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How Blockchain Could Improve Legal Record Keeping

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 22, 2017 1:57 PM

In 2013, Bitcoin was inescapable. The strange little cryptocurrency had morphed from an internet oddity, where Bitcoin-backers celebrated exchanging 10,000 Bitcoins for two (bad) pizzas, to a serious phenomenon. After a whole lot of stumbling blocks, Bitcoin has continued to grow, with the digital currency valued at over $1,000 a coin today. (That makes those pizzas worth $10 million.)

But the real story behind Bitcoin isn't Bitcoin, it turns out. It's the blockchain, the technology that makes Bitcoin possible. And it's blockchain, rather than virtual currencies, that could revolutionize everything from banking to land records. The tech could even be embraced by tech-shy lawyers.

The Blockchain and You

Blockchain technology creates a decentralized, digital ledger of transactions. The blockchain encrypts transactions, then distributes them throughout the network, creating a public record that is virtually impossible to hack. That allows for an incredibly reliable digital ledger without the need for a single, centralized authority.

That could be incredibly helpful for lawyers. Speaking last Friday at the ABA Techshow in Chicago, Vermont Law School professor and director of the school's Center for Legal Innovation, Oliver Goodenough, explained that attorneys could use blockchain technology to record and authenticate legal matters. That includes everything where ledgers are needed: property records, UCC filings, court records, fund transfers, chains of custody, contracts, even legal opinions.

"If you can get active in it, there are opportunities for clients," Goodenough explained, according to a report on his presentation by the ABA Journal.

Still, There Are Difficulties Ahead

The blockchain isn't magic, of course. Goodenough, who helped write a Vermont law giving blockchain a notarial legal status, reminded attendees that "I can still notarize lies." The system will still need to be policed and dispute resolution measures created.

That's just one problem that could slow widespread adoption of blockchain tech. Scalability remains a significant roadblock as well. Because blockchains are distributed across many computers, the size over a blockchain may need to be limited to avoid using excessive processing power. Bitcoin's "miners," the people running blockchain calculations, perform 450 thousand trillion solutions per second to validate transactions, according to Deloitte. That requires a ton of processing. The more the blockchain spreads, the more processing power every register and ledger will require.

Still, for now, blockchain tech is being hailed as the next major tech solution, for everything from finance to elections to the law. If you're looking to stay ahead of the curve, blockchain might be something worth throwing a few Bitcoins at.

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