Can blockchain shake up the legal sector for the better? | Legal horizons

Blockchain’s combination of transparency and security has led to applications being devised for almost every industry.
Illustration: Michele Marconi

In 2008, Apple’s creation of the app store led to the introduction of apps for everything. More than a decade later, it now seems there’s a blockchain for everything. The technology that’s best known for underpinning the Bitcoin cryptocurrency has spawned a new raft of ambitious startups looking to make the most of it.

The blockchain has a simple underlying premise: to allow people to share digital assets with another internet user. The transfer is carried out securely and can be seen by all users of the network it is shared upon, using a public record of all transactions. Blockchain networks can be open to anyone or act as a private system that’s only accessible to those granted permission.

Despite analysts at Forrester predicting that 2018 will be the start of the downfall for blockchain proposals that have been too optimistic, the technology’s combination of transparency and security has led to blockchain being developed for almost every industry – having branched out from its cryptocurrency origin. Many blockchain efforts are in their early stages, with developers still attempting to get wide rollout, but blockchain applications are being developed to track food safety information, distribute movies and store electronic medical records.

But how could blockchain be applied to the legal profession and regulatory environment? “Blockchain technology can affect the legal practice in two significant ways,” says Primavera De Filippi, a researcher at the National Center of Scientific Research in Paris and faculty associate at Harvard University. First: it has the potential to act as a secure database where documents, such as evidence, can be stored and then referenced later on if arguments arise.

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