Darwin Talks and Blockchain Thoughts

OK. Not all lawyers are obsessed with the legal tech revolution.

Not all self-identify as early technology adopters, participate in hackathons, or call themselves lawyerpreneurs.

Some have maybe never even heard about TechLaw, TechReg, BankTech, CoinTech, LoanTech, PayTech, SecTech, TradeTech, InsurTech, InterTech, GovTech… or SmartTech, TechRisk, FinRisk, FinReg, SuperTech, ResTech, SupTech, or even NonNet. (Not you, of course… I’m talking about them.)

Some (presumably) haven’t even heard of Richard Susskind, or read his 2013 book Tomorrow’s Lawyers that predicts radical changes in the legal sector over the next decade due to three main drivers:

  1. Increased pressure to do more work with less money,
  2. Relaxation of the monopoly over who/what can sell legal services, and of course
  3. Advancements in IT (including, for example, AI)

And then there are the legal profession’s skeptics. These are the ones who have heard the buzzwords, but question (even doubt!) LegalTech Utopianism. These are the lawyers who see the constraints hindering legal tech’s adoption. They point out that:

  • Computers may be great tools, but the law is not all linear cognitive symmetry.
  • Furthermore, the data sets needed to train competent AI implementations are walled in and controlled by firms and publishers, and not free.
  • Also the legal market is just a fragmented mess of jurisdictional anomalies, with players largely under-capitalized compared to bigger sectors like health or finance.
  • And ultimately, let’s face it, lawyers ain’t into change. We’re also not into taking risks, and we don’t like the taste of failure – two things that are prerequisite to exploring the markets unlocked by emerging tech.
  • Sustaining innovation like speech-to-text or efficient billing tools are fine, but disruptive innovation like an AI that’s going to make my clients think they don’t need me… nope, nope, nope.

Argumentum ad Darwin

Whether or not the doubters or the believers are correct, only natural selection can decide.

In the meantime, we can debate it all in a series of events from Evolve Law called Darwin Talks.

There’s a Darwin Talk coming up in Vancouver, hosted by Vancouver Legal Hackers on September 11, 2017.

It’s a chance for anyone to “submit your idea for a talk that discusses the future of innovation in the law, including technological or change trends.”

Several months back I had the pleasure of hosting a Legal Hackers Vancouver when speakers Tom Martin of LawDroid, and Joshua Lenon of Clio presented their talks on “AI and Chatbots 101: an Introduction” and “Chatbots: How automating justice may be preventing it in BC”, respectively.

Whether or not you’re a legal tech revolutionary, it’s useful to check out these events.

When lawyer types mix with coders and straight-up entrepreneurs to identify legal sector problems, the odds of innovative sparks happening improve. When unrelated ideas interact, recombinant ideas emerge. Some of them are stronger, albeit stranger, than what we as lawyers could conceive of alone.

On a side note, I recently found a fascinating example of such a strange, and potentially powerful, hybrid. Populous is a concept for a blockchain-backed marketplace for peer-to-peer lending based on invoice financing. It contemplates the use of smart contracts build on Ethereum to facilitate the purchase of accounts receivable in order to finance small or medium enterprises. The White Paper for Populous has more, but in a nutshell:

Populous’s goal is to achieve [trade financing] by facilitating a smart contract based invoice marketplace, where invoices are crowd-funded to provide cheaper and faster access to capital for the SMEs, and safe, secure assured investments, with attractive yields for investors.

From a legal perspective, it’s a fascinating challenge (not to mention a regulatory one), but it feels like it could have prevented some of the woes in cases like Maeder et al v. Acorn Partners, 2011 ONSC 7109 (CanLII), which is a set of facts almost built to advertise the sensibility of smart contracts.

— Nate Russell is a liaison lawyer with Courthouse Libraries BC. Find him on Twitter @nrusse.

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