“Blockchain For Lawyers,” a recently-released eBook by Australian legal tech company Legaler, drew 1.7M views in two weeks. What does that staggering number say about blockchain, legal technology, and the legal industry? Clearly, blockchain is a hot legal topic, along with artificial intelligence (AI), and legal tech generally. It’s also a hot investment; last year a record $1B was pumped into legal tech. The global enthusiasm for tech is manifest in the throngs that attended the Legal Geek Conference, the Global Legal Hackathon, and a slew of events held by legal tech organizations around the world. Tech is the mortar of a global legal community that is transforming law from territorial profession to borderless industry.
But why, with so many blockchain and legal tech books and articles, is Legaler’s eBook capturing so many eyeballs? One explanation is its plain-speak effort to demystify blockchain and analyze its current and future adaptations to law. The book also provides a framework for understanding how AI, software, the cloud, and other technological advances enable new delivery models to better respond to consumer demand for more transparent, efficient, scalable, cost-effective, and predictable outcomes. There is a hunger–especially among those in the early and mid-stages of their careers– to understand these tools and new delivery models and, more importantly, how it will impact their careers.
The immense interest in new delivery models, legal tech, and transformation underscores that law today is as much about the new models, tools, and skillsets that drive it as it is about practice expertise. Law is no longer solely the province of lawyers; it is also comprised of non-licensed legal professionals and others involved in its delivery, funding, and innovation. The profession is being subsumed by a rapidly-evolving industry. Lawyers once controlled the profession and the industry. Clients control the industry now, and that is impacting how the profession operates, the models from which its expertise is most effectively delivered, the skillsets and resources required to augment it, and changing economics.
Legal practice and delivery are each changing. New practice areas like cryptocurrency, cybersecurity, and Internet law are emerging as law struggles to keep pace with the speed of business change in the digital age. Concurrently, several staples of traditional practice–research, document review, etc.– are becoming automated and/or no longer performed by law firm associates. There is more “turnover” of practice tasks, more reliance on machines and non-licensed attorneys to mine data and provide domain expertise used by lawyers, and more collaboration than ever before. The emergence of new industries demands that lawyers not only provide legal expertise in support of new areas but also that they possess intellectual agility to master them quickly. Many practice areas law students will encounter have yet to be created. That means that all lawyers will be required to be more agile than their predecessors and engage in ongoing training.
Legal delivery, once the “back office” of practice, is now an integral part of the legal delivery process. Technology, process, the inexorable shift to multidisciplinary, collaborative delivery required to solve complex business challenges are now as critical as practice expertise to deliver effective, efficient, predictable, cost-effective, and data-based solutions to complex business challenges. The integration of practice and delivery has become the new paradigm for legal services and is seldom derived from a sole source. Law has become a team game.
It is against this backdrop–and perhaps because of it–that many in the legal industry have a growing anxiety about their future. Law, like so many segments of the society it serves, is changing rapidly and requires ongoing (re)training and dedication to lifelong learning. Today’s fast-paced, dynamic, fluid legal industry bears little resemblance to the one most law schools are preparing graduates for. This is another reason why cogent explanations of forces propelling that change–like Legaler’s eBook–are appealing and helpful.
“Blockchain For Lawyers”
Stevie Ghiassi, Legaler’s CEO and “Blockchain For Lawyers” author, endeavors to “offer an easy-to-digest, holistic take on how blockchain applies to the legal industry. “ Ghiassi’s book dispenses with unnecessary jargon, explains the basics of blockchain technology, and examines–in his words– “the profound innovation of creating digital trust in a digital age, and how that impacts every aspects of our lives.”
Ghiassi contends that blockchain represents a new evolutionary stage of trust, arguably the most central concept for organizing human organization. Societies initially relied on tribalism, a personalized, localized trust. As society scaled, institutional trust in governments, corporations, came to replace personal trust as society’s glue. Blockchain technology represents a new transparent, ‘distributed’ trust phase facilitated by decentralized networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Why should the legal industry be paying attention? Ghiassi argues the degree to which people trust each other and how they manage those trusted relationships is often intermediated by lawyers. With such a profound shift in the nature of trust, the role of lawyers is likely to change. The confluence of blockchain, cryptocurrency, smart contracts, and zero knowledge proofs facilitates new businesses processes that remove intermediaries and reduce transactions costs, making legal services more accessible. This disintermediation process is already underway in law and is accelerating rapidly with the concurrent adoption of AI, platforms, metrics, and other tools and resources enabling new providers to build client-centric delivery models. They are transforming legal delivery from a labor-intensive, lawyer-centric model to a tech and process-enabled, customer centric one.
Ghiassi is a poster child for the contemporary legal professional. He does not hold a law license and facetiously notes in his Linkedin profile that ““All legal knowledge acquired from Suits seasons 1 to 7.” He does have a keen grasp of the legal industry and a clear-eyed objective for his technological prowess: “ Pursuing a better world through technology to advance the delivery of legal services and expand access to justice by leveraging distributed ledger technologies like blockchain and decentralization.” Perhaps it is because Ghiassi is not a lawyer–yet understands the profession and its new tools-of-the-trade–that he is able to explain and contextualize blockchain so effectively. Ghiassi views legal delivery from an outcome perspective–what it should accomplish–rather than a practice one–what is has historically meant to be a lawyer.
This is an exciting time to be in the legal industry. It was long a guild; now it is an emerging global community. It was homogeneous, and it is slowly morphing into a more diverse culture. It was parochial by design and now it is becoming borderless–at least with respect to the new business models, tools, and resources available to provide legal services. It was lawyer-centric, and it is increasingly becoming multi-disciplinary. Law was once exclusively about lawyers; now it is about legal professionals and other disciplines, technology, and new providers expanding access to and improving delivery of legal services.
Many in the profession rue these changes, and some remain steadfast in opposing them. The socio-economic forces driving change across multiple industries are far too powerful for the remnants of the legal guild to repel. Law should look more closely at other industries for ideas that can be leveraged. A good place to start is customer-centric companies. The profession will not be compromised by this process; its ability to better serve legal buyers and society will be enhanced.
Stevie Ghiassi’s thoughtful book that encourages lawyers to embrace technology as a tool to better serve legal consumers and society is deserving of even more views. Hopefully, it will encourage others to do the same.
Originally published in Forbes.