QUESTION 1: A LOT OF PEOPLE REFER TO YOU AS THE BLOCKCHAIN LADY. FIRSTLY, WHAT CAUGHT YOUR INTEREST IN BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY? ALSO, COULD YOU PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH BLOCKCHAIN AS A TECHNOLOGY?
ANSWER: Hahaha, I am just getting to know that for the first time. Although, I believe it is public knowledge that I have a deep interest in blockchain technology.
My first encounter with blockchain, was reading an article in the lines of ‘behold this technology that would replace lawyers.’ This was late 2017. I knew the title was just a click-bait tactic, but I read it anyways. Around that same period, I was running a digital content consulting business on the side, and a few of my clients began requesting for blockchain and cryptocurrency content. It’s safe to say I was literally paid to learn more about blockchain.
Within a couple of months, I was beyond convinced that blockchan was going to be the technology of the future, and I had to position myself better. Boulevard Aladetoyinbo, a colleague, who is arguably Nigeria’s premiere blockchain lawyer, was always talking about blockchain non-stop. I also secured a virtual internship position with a US-based lawyer involved in blockchain. These two afforded me the opportunity to learn and earn while developing my capacity in blockchain law. Now, this is for the legal practice aspect.
On the technical side, presently, a friend and I are co-chairing the LegalBlock Ethereum Working group with the aim of figuring out interactive learning activities that could help lawyers understand more about blockchain tools in general, and use the tools in their legal practice. We hope to have demos, games, and interactive learning modules breaking things down in a simple way. This is a vital need, which I hope would probably eliminate the feeling of overwhelm I get from the majority of people I train for the first time on blockchain.
On a personal angle, I’m carrying out some research on smart contracts, ODR (ODR) and decentralized justice. This is because I am confident that smart contracts will be the legal engine of a smart world. I always tell people, the world has progressed from tribes to empires, and now to democracy. The future is inevitably decentralization. Only, it might not be blockchain and it might not have bitcoin.
QUESTION 2: A LOT OF FOLKS SEEM VERY INTERESTED IN, BUT KNOW LITTLE ABOUT BLOCKCHAIN. OTHERS CONFLATE BLOCKCHAIN WITH LEGAL TECH GENERALLY. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE BENEFITS AND/OR DANGERS OF BLOCKCHAIN? HOW DO YOU THINK THIS TECHNOLOGY CAN AFFECT THE PRACTICE OF LAW?
ANSWER: Blockchain is a very technical subject and therein lies one of the challenges to mass understanding. In addition to being a technical phenomenon, blockchain has several components such as economics, cryptography, legal dynamics and several others. To better understand blockchain, a holistic approach is essential. For lawyers who for obvious reasons skipped maths and science, being confronted with them again is no fun.
LegalTech, of course, is broad, just think of anything within the spectrum of law and technology. I could say upcoming areas like RegTech, InsurTech and GovTech are an offshoot. These are exciting times in legaltech and I’m glad to be part of those actively involved.
The key benefits of blockchain include transparency, encryption, timestamping and tokenization. Rather than dangers, I would want to say challenges, and blockchain does have several. Top on my list are misconceptions and misapplications of blockchain. There’s a lot of hype and little substance, caused mostly by speculators and bitcoin maximalists. In any case, the technology is just a decade old, still enough time for improved developments.
I see the blockchain technology changing the practice of law as it solidifies its place as the bedrock for legal structure in the smart world we are evolving into. It would be just as I said in a lecture I took recently, which I quote here. “In no distant future, smart contracts are likely to be the legal engine of a smart world. Managing a smart property for your client? You would probably be likely to use a smart contract. The rent is automatically deducted from the tenant once rent is due, the landlord is automatically paid, and you also automatically receive your fees. How sweet.” This is just a basic illustration.
QUESTION 3: IT SEEMS THAT TECHNOLOGY IN SOME WAY IS OUTPACING THE DEVELOPMENT OF REGULATORY LAWS AND POLICIES. DO YOU THINK EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES, WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO TECHNOLOGIES LIKE BLOCKCHAIN OR DLT SHOULD BE REGULATED AND WHY?
ANSWER: Of course! That’s no news. I mean, it is still the reason why despite facial recognition technology, people are still asked to vote by thumb-printing. This is because the right laws are yet to be passed to allow for it.
I strongly believe emerging technologies should be regulated, but not in a way that stifles innovation, and provisions should be user-centric. My reason is that, no matter how much we might trust what a technology can do on the surface, how about what its creator(s) have programmed it to do in the background? For instance, a white technologist creating a facial recognition software, is likely to make such software receptive to only white faces. This is just one scenario of how it is possible for humans to include invisible malicious code in a program millions trust.
Also, regulating emerging technologies would act as a checkpoint to governments utilizing the technologies for surveillance on their citizens. The Chinese government cracked down hard on crypto miners and traders. But now, there are plans in place to issue its own cryptocurrency. So, in as much as a technology is created with good intentions, there are also possibilities for using it negatively.
Considering the fact that it can become really difficult to pinpoint a jurisdiction when it comes to blockchain projects and their applications, founders, and transactions. Deloping a multi-jurisdictional law would be a wise step in the right direction. Regulators would need to collaborate to make this a reality.
QUESTION 4: WHAT ADVISE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR A YOUNG LAWYER/LAW STUDENT SEEKING TO BE BEST PREPARED FOR THE 21ST CENTURY LEGAL PRACTICE?
ANSWER: Don’t just think outside the box, obliterate the box. Unlearn. Learn. Relearn. We are in dynamic times; the lawyer whose finger is on the pulse of change is the one who would be unstoppable and the best. I am probably biased, but I think the 21st-century (22nd actually) lawyer should learn to code in at least one programming language, preferably Python, or acquire one definite tech-focused skill. In the past, the path to partnership was countless billable hours and thick client files. But now, the path to partnership is tech.
It’s also important to master the art of collaboration. Legal practice in the 21st century has gone beyond silo castles. Collaboration here is not even necessarily with other lawyers, but with other professionals. Imagine collaborating with a web design company to help bring businesses online and also letting them know why their business should be registered. For those worried about the Rules of Professional Conduct(RPC), there are no issues of fees sharing here. Those needing business registration or other legal advice, are simply handed over.
Finally, I should mention here that the appropriate order is learning before earning. I say this because I have had people approach me and say, “Faith, I want to learn this blockchain thing.” But what they were actually saying was, “Faith show me how to make money from this blockchain, sharp, sharp.” Some actually expressly say so. Well, it doesn’t work that way. I always counter with, “If you get a blockchain client tomorrow morning, are you able to satisfactorily meet their legal needs?” and I get a quiet “No”. You have to LEARN before you can EARN.
QUESTION 5: FINALLY, WHAT MAKES YOU GET UP FROM BED?
ANSWER: The thrill of discovering or learning something new. You could say I am addicted to learning new things. There are downsides to this though, I get bored easily. Fortunately, blockchain is such a vast field that it transcends virtually all facets of life. And I am yet to even scratch the surface!
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HAVE A GREAT DAY!!!