The Blockchain Push in the Legal Industry

The transformative power of blockchain technology is visible in many areas. The adoption of decentralised blockchain systems that are arguably more tamper-proof than traditional software systems can greatly benefit the legal services industry too. This process has already begun, with a judge in the UK allowing legal documents to be served using blockchain technologies. Earlier this year, a US court too authorised service of the suit via a “hot wallet” in another cryptoasset case.

Fabrazio D’Aloia, the founder of an online gambling company, sued a cryptocurrency exchange and other cryptobrokerage platforms by claiming that his cryptoassets were fraudulently accessed and cloned. D’Aloia’s suit (in a UK court) claims that the perpetrators used their platform to impersonate another platform and led him to transfer money from his cryptocurrency wallets for what he believed to be legitimate trades. The legal documents were served by transferring a token on a blockchain via wallets that originally belonged to D’Aloia but were stolen or exploited by unknown fraudsters.

Implications of such an allowance by the Courts

Traditionally, suits and notices could only be served via the mechanisms agreed upon by the parties in advance; options included post; in person by a representative; fax; email or other forms of electronic communication. These channels were largely adequate when the identity and contact information of the parties were known or easily traceable. However, in the digital world, many frauds are increasingly being perpetrated by “unknown persons”. Especially in such cases, when the identity of fraudsters/cybercrooks is not known but the suit has to be served, the blockchain route is a useful option because it uses the “digital wallets” compromised by the scamsters to reach them.

The other significant aspect of the UK court’s decision goes beyond communication channels: it recognises that the defendants are “constructive trustees.” This essentially means that cryptoasset exchanges and other intermediaries can be held liable for breach of trust if they do not take the necessary measures to ringfence the underlying cryptoasset. This will be a deterrent and force various players in the crypto industry to be more diligent. Indeed, this may also have implications for digital supply chains in the banking and financial services space as well.

Blockchain can transform many more aspects of the legal industry

Blockchain also has applications in other areas, such as litigation, IPR matters (both applying for patents and resolving disputes by providing evidence of creation, first use, rights management, tracking distribution), etc. Smart contracts can make it easier for artists (singers, painters, writers, etc.) to get paid. Each use case will obviously involve different user personas (roles- e.g., the parties and their lawyers, competent authorities, courts, etc.). Maintaining records of events such as birth, health, marriage, adoption, change in citizenship, death, etc. on the blockchain can make it easier to maintain tamper-proof records. Even property records can be maintained on the blockchain.

Such innovations will save parties and lawyers significant time and effort. This is an important benefit in a country like India, where a lot of time is wasted only because of the inefficiencies in accessing records and verifying their authenticity. The risk of forgery increases the presence of false evidence in various cases, thus leading to protracted legal proceedings. Improving the efficiency of various processes in the justice delivery system can speed up court decisions and reviews of appeals.

It appears that the adoption of blockchain-based paradigms can reduce pendency in various courts across the country- a major challenge for the judiciary that affects not only ordinary citizens but also our country’s reputation in terms of the ease of doing business and speed of delivering justice.

There is a sense of inevitability that the digital revolution will accelerate the evolution of different industry sectors in different ways and at varying times. India, with its large pool of technical talent, is well-positioned to take the lead. Just as our DBT/UPI technology stacks, blockchain solutions too can become attractive to a large chunk of the world. But we have to move fast and in a concerted manner at all levels of our complex judicial system.

The adoption of decentralised blockchain systems that are arguably more tamper-proof than traditional software systems can greatly benefit the legal services industry too.