Why lawyers are getting on the blockchain train

Law professor Aaron Wright calls the open-ledger technology a “breakthrough in memorializing legal operations.”

Some banks appear interested in adding gloss to the blockchain. (Photo by Attribution Engine user Alex Mihis, used under a Creative Commons license)

Will “smart,” automatically executing contracts have a place in the nation’s legal system?

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) announced earlier this week that a group of 14 law firms and academic institutions signed on to join a new wing of the organization called the EEA Legal Industry Working Group.

“Lawyers are the ones who are going to be able to take this to the next level and do it in a mature and measured way,” explained Aaron Wright, a professor at Cardozo School of Law and the chairman of the working group, by phone this week.

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance is a group of finance and consulting companies, many of them on the Fortune 500 list, which are looking for ways to incorporate the Ethereum blockchain into the business world.

Representatives hail from top law firms and schools, including: Debevoise & PlimptonPerkins Coie, Cooley, Latham & Watkins, the Department of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the Duke Center on Law & Technology. They’ll work together on adapting the blockchain to the legal profession.

“We’re going to bring them together in a neutral place to set standards and start thinking about legal agreements,” Wright said. “There’s a number of regulatory issues with blockchain also so we’ll try to weigh in on that.”

Because of the open and decentralized nature of the blockchain, Wright sees promise in its ability to broker transactions. Where parties now need a trusted third party to handle a transaction, the blockchain could take the place of the third party, and eliminate the fees that go along with it. Wright sees potential for this in several kinds of law, including real estate and intellectual property.

“Instead of using eBay, we could rely on the blockchain to facilitate that transfer,” he said, as an example of eliminating third parties.

Wright expects more firms and schools will join the working group in the coming months, as the Ethereum blockchain matures.

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance is led by Bushwick blockchain startup ConsenSys, which is founded by Joseph Lubin, the cocreator of the Ethereum blockchain.

Series: Brooklyn

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