The legal profession has been a trusted source of conflict prevention and resolution for centuries, with the first attorneys in history dating as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome. But there is a growing group of 21st century computer scientists who are advancing a tool designed to do away with the need for attorneys completely. With the increasing popularity of blockchain technology, “smart contracts” are being touted as a more reliable and transparent way of handling agreements between parties than attorney drafting, having the potential to radically change the landscape of the legal profession.
A smart contract is a self-enforcing agreement between parties that is formed using computer coding. Each “block” in the formative blockchain stores a piece of data needed to complete the desired contract, and “If/Then” statements are written into the code to allow predetermined conditions to enforcement of the contract to be triggered when met and verified. For example, smart contracts for the purchase of goods would code in the triggering of Automated Clearing House payments to a seller when a delivery receipt is inputted into a purchaser’s computer system.
Until recently, the use of smart contracts has been prevented by the lack of a trustworthy verification mechanism for including off-chain conditions, such as delivery confirmations, stock prices, and other extrinsic information needed to give effect to agreements. This issue is called “The Oracle Problem." But the world of technology is hard at work creating a solution and has introduced “oracle networks” that provide verifiable validation mechanisms of off-chain information. These hybrid smart contracts, which are argued to be more efficient and less expensive than traditional legal contracts, are gaining proponents and are something to keep an eye on.
So, will we be out of a job soon? Unlikely. But the next generation of attorneys might want to work on their side-hustle, just in case.