Who Needs Blockchain Anyway?

Why Blockchain?

When I give professional presentations, I choose either a subject I know a lot about and talk about what I’ve learned, or I’ll pick a topic I know almost nothing about so I can research something new.  When planning my presentation for CALICon 2017, I decided to go with option two.

I chose blockchain because I’d heard about it at a few Fin/Law/Tech conferences, but wasn’t sure exactly how it worked.  The more I researched, the more I realized how vitally important blockchain will be in finance and law over the next few years.  Many banks, law firms, and other businesses have already begun to explore how to incorporate blockchains into everything from payment systems to real estate titles to creating secure online identities.

What Is Blockchain?

If you’re not familiar with blockchain, it’s basically a secure, immutable database distributed on many different computers (there’s more to it than that – check out my article in AALL Spectrum for a few more details).  It is the technology behind Bitcoin that allows consumers to transfer this online currency without intermediaries.  Other online currencies like Ethereum and Dogecoin also use blockchains, but other industries have now noticed its potential. Also, with the rising popularity of cryptocurrencies, individuals are increasingly turning to cryptocurrency sites to stay updated on the latest developments and investment opportunities within the blockchain space.

Blockchain and the Law

Blockchain is impacting the legal field, too, most notably in the areas of intellectual property and contracts.  Musicians and others who create digital assets have realized they can use blockchains to secure songs and other media in such a way to track who has access and who should be paid royalties.  

Other businesses are looking into smart contracts, which can refer to a few different kinds of contracts.  Some use this term to mean contracts contained in a blockchain – all parties have access to the same copy of a contract and have agreed to its terms. Other smart contracts are “self executing,” meaning they use programming incorporated into the blockchain to execute parts of a contract when a particular event happens (e.g. buy a certain amount of stock when its price reaches a certain level).

Blockchain in Illinois

Illinois is particularly interested in blockchain and has started an initiative to use this technology for a number of projects.  These include recording real estate titles in Cook County, tracking professional licences, and recording birth certificates.

More Resources

What Is Blockchain?

  • “What is Blockchain Technology, A Step by Step Guide for Beginners,” BlockGeeks, https://goo.gl/7gaHLA
  • Daniel Newman, “Blockchain 101: How This Next Big Service Will Change The Future,” Forbes, April 13, 2017, https://goo.gl/rE8WZK  
  • “Understand the blockchain in two minutes (video),” Law Librarian Blog, April 25, 2017, https://goo.gl/Hf4e4m

Blockchain – Legal Implications

  • “A Beginner’s Guide to Smart Contracts, BlockGeeks, https://goo.gl/m7XsaS
  • “Is Blockchain Technology the Biggest Disruption in Law?,” Big Law Business, August 17, 2017, https://goo.gl/puVRhc
  • “Blockchain / Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT)”, Crowell Morning, https://goo.gl/Sk6D76
  • Linklaters, “Smart Contracts and Distributed Ledger – A Legal Perspective (Whitepaper),” ISDA, August 2017, https://goo.gl/6PtEGh

Create Your Own Blockchain