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Instant Insights / How the Legal Profession Will Change in 2018

Looking Ahead to 2018, sexual harassment suits, law firm mergers and artificial intelligence are catching our eye, to name a few. In this Instant Insights, find out what’s on tap for law firms, in-house counsel, government attorneys and tech pros in the new year.

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Law School Opportunities: Some law schools have begun offering blockchain-centric courses, and many are filling up quickly. In spring 2018, the University of California, Berkeley School of Law is offering an interdisciplinary course titled, “Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, and the Future of Technology, Business and Law.” Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy executive director Adam Sterling told LTN, “I’ve been here running the center for three years; this is far and away the most popular course. We had over 70 students apply for 20 spots.” More law schools will likely be following with courses of their own in the near future.

A Growing In-House Role: Law firm interest doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be the only legal players in the space. Given the market valuation and the increasing size of many bitcoin companies, Cooley’s Garcia believes 2018 could bring a spate of in-house cryptocurrency lawyer hiring. “I think next year’s there’s going to be a lot of in-house counsel hired… because the companies are getting large enough that they can hire an in-house attorney to manage their regulatory questions and their questions of corporate law,” he explained. “As they get larger, companies are going to be better off hiring in-house counsel than going outside for 40-50 hours of work a week.”

Hands-On Technology: Aside from setting standards, it wouldn’t be surprising to see law firms and corporate legal departments engaging directly with blockchain technology itself. In one example that could potentially be replicated, Sovrin Foundation is hoping to use blockchain to give individuals the means of verifying their own personal identifying data, potentially eschewing the need for third-party identifying organizations and allowing individuals more control over their own verifying information. The foundation’s counsel, Perkins Coie, is getting involved as well. Partner Joe Cutler explained, “Perkins Coie will serve as a steward of some information that will be used to test the protocol’s functionality, and as a node, it will serve as a verifier of information when people need to submit claims for consensus verifications.”

Adjusting Litigation Strategy: Many litigators are watching with interest both the defense and prosecution strategies surrounding at least five lawsuits surrounding cryptocurrency company Tezos. In the ongoing litigation, many plaintiffs argue “that Tezos broke securities laws by issuing ‘XTZ’ tokens or ‘Tezzies’ that were—in fact—securities without registering through the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Two of the suits also allege that the defendants committed securities fraud,” The Recorder’s Ben Hancock wrote on Dec. 5. Since then, plaintiff’s lawyers have also sought to freeze the company’s assets, which the company’s defense counsel has fought against. The result of these cases could inform how courts view cryptocurrencies in 2018 and beyond.

Setting Standards: But it’s not just regulators that will be taking the lead. With the technology’s advancement and adoption occurring at such a rapid pace, Cooley’s Garcia says he’s not one for predictions, but he could envision a future where standards-setting organizations such as the Crypto Working Group and the Token Alliance will play a much larger role. “What I would like to see is an increased interest in setting standards that is led by the companies and lawyers working together with regulators and other stakeholders. The industry is moving very fast, and the law moves very slow, so it makes sense to have companies set standards where regulators are moving too slow to set them.”

More U.S. Regulations: Jeffrey Neuburger, a partner at Proskauer Rose, doesn’t think the U.S. government views cryptocurrencies as a legitimate threat to the stability of U.S. currency. “That being said,” he told LTN’s sister magazine ThinkAdvisor, “cryptocurrencies are clearly being used to commit fraud, circumvent sanctions, and other financial crimes that regulators in the financial services area are focused on. Also, there is a concern that the unknowing investor could be hurt in this area, and we expect to see stepped up enforcement to prevent that from happening.”

Are you a lawyer interested in blockchain technology? Trust me, you’re far from alone.

Zach Warren

Zach Warren is the editor-in-chief of Legaltech News. He can be reached at zwarren@alm.com.

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