If you want to be verified, look to do so by filling in the following information on Etherscan.  This is vetted by the organization so you do need this to be approved for this portion.

To update your ERC20 token information please provide us with the following information:

Firstly, check that your token contract source code has been verified.

1. Contract Address: 0xd5XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

2. Official Site URL:

3. Link to download a 28x28png icon logo:

4. Official Contact Email Address:

5. Link to blog (optional):

6. Link to reddit (optional):

7. Link to slack (optional):

8. Link to facebook (optional):

9. Link to twitter (optional):

10. Link to bitcointalk (optional):

11. Link to github (optional):

12. Link to telegram (optional):

13. Link to whitepaper (optional):

14. CoinMarketCap Link (PriceData):

 

That is it!  Please let me know how this goes for you.

 

 

Reference @maxnachamkin

 

 

 

 

 

Blockchain, a Disruptive Force Now Impacting the Legal Industry

Originally published in LegalBusinessWorld

By Joseph Raczynski

Blockchain, a Disruptive Force Now Impacting the Legal Industry

Defining the technology and citing real world examples in Legal

Basics of Blockchain

We are at the precipice of transformative change in nearly every industry.  Blockchain or Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is the cornerstone of this rapidly evolving new era of efficiency and disruption impacting the legal industry.  Blockchain is generally defined as a distributed database or ledger.  This differs from the traditional record, in that a database is usually centralized, generally in one location or system.  With DLT, it evolves from a central database (a single store of information), to a database that is spread among multiple computers (sometimes thousands) saving a copy of the information.  Ultimately each computer will have a duplicate of the data.  It is encrypted, immutable (cannot be changed), driven by consensus (all computers have to agree), and is not owned by any single entity.

A natural question that arises.  Why would anyone want a database to be distributed?  The financial crisis of 2008 taught us many valuable lessons, one of which was that massive organizations who wielded all of the power (think a single database) can be a weak link for the broader system.  If that one entity should fail, the entire system likely will follow.  From these financial reverberations, Bitcoin was born, which has as its underlining technology, the original Blockchain.  The intent, distribute data over a massive network, for verification, authentication, and transparency without one person or organization having dominate control over the system or data.  At its heart these are ideological motives that clearly have anti-establishment roots.  However the technology it is starting to flourish at an exponential rate.

Real World Blockchain Examples

As you may gather there is certainly much hype around what can be done with this technology.  Below you will find several examples that I discussed recently with industry experts at Consensus 2017, a massive Blockchain conference in New York City.  Here I met with and examined several smaller startups and their quest to build out solutions with DLT which will impact the legal industry.

Government – Blockchain Powered Land Registry:  Thomson Reuters Tax and Accounting states that 70% of the world’s land is unregistered.  Ownership of land leads to significant empowerment and growth of wealth for individuals.  An organization called BenBen is endeavoring to help lock in property rights for citizens of Ghana, Africa using the Blockchain.

Problem: In this use case, land records are stored in a centralized database with no other benefits besides a paper registry. BenBen states, “It is virtually impossible to collateralize property rights in Ghana because other paper registry system is unenforceable in court.  Because of unenforceability, banks will not accept land as collateral.  This situation leaves millions without the possibility of leveraging their property to rely on the rule of law for protection – continuing the ongoing cycle of poverty for much of the population”.

Solution: BenBen is working with BigchainDB, a new Blockchain organization to create a “top-of-stack” land registry verification platform.  Essentially it is a new infrastructure built on a Blockchain and integrated with financial institutions to update current registries.  Essentially BigChainDB are “enabling smart contracts and distributing private keys for clients to allow an automated and trusted property transaction between all parties.”  So people would be able to verify that they own something in order to more easily obtain loans and build wealth.     

 

Intellectual Property – Music Ownership and Distribution:  Currently there are dozens of entities that get paid out on a single song that you may download from iTunes.  The labels, marketers, distributors, and finally the artists all get a cut of the proceeds.  The current payout model looks like a bowl of spaghetti with a myriad of entangled strings connected, each piece of the business seeking their $auce.

Problem: The control of the music in the traditional model is in the hands of the corporations and labels.  A fraction of the funds are eventually paid back to the artist.

Solution: Resonate, another Blockchain startup, is working on a solution to use this technology to bypass the corporations and labels.  As you listen to music, you can make micropayments to artists – directly to them.  Micropayments are cents or fractions of cents that are possible through the newer cryptocurrencies, which may be divisible by tiny fractions of a penny USD.  All of these transactions are stored on the distributed ledger, essentially cutting out all of the middlemen.  Baked into this are smart contracts which are encoded into the chain and automatically perform actions that normally humans would be oversee, i.e. the payouts.

 

Identity – Verified Identity Credentials: When a job is posted, how do you know that the person applying for the role graduated from the school they listed?  One area being explored is how to leverage the Blockchain to verify who someone is and what they are stating is true.

Problem: In the traditional Resume or CV people sometimes forge, alter, or falsify documents in order to buoy their chances.

Solution: Recruit Technologies has built a prototype resume authentication database for people looking for jobs and employers.  BigchainDB is working to leverage DLT to store applications and their documents.  Through the natural immutability, the files offer greater trust and auditability.  Built on this platform, a company could be better positioned and hold less liability.

 

With hundreds if not thousands of use cases forming that leverage Blockchain technology, the legal industry is perfectly positioned to adapt and assist in this space.  The three aforementioned use cases are directly connected to people and business; therefore have a direct play within legal.  While Blockchain may impact certain parts of how a law firm works, government agency interacts with people or a corporation works, there is little doubt that the early adopters will have a major head start compared to their counterparts by engaging in Blockchain.

ILTACON 2016: When Will Blockchain and Smart Contracts Be Important in Legal?

By Joseph Raczynski

“Blockchain is Hot: More than $1.5 Billion has Been Invested in Blockchain in the Last 18 Months”

  • Tori Adams, Booz Allen Hamilton

 

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — If someone had told you in 1993 that the Web would be integral to your life today, would you have believed them? Well, the discussion around blockchain technology at ILTACON 2016 harkened back to that same scenario of the early ‘90s. This is a reboot, where another new technology will revolutionize the world.

Moderated by the esteemed Ron Friedmann, Partner at Fireman & Company, we were led down the path of what to expect with blockchain. Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future Research, started us off with his futuristic vision on what we can expect over the next five years. Joe Dewey, Partner at Holland & Knight, who specializes in blockchain, discussed the law and smart contracts. Lastly, Tori Adams, a data scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton, illustrated her predictions on the reality of this technology in the near term.

Current Landscape

All major industries are looking toward blockchain — most pointedly, the financial sector. Talwar focused on one platform that is pushing this new space forward quickly — Ethereum — a pseudo-Bitcoin 2.0 that allows users to code on top of the blockchain. This can create huge advances in how the blockchain can interact with the world; utlizing smart contracts and digital identities, an even executing stock trades. In fact, Talwar stated that Goldman Sachs estimated a legal savings of $11 billion to $12 billion per year from streamlining clearing and settlement of cash and securities through such technology.

Near Future

The next significant phase developing now is the DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) which means that processes and companies are completely autonomous. This technology has the ability to disrupt a disrupter, e.g. Airbnb. Let’s say you visit a DAO-enabled travel site. The condo owner places an ad on the site to rent their place weekly. You choose their place in Miami, agree to the terms (date of check-in and -out, etc.) and agree to the fee and deposit (paid automatically). When you arrive at the condo to check-in, simply enter the password at the door through an Internet of Things (IoT) tech-enabled doorknob (check out Slock.it) and you gain access. That lock at the front door knows who you are and how much you paid, and it can also see your contract for the rental of the condo and knows when you are to be out. The DAO can do all of this with one employee running the entire operation.

Law Firms Start to Embrace Blockchain

Several law firms are starting to make a foray into this space. Recently Steptoe & Johnson began a multi-disciplinarian practice to help manage the blockchain for clients. They will also be accepting Bitcoin as payment. Most importantly, they co-founded the Blockchain Alliance6, a coalition of 25 blockchain companies and 25 regulatory and law enforcement agencies — including Interpol, Europol, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the FBI — to educate enforcement agencies about digital currencies and blockchain technology. Other law firms including Holland & Knight see exponential growth of attorneys laboring in this discipline.

Smart Contracts

Holland & Knight’s Dewey said he believes the definition around smart contracts can be varied. For the purposes of this conversation, it is snippets of code that can change the ledger or a legal contract that is implemented on the blockchain. Of course, he outlined several benefits and challenges to this new innovation in the area of smart contracts:

Benefits:

  • Smart contracts are coded so there is less ambiguity than prose;
  • Verification can be achieved even within a trustless environment;
  • Self-executing; so once released, it is difficult to impede execution; and
  • Integrates well with IoT, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Challenges:

  • Must balance transparency with privacy concerns;
  • Infrastructure needs to be updated;
  • Lack of experience with blockchain technology in IT departments;
  • Lack of education and understanding of the technology in other departments, including compliance;
  • Development of uniform standards and protocols; and (of course)
  • Need to overcoming custom and tradition (e., change is hard.)

So a real world example of how a smart contract was implemented can be seen in how Barclays did it with an interest rate swap prototype. Essentially, the investment bank set up an incubator of coders who worked with their legal department to understand how these swaps (trades) worked legally. They distilled three lines in the process that could be coded — (x) the amount of cash; (y) the interest rate; and (z) the currency. Once this information was garnered, the transaction could be solidified and then stored on a blockchain.

One of the most surprising revelations of the session came from Dewey when he stated: “Big news for attorneys, existing law — passed well before blockchain technology was contemplated —not only validates transactions, including the trading of credit interests accomplished through the use of the technology we are discussing, but as a matter of policy, strongly supports it.”

There is little question that this is an industry that will be growing rapidly over the next few years. Many firms are moving forward with practice areas and educating their attorneys on the technology to better position themselves for the coming wave.

Lastly, Dewey added some additional encouraging words surrounding the future of blockchain. In May, the State of Delaware — which is home to almost two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies — announced a Blockchain Initiative so that corporate filings can be added to the ledger. “This is a clear sign that blockchain technology will have a significant impact on business,” he said.

Law Firm and Corporate Cybersecruity Presentation – UMB

By Joseph Raczynski

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

Blockchain White Paper

By Joseph Raczynski

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

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

By Joseph Raczynski

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

Part 3: Beyond Bitcoin — Blockchain and the Legal Impact

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

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


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


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

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

Here is how I see blockchain affecting the legal industry.

Blockchain and the Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Joseph Raczynski

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

Part 2: Future Legal Payments Through Cryptocurrency

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

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

 

Where do I see a cryptocurrency taking off?

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

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

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