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Ethereum, blockchain, and smart contracts – the future of law?

05 May 2016 - By James Greenland

New "smart contracts" are something lawyers will have no choice but to care about, according to the developers of a technology they say will revolutionise agreement-making and execution.

Rapid advances in coding and computer networking – the same processes that allowed for the success and unprecedented spread of relatively well-known international cryptocurrency Bitcoin – have those in the know excited.

"Ethereum" is an open sourced decentralised platform which is being overseen by the oversight of the Ethereum Foundation, a Swiss non-profit organisation. The Ethereum Project crowdfunded $19 million in August 2014 to build the software.

The developers say "blockchain" technology and yet to be developed applications will soon allow lawyers and non-lawyers to create basic, enforceable "smart contracts" over the internet.
 
"Smart contracts" are computer programs that are able to automatically execute contractual terms using on "if X and Y, then Z"-type logic.
 
While major banks and other professional industries are beginning to consider commercial applications for blockchain technology, it's certainly not about to entirely replace lawyers.
 
But it could become a tool that offers practitioners a competitive advantage in the near future, its developers stress.

photo of Ethereum graphic 

 
"What is clear, is that the law sector is being presented with an opportunity to evolve with technology or potentially be left behind," an advocate's blog-post reads. 

"Law firms of the future will do well to build in-house capability around coding smart contracts in order to spot and leverage clear crossovers. 

"Those that are able to recognise and implement smart contract applications within current legal agreement-making will be highly sought after in the near future, as will be those that are able to identify where they can continue to add value amongst the changing legal landscape."

Two events designed to "help non-technical people understand the basics" of this new technology will be held in Auckland and Wellington on 17 and 19 May. Click here for more information.

Last updated on the 6th May 2016