Blockchain technology has the potential to streamline much more than banking. Any repeatable recording of patterns of change is amenable to expression in dry code. For example, in a blockchain-based legal infrastructure, title is indisputable, documents self-authenticate and contracts self-execute. Wills are not lost. Child custody orders are no longer subject to jurisdictional monkey business. Blockchain secured transactions provide potent enforcement options for creditors. A new paradigm for marriage and divorce is not beyond the realm of possibility.
New contract forms tend to evolve out of new property. True to pattern, the first legal product in the cryptographic space is contracts. As coders get more ambitious with their legal forms, they swim in unfamiliar waters the law has plumbed countless times. Lawyers rely on the corpus of the law to be our guide so that we solve the problems that don’t need to escalate to litigation. Conventional contracts function like algebraic pieces of code that end up in court when the program doesn’t execute as intended. If a contract, be it in crayon or code, is insufficient to contain the entirety of the relationship between two contracting parties the law steps in to fill the gaps with doctrine developed over a thousand years. Many sample smart contracts I have seen online are not yet sufficient tools for humans – they are lawsuits waiting to happen.
The blockchain needs a reliable set of jurisdiction-sensitive, open-source legal forms to spread a healthy digital legal ecosystem. Coders need to know how smart contracts trigger wet code doctrine so that they may write smarter dry code. Like coders on Github the wet code world understands the importance of reliable model forms. A reliable legal form book would work like a powerful programming language — contracts import contingency conditions that complete the meeting of the minds in the event of an exception so the legal system will not have to. It’s like loading useful tools into a coding language or program. Not every contract provision comes into play in every case, but the goal of good forms is to incorporate the wisdom of prior experience and forestall problems that tend to recur in a given fact pattern.
Open source smart contracts are important to the spread of healthy blockchain contracts because they will build predictability. Lawyers should think of cryptographic programs like our current body of law: efficiency in the legal system depends on a consensus law giving predictable outcomes. If two lawyers have wildly differing understandings of what the law means in their case, the result is expensive litigation, so it’s important that the law is clear. The same is true for parties in the digital space. Open-source blockchain legal forms will spread the healthy practice of cryptographic law, creating opportunities modelled on software-as-a-service, itself modelled on the practice of law from a healthier time. Some projects, like Commonaccord.com, have begun this undertaking. For this space to succeed, more of us need to contribute and share.