Consortium Formed to Drive Blockchain Adoption in Legal Industry

Bob Craig, chief information officer at Baker Hostetler, has a vision of a technology that will transform the business of law. That technology is blockchain.

Craig and his firm are part of a group of law firms and technology companies that this week announced the formation of the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium. The consortium will work to drive the adoption and standardization of blockchain in the legal industry, with the larger goal of improving the security and interoperability of the global legal technology ecosystem.

Members of the consortium include the law firms Baker Hostetler and Orrick, IBM Watson Legal, and the newly formed company Integra Ledger, which is hoping to become the ledger used throughout the legal industry for blockchain digital identities.

At an event Tuesday to announce the consortium’s formation, Craig said that establishment of consortia has become common in many industries as a way to get the right people around the table to explore how blockchain technology can solve real-world business problems or, in this case, real-world legal problems.

“We are just at the dawn of the blockchain era,” Craig said. “The more you invest yourself in what blockchain is and the possibilities it enables, you see that the world will be different because of it, and we believe the legal world will be different because of it.”

Craig spelled out the consortium’s three goals for the future of blockchain in legal:

  • An interoperable and secure global legal industry using blockchain technology.
  • Agnostic as to software, agnostic as to document management systems, and agnostic as to blockchain.
  • Universal, blockchain-based identities for law – client identity, matter identity, document identity.

During the event, held during the annual convention of the International Legal Technology Association in Las Vegas, a series of speakers discussed various aspects of the consortium’s vision and plans.

One of those speakers, Drummond Reed, chief trust officer at Evernym, a company that has developed the world’s first publicly available distributed ledger dedicated to managing digital identities, Sovrin, and has donated its code to Hyperledger (project Indy) in order to make it available for anyone.

Reed said that the key benefit of blockchain in legal is to provide a solution for the “global root of trust problem.” Blockchain does that by enabling the establishment of immutable digital identities that do not require reliance on any particular registrar, vendor or governmental entity.

“What is the perennial problem in digital ID for which blockchain is the breakthrough?” Reed said. “How do we have a root of trust? How can we can be really sure we are dealing with the person or the group or the document or the smart contract that you’re referencing?”

“With a blockchain, every transaction is digitally signed, every transaction is chained together, and it’s replicated on hundreds of computers around the world with digital signatures,” he said, noting that Bitcoin has never been hacked in its nine years of existence.

Another speaker, David Fisher, the founder and CEO of Integra ledger, said that the key application of blockchain in law will be universal legal identities. Virtually anything or anyone will have a unique digital identity — legal matters, documents, individuals, entities, billing entities, and more. The identities will provide proof of existence and uniqueness, without identifying details, that can be used by all Integra-compliant software.

The consortium’s vision, Fisher said, is for every major law firm and corporate legal department to be a node in the blockchain with a synchronized copy of all the sequential ledger entries of identities. This will lead, in turn, to an open market for innovation in which these Integra identities will be referenced by:

  • Other blockchains.
  • Legacy software companies, in order to add functionality.
  • Smart contracts.
  • Custom apps developed by corporate legal departments and law firms.
  • Applications developed by other consortia and working groups.

Reed said that the key benefit of blockchain in legal is to address the global root of trust problem by establishing immutable digital identities that do not require reliance on any particular registrar, vendor or governmental entity.

“With a blockchain, every transaction is digitally signed, every transaction is chained together, and its replicated on hundreds of computers around the world with digital signatures,” he said, noting that Bitcoin has never been hacked in its nine years of existence.

“What is the perennial problem in digital ID for which blockchain is the breakthrough?” Reed said. “How do we have a root of trust? How can we can be really sure we are dealing with the person or the group or the document or the smart contract that you’re referencing?”

The consortium is not alone in pushing adoption of blockchain within the legal industry. Earlier this week, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), a cross-industry collaborative blockchain consortium aiming to leverage open-source Ethereum technology for enterprise solutions, announced the launch of its ‘Legal Industry Working Group’.

Members of that group include CooleyDebevoise & Plimpton, GoodwinHogan LovellsHolland & KnightJones DayLatham & WatkinsMorrison & FoersterPerkins CoieShearman & SterlingCardozo Law School, Duke Center on Law & Technology, and the Department of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Other EEA members that also joined the legal group include BNY MellonConsenSysING, and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

A kick-off event for the consortium, the MIT Legal Forum on AI + Blockchain, will be held at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. on Oct. 30 and 31. Registration information is available here.