The Legal Update

While cryptocurrency valuations may currently be in a state of decline, confidence around them being a long term prospect seems to be increasing, and more people in the legal industry are taking note. At Obelisk Support,  we follow this topic with interest as our clients get on the cryptocurrency bandwagon. Investment fund lawyer John Lore advises clients on cryptocurrencies and investments as part of his firm Capital Fund Law Group, and places great importance on educating the wider industry on the implications of cryptocurrency investment and blockchain technology. He took some time out of his increasingly busy schedule to talk to us about the pressing issues and how lawyers are responding.

What is your legal background and when did you decide to create the Capital Fund Law Group?

I was previously with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, where I worked within their Hedge Fund and Private Equity practice. Then in 2010, I launched my own firm to focus exclusively on the investment fund sector and fund manager sector. To begin with, most of our clients were in the United States and it took a few years to build a global clientele.

How did you first come to deal with cryptocurrencies? What were the perceptions and predictions for cryptocurrencies like then, and how have they evolved since?

We started getting some phone calls about cryptocurrencies around 2013. We initially held off were as we were not ready to jump into the asset class, until 2016 when we launched our first cryptocurrency fund. [In those years] we invested effort in getting up to speed on regulations and drafting some of the initial disclaimer language. It was still very new so getting comfortable from a regulatory perspective took some time.

In terms of wider perceptions – honestly, I didn’t see much perception at all from legal community early on, pretty much nothing was being discussed back then. The shift in perceptions really happened recently in Spring 2017 where there was an explosion of activity in cryptocurrency due to the initial major surge in price of Bitcoin.

Though perceptions around cryptocurrency are rapidly developing, it’s still a very new area. How do you support and advise clients who are interested yet inexperienced?

We emphasise a solid experience in finance. From 2017, we ended up receiving hundreds of phone calls for individuals who wanted to start cryptocurrency funds. We were, and still are, very cautious about representing fund managers who have experience with crypto but don’t have a background in the finance sector. We are more on the side of tempering the swift formation of a cryptocurrency fund and teaching emerging managers how to create the proper structure for a fund. There are a lot of people we deal with who are very savvy with technology and are startup focused, so we advise them to partner with career finance people to create a more diversified skillset.

How have lawyers had to adjust their learning and experience to cryptocurrencies and the blockchain? 

There is much more interest now than there was, particularly in recognising that certain aspect of blockchain technology will change the future of a number of industries. From the investment side, we’ve seen a lot more education pop up – there have been some real strong early adopters on the legal side, who lack seasoned experience in finance, that we end up turning away but that gap is now getting filled by others. In general, there is a continued interest in the legal community in understanding the space and serving it. We, of course, only see a small slice of that in an investment context but in terms of the blockchain universe e.g. smart contracts, coin offering token offerings etc. there is a tremendous need for legal counsel in all those fields.

I think we’re right in the middle of the shift between curiosity and significant resources being allocated to the area. Again, I can only speak for the investment side, but a lot will depend on emergence of institutional investment and Wall Street involvement. I anticipate along with the rest of the cryptocurrency community that there will be major transitioning to a greater focus from these areas.

What impact are cryptocurrencies and the blockchain having now? 

There’s a plethora of opportunities that can be matched with technology across many sectors. On the investment side, there are major opportunities for cryptocurrencies as a stored value, and blockchain is already proving to be a very important aspect of the industry going forward.

What is the future looking like? Will certain cryptocurrencies eventually become a way of life for more institutions and individuals?

There’s the question of whether it will gain mainstream acceptance and whether it will continue as a convenient form of exchanging value. My predictions are: as an investment vehicle, yes, for next few years it will be limited to hedge funds and to high net worth individuals as a major trading instrument, but that can change as soon as there are infrastructures capability such as custodies and exchanges allowing for exchange traded funds (ETFs) – that would provide a strong avenue for retail level participation. Regarding seeing cryptocurrency as a replacement currency for our existing financial structures, that is more of an academic question at this point.

What developments and changes are still required to ensure longevity?

That’s exactly the question I like to be asked! Right now, the question most people have in mind is when and how the problem of custody will be resolved. That is both a technological problem and a legal problem. Getting the technology to a place where we can satisfy the custody requirement to meet financial crime compliance and to satisfy the regulatory requirement of jurisdictions around the world is a big challenge. So, we announced in July at our Cryptocurrency Custody workshop the creation of a working group, an international council of self-regulatory organisations that is going to be co-sponsored by the Stanford Law Blockchain Law and Policy Journal, and the Global Center for Investment Fund Studies, our non-profit research centre. There is a real need for international dialogue. There has been a tremendous interest in London, Dubai, and parts of Asia, and everyone is looking to the U.S. on this – a lot of dialogue is needed on how regulations will be shaped how self-regulatory bodies will play a part in that.

John Lore is a member of the New York State Bar and the Utah State Bar.  Mr. Lore represents fund managers and securities issuers throughout the United States. Capital Fund Law Group advises emerging and established hedge fund managers, with a strong focus on cryptocurrency funds on all aspects of fund formation and ongoing operations.

Women in Law

As a woman-led alternative legal services provider seeking to change the culture of a notoriously patriarchal industry, we celebrate and champion the success of women in law on a daily basis. With International Women’s Day upon us, and Women’s History Month underway, it’s a great chance for us to find out more about the women in law across the world who are blazing a trail in legal tech to change the legal industry as we know it. Here are some of the key names in law who are making history today…

Maura Grossman

Photo: Cheriton School of Computer Science, University of Waterloo

Maura Grossman has had a more unusual path to law, starting out as a clinical psychologist before passing the bar, and being promoted to Of Counsel with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz  in 2006. She is a leading advocate and driver of e-discovery technology, and has since moved to become a professor of computer science, while continuing to practice law with her own practice Maura Grossman Law in New York (USA). Grossman worked with Professor Gordon Cormack on a landmark paper titled Technology-Assisted Review in E-Discovery Can Be More Effective and More Efficient Than Exhaustive Manual Review, which is credited with creating the technology-assisted review (TAR) field. In her role at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) she is building on her research to continue to advance e-discovery in the legal sector.

Bahar Ansari

Photo: Stanford Law School, Stanford University

Bahar Ansari is a practising American lawyer and co-founder of Case.one, a legal tech startup based in California that has developed cloud-based, all-in-one legal practice management software helping attorneys work on litigation, exchange information, manage time and billing, create invoices and monitor ongoing tasks from wherever they work.

The idea came from her own experience of a lack of suitable options for case management systems, during both her time as a law firm litigator and when trying to source technology for her own practice. She realised that there were two key problems; the expense of technology available and the resistance amongst traditional practices to take advantage of technology to revamp their systems. Ansari aims to disrupt the global legal market and make justice more accessible to all through education and technology innovations.

Kristina Nordlander

Photo: Sidley Austin LLP www.sidley.com

Kristina Nordlander is renowned as an EU competition and litigation lawyer, who has been involved in many high profile anti trust investigations and cases before EU courts. In 2017, she was named as a Top 10 Innovator in Europe by the Financial Times for her ‘unconventional’ approach to cases, including her representation of the leading European online pharmacy DocMorris in a landmark case concerning cross-border internet sales of prescription medicines. Even more notably to us, she is founder of and runs the Women’s Competition Network (WCN) – a group of around 1,700 women in antitrust – said in the Global Competition Review that she was motivated to establish the WCN by “a very long career with no female role models” in which networking events were attended exclusively by men. The WCN, an international network for senior competition law and policy professionals, which aims to promote the advancement of women in the field.

Mishi Choudhary

An Indian technology lawyer and digital rights activist, Mishi Choudhary previously practised as a High Court and Supreme Court Litigator in New Delhi, and is also the only lawyer in the world to simultaneously appear on briefs in the US and Indian Supreme Courts. With a passion and dedication to the free and open source software movement she set up the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) in 2010, with the aim of protecting the rights of internet users and software providers in this rapidly moving sphere. She was also part of the SaveTheInternet coalition that successfully campaigned for net neutrality in India. Her achievements led to her being named in 2015 as one of Asia Society’s 21 young leaders building Asia’s future.

Odunoluwa Longe

Photo: Venture Capital for Africa

Odunoluwa Longe is a Nigerian lawyer who was recently awarded SME Empowerment Innovation Challenge for East and West Africa at the Innovating Justice Awards which aims to turn ‘promising and disruptive ideas into effective innovations’. She co-founded DIY Law, a legal technology company enabling access to online legal services and information for entrepreneurs in Africa, with Bola Olonisakin and Funkola Odeleye. The business model may not be unique, but it has the potential to be a major catalyst for change in Nigeria, where complicated bureaucracy stifles entrepreneurship and enables corruption at all levels of government and business. Longe also runs her own practice, and believed it more important to stay in Nigeria where her idea could make the biggest impact. With that kind of dedication and belief in the future of law in a changing world we reckon she is one to watch.

Photo: NextLaw Labs

Marie Bernard

Marie Bernard worked previously as European Director of Innovations at Dentons law firm, and became strategic advisor to Dentos’ legal technology venture NextLaw Labs before being appointed CEO. NextLaw Labs is a global incubator that actively supports and invests in new legal technologies. Bernard has long been a promoter of technology and innovation in the law, and her understanding approach to the often slower decision making processes within traditional law firm, and passionate belief in new innovations and ideas has enabled her to create successful ‘co-innovation partnerships’, allowing lawyers to explore and experiment with pilots and give them the space to adapt and change their thinking for themselves. Her work led to her being recognised in the Fastcase 50 as one of the world’s leading innovators in law in 2017.

For Women’s Day 2018, take some time to recognise the women who have inspired, mentored or affected change in your chosen career path. We’d love to hear about the women in law you most admire @theatticlondon

The Legal Update

As February zooms past, we’re taking a look forward to the biggest technology event in the Spring Calendar – SXSW 2018. Taking place from 9th – 18th March in Austin, Texas, SXSW will as ever be the talk of the tech, film, music and media worlds as an array of experts, innovators and artists come together to explore the future of human creation and ideas. As Obelisk Support steps firmly into the legal tech sphere with an upcoming app and smart software release, we’ll be keeping an eye on here in The Attic as the conferences and festivals unfold…

The changing nature of our shared existence also draws some interesting legal questions – here are some of the key subjects .

Smart Contracts to Replace Lawyers?

A panel discussion including blockchain expert and founder of the Digital Chamber of Commerce Perianne Boring will take on one of the biggest concerns for lawyers in 2018: What will smart contracts mean for their jobs in the future?

While much of the discussion has been framed around the assumption that smart contracts will inevitably replace lawyers – we are starting to see more measured analysis that may calm fears in the legal industry, for now at least. As is the case with AI, the other major innovation of our age, we are still far away from a time where the technology is ready to completely replace the complex and multi-faceted roles of the human lawyer. For those unfamiliar, smart contract technology consists of a self executing code stored on a public blockchain facilitating the negotiation and performance of a contract. However, the name ‘smart contract’ is misleading, as it only does what it is programmed by us to do, rather than being able to analyse data and come to decisions by itself. So while it seems the answer to the above question is currently no, it will be interesting to hear the thoughts of the panel about where the technology may take us, and how it will enable the function of the lawyer to evolve.

The Legal Implications of AR Going Mainstream

Augmented and virtual reality will be a key feature of this year’s festival with many talks and interactive events planned, but as AR and VR becomes a bigger part of our lives, how will lawyers need to update their knowledge and expertise to deal with the legal implications of our virtual existence? There will be numerous events touching upon this topic at SXSW 2018, including Avoiding Privacy/Security Legal Snafus in VR/AR, and Mo Reality, Mo Problems.

The most pressing concern is of course privacy and security. Data collection methods don’t differ much to other digital applications, however the volume and types of data being collected are much more extensive and detailed, building up a more complete picture of a user and their physical movements, habits, purchases, interactions, etc. AR/VR companies and companies adopting the technology will need to have stringent training and procedural protocols in place to ensure users are equipped with the knowledge to keep their own data safe in practice, and have the sufficient legal protections in place should a data breach occur.

Some of the problems that will arise as AR and VR becomes more widely adopted relate to intellectual property (IP). North American Copyright laws and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (and their European equivalents) may have to be reexamined in this context, and it is important that lawyers dealing with clients who have or are likely to adopt AR/VR are strengthening their knowledge. Then there is the issue of brand interaction – how AR technology developers will ensure that brands that are interacted with have given permission for their brand to be used in this way and to be associated with the technology creators.

Individual Governing of Data

The blockchain, AI and machine learning is also creating far reaching change in the way that data is held and managed. A Game Changing Shift in the Control of Personal Data is part of the IEEE Tech for Humanity Series, and  the introduction declares that an ‘extinction-level event is occurring in the digital economy. Power will soon shift from organisations to people as legal, social and market forces give citizens new rights.’

Covering pertinent regulatory topics such as GDPR, the overarching issue remains that the legal industry across the world is still playing catch up as individuals rapidly gain sovereign control over their personal data. While much of the change may be welcome and liberating, there is still a responsibility to protect citizens and organisations from cyber security threats and the consequences of data breach. The expert view on a potential ticking time bomb will be welcome to all data and corporate lawyers. Panel speakers at the event are Doc Sears of Project VRM, Berkman Klein Centre and Harvard University, Karen McCabe of IEEE, and Nicky Hickman of Inglis Jane Ltd.

CLE Track: Cyber Extortion, Social Media Musics Rights and More

SXSW’s Continuing Legal Education programme brings together legal experts from Twitter, Sundance Institute, Sony Music, Facebook and others to discuss the most pertinent legal issues in music, film and interactive digital worlds. Some of the highlights include a discussion on cyber extortion – including advice on negotiating with and taking the decision to pay the crooks, and the perfect storm of music licensing on social media. There will also be a free ethics session for SXSW registrants and other ethics focused events such as Ethics in VR/AR Journalism and When Programmers Are Asked To Do The Unethical.

One Eighty – a Short Film on Undertrials in India

A screening of a fascinating new short film will highlight a major flaw in India’s legal system. A shocking figure from Prison Statistics India 2015 report suggests that two thirds (67%) of prisoners in the country are those on undertrial – individuals on remand, held in custody without conviction awaiting the outcome of a trial. One could be forgiven for thinking these custodies are short term, but prisoners can be left to languish for many years while trials are delayed and drawn out. Ajoy Gosh was one example of a long term undertrial prisoner, jailed in 1962 only to languish for the next four decades as he was certified unfit to stand trial after being arrested for the murder of his brother.

To further put a human slant on the issue which still affects so many in India, One Eighty tells the story of a mother, Vijai Kumari, who spent 20 years behind bars, and her son, Kanhaiya Kumari. Once released from prison at the age of 6, he began a relentless quest to save his mother from being punished from a crime she never committed. The project is part of the Oculus VR for Good Creators Lab, pairing filmmakers and nonprofits to make great VR in the name of social good.

The Legal Update

Chinese New Year is fast approaching – 2018 is the year of the earth dog, the first since 1958. Those of us born in an earth dog year are deemed to be ethical, communicative, responsible and serious in the workplace – some good characteristics to have as a lawyer! As we look forward to this year’s celebrations on February 18th, we note that China’s legal tech is taking some huge leaps forward. The language barrier has meant that China has perhaps not been given fair props in western media coverage of China’s legal tech scene, but the message is becoming clear that there are some very interesting developments occurring.

How China is Riding the Legal Tech Wave

China’s legal sector is fast growing and thus comparatively young, compared to the culture of western law corporations. The culture at large has more readily embraced technological advances in robotics and smart tech in everyday life and infrastructure, from the all-encompassing WeChat social media platform which also facilitates payments, to travel infrastructure and smarthome technology. AI is not a niche interest or a far-off future development coming into the fore – it has already played a defining role in Chinese society.

AI and legal tech is already starting to play a significant role in courtrooms, with speech recognition technology recording court proceedings more accurately and efficiently. Virtual courts, online legal assistance for court users, two way translations systems and e-filing for documents all feature at the West Lake District People’s Court of Hangzhou. Meanwhile, blockchain technology is being used to provide electronic evidence to shape verdicts: instead of relying on a single judges’ interpretation of the law, AI-provided answers to specific questions and clarifications relating to the case can help to disperse uncertainty in judgement.

Embracing this overall openness, AI and technology companies and even educational institutions are taking unprecedented steps towards making legal services the most technologically advanced of all chinese industries – recognising the need for greater advancement not just for those working in the sector, but for society at large.

One recent story we took interest in here at The Attic was the plan for Peking University Law School to partner with cloud-based big data analytics and AI solutions provider Gridsum to launch a research centre to further examine possibilities for AI in China’s legal system. It is unlike any partnership we have yet to see here in the UK. “The combination of Peking University’s highly experienced legal community and our cutting-edge AI and big data technology will directly benefit the development and application of AI across China’s judicial system” said Guosheng Qi, CEO of Gridsum in a statement. Working in close partnership with Peking University Law School and the Legal AI Lab is another step in Gridsum’s broader strategy of developing a comprehensive suite of legal solutions targeting courts, prosecutors, law firms and others within the judicial ecosystem. The rollout of Gridsum’s legal services product suite is accelerating within China’s court system.

Another company that is breaking new ground in Chinese legal tech is Legal Miner. Founded in 2015, its products combine data mining and legal analytics expertise to ‘reveal the enigmatic Chinese decisions in an extensive, systematic and visual manner’. The data can be applied to dispute resolution, strategy solutions and business risk assessments. People are still very much at the core of the technology – a team of legal and technology experts continually develop the advanced analytics system, and a team of local and global analysts are picked to meet each client’s unique case demands. The technology has a global focus, aiming to make the Chinese legal system more transparent and allow companies to do business in the country with greater ease.

There is tech-forward thinking in the judiciary too. Reporting back from his visit to China in August, Richard Susskind OBE spoke highly of Judge He Fan, who in his view appeared to be leading thinking behind court reform in China. At the age of just 39, Judge He is a Supreme Court Justice, and a prolific author, social media user and blogger. Hangzhou Judge Chen Liaomin, deputy President of West Lake Court is also deserving of a mention for being the leading judicial force behind the court’s advancement in technology. Judge Chen hosted the successful trialling of Online Dispute Resolution in her court. The ODR platform, which integrates big data and Internet Plus into legal mediation, has been praised for its cost-effectiveness, efficiency, agility and openness.

What We Can Learn from China’s Approach to Legal Tech

There is a broad sense of optimism regarding AI and legal tech right across the Chinese legal industry, perhaps more so than we have seen in Europe, or indeed, in other parts of Asia. A report from legalexecutiveinstitute.com noted that attendees at the China Legal+Technology New Champions Annual Convention were a diverse mix of legal professionals – both men and women – from in-house departments to major firms, judiciary and government organisations, all with the unified goal of applying more AI to solve problems and propel the legal sector forward.

It’s clear that Chinese legal industry very much views AI as a transformative force, with the central idea is very much about sharing the workload of human lawyers. Conversations around AI tend to come from the angle of how to overcome the threat it poses to human job roles and future employment. In China, the advancement of AI is seen as liberation; freeing people from the more mundane, repetitive and time-consuming tasks of a role, allowing them to focus on the more sophisticated aspects, or broaden their scope and take on more work.

A more contentious point is the notion that greater access to legal technology and a more advanced legal sector could lead to the advancement of human rights in the country. This could help to address concerns that often press on the conscious of global organisations that see the need to maintain a dialogue of opportunity with the country. For human rights lawyers, to be able to focus more time on their tactical approach in an increased number of cases may mean not just more wins, but furthering the push towards democracy and constitutional governance.

For many law companies, the future of legal tech could mean the difference between survival and collapse, the ability to ensure workplace well-being for lawyers, and to retain and develop talent by focusing on softer, human qualities and emotional intelligence. While the risks involved in AI and more automated services is a conversation worth having, we can learn from China’s legal industry to embrace change and adapt.

The Legal Update

As Obelisk attends the Legal Geek Conference 2017, we’ve been thinking about the legal tech trends that are going to be shaping our industry in the years to come. Here are just some of the biggest talking points in the law industry that are having a real impact on the way that lawyers work – opening up more opportunities for networking, flexible working, better client management and security.

CRM Software

A lawyer’s knowledge of their client base and network should be considered to have as much importance as the knowledge, and customer relationship management software (CRM) is helping legal professionals better understand the information they have available. More often associated with sales teams, CRM software made for the legal sector is growing in popularity and can can provide lawyers with the ability to keep a more accurate and up to date database of clients referrals and retentions, new case matters, and other leads and communications. However the real boon comes with the ability to analyse and use the data you have to analyse key metrics and performance indicators, such as the lifetime value of any particular client, or where clients are finding your business and where the most leads and referrals are generated. Being able to manage both existing and potential contracts enables lawyers to

The Social Lawyer

The way that lawyers are using social media to aid their work and boost their careers has accelerated in recent years – many firms and individual lawyers are actively embracing social media to market themselves, for client development and even for case investigation. This excellent infographic created by Mycase.com breaks down the habits and percentages of legal professionals on social media – some of the points that interested us most were:

AI and ‘Robot Lawyers’

AI is a trend we’ve been following closely here at Obelisk. Artificial Intelligence is no longer a future concept – routine legal tasks are already being taken over by technology, and it’s causing some major changes in corporate law, as well as other areas of our industry. There are some reports that the trend is driving lawyers away from firms into in house roles, and even into the founding of legal tech start-ups. With clients looking to take advantage of savings offered by technology, lawyers need to refocus on the irreplaceable human aspects of lawyering – client relationships, understand of complex issues attached to cases and providing a source of knowledge, emotional intelligence and understanding that technology is unlikely to ever replicate. Lawyers should see the advancement as an opportunity to seize rather than a battle to be waged: AI is an opportunity to improve creative analysis, lawyer wellbeing and quality of work – it’s time to embrace it!

Cyber Security

One of the key talking points in the legal profession and likely to be a hot topic at this year’s Legal Geek conference, the issue of cyber security is becoming ever more pertinent as companies and individuals alike rush to keep up with the information about ourselves that is available online and ensure it stays secure and uncompromised. Data protection is a particular concern for lawyers who handle all kinds of sensitive information. More and more legal firms and service providers are relying on Cloud storage to keep data safe, as it provides access to better security and expert remote management of software/IT as part of the service, and more robust backup procedures than what may be available in house. In addition to documents and stored information lawyers may consider moving all of their client communications to cloud servers to ensure a consistent level of security across the board.

As well as getting one’s own house in order, it’s important to keep abreast of the next big things in cyber security in order to adequately advise clients and handling cases where data breach and misuse have occurred.

Non-traditional Service Providers

Not strictly a singular technology trend, but a by-product of the developments of technology and increasing adoption within the industry has enabled more non-traditional legal service providers to succeed where traditional firms are losing ground. Non-traditional service providers e.g. mobile/remote legal consultancies, are driven by innovative use of new technology to provide new ways of working with clients on a flexible, part time, in house and ad hoc basis.

As more of the legal industry adopts Cloud and mobile technology and other platforms and software that enable more efficient high quality work, there will no longer be many reasons left to maintain a culture of presenteeism and overwork in the office. We aren’t there yet by any means, but there are promising signs that technology and forward thinking is driving long overdue change in law.

Obelisk CEO Dana Denis-Smith will be speaking at Legal Geek Conference 2017 on Women in LawTech. Be sure to revisit The Attic for more legal tech updates and thoughts on the future of law.