University of Wisconsin–Madison

What is Blockchain, Anyway?

Bitcoin and blockchain: unless you’ve been living in a hole (or inside a legal textbook, for which we won’t fault you!) for the last few months, it’s likely that you’ve noticed these two popular buzzwords being bandied about in the news.

While Bitcoin (the first and most popular form of cryptocurrency) is a little easier to digest as a concept, “blockchain” seems a little more difficult. So what is it, and how is it related to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies? What are some of its potential legal implications in the future?

In layman’s terms, blockchain is the technology that allows cryptocurrency to work. It allows for records of cryptocurrency transactions to be kept on a digital ledger and shared by everyone in the cryptocurrency network. For more information on how Bitcoin works, check out this quick overview. (There are further links embedded in that article in case you feel like going down the rabbit hole!)

So how does the legal world come in? Well, it’s likely that internal blockchains could be used in the very near future to help law firms keep information such as timekeeping and transactional records. Additionally, blockchain technology can be used to create “smart contracts”- i.e., coded programs that act upon predefined triggers. This could allow lawyers to automatically generate legal agreements, thereby reducing the amount of time they spend on routine tasks and allowing them to spend that time on more complex legal issues instead. Several legal blockchain tools have already been created to do this type of work- check out this BNA News article for more detailed information.

Thus far, blockchain can also be utilized for things like keeping secure records of contract signatures or keeping track of CLE credits earned. This is just the beginning of blockchain technology’s role in the legal field, so watch this space!

Submitted by Emma E Babler on February 22, 2018

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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