Contracts for everyone: why we’re about more law, not fewer lawyers

Everything you read about Blockchain promises disruption on a massive scale. It’s going to change the world, and the idea of decentralisation is going to rip apart existing business models and remove intermediaries from commercial relationships.

We think that’s over-ambitious — and the proof is everywhere. If decentralisation is going to spell the end for banks, lawyers, arbitrators and other intermediaries, why are all these sectors investing so heavily in private Blockchains?

We’ve been here before. Disruption is indeed coming. But it’s not going to be ‘the end of the expert advisor’. The first internet boom of the early 2000s connected us in entirely new ways — but eBay and Amazon haven’t completely emptied the high street. The social media revolution has brought us Facebook and Twitter — but bars aren’t a thing of the past. Similarly, Blockchain will revolutionise agreements, but we’re not so idealistic as to think lawyers are doomed.

On the contrary, we are partnered with some of the most forward-thinking legal firms in the world.

Here’s why:

· Blockchain and legally-enforceable smart contracts won’t render lawyers useless, just as they won’t render the law itself useless. We believe it will mean lawyers spend less time on admin tasks and churning through template documents; and they will spend more time on cutting edge law.

· As hinted at above, we’re not idealistic. We don’t want to break a system which is working perfectly well (if you don’t think that law is useful, check out how lawlessness and a lack of access to law contributes to poverty).

· And that’s because, rather than replacing the current legal infrastructure, we think Blockchain technologies will massively expand it. They will create new opportunities for agreements to be verified, witnessed, questioned and arbitrated; bringing fairness and trust to millions of new transactions.

Let’s look at an example.

We mentioned eBay above. eBay is a perfect parallel to what Contract Vault is going to achieve. Before the internet and eBay, auctions were fairly complex. It was only worth auctioning items of significant value, because the logistics of viewing, purchasing, transport etc.; plus the risk of not getting paid or protecting against fake goods all meant that the cost of participating was incredibly high.

Enter eBay, and suddenly the cost of participation was massively reduced — plus the audience for goods became global. Everyone could participate in auctions — and, far from replacing the professional auctioneer, eBay simply made auctions massively more common and accessible to all.

Contract Vault envisions a similar scale of opportunity: until now, contracts have been complex and only worthwhile for significant agreements. But with the automations promised by smart contracts, the versatility provided by Ricardian contracts and the scalability of the internet, simple agreements and their fulfilment will be available to more people in more contexts than ever before. And with a level of trust and certainty that was previously difficult for small businesses and individuals to achieve.

We can conceive of this happening in situations which are anything from sensible to positively life-changing:

· Sensible: everyone has at some stage or other lent money to a friend — and many of us have had our fingers burned by the experience. With legally-enforceable smart contracts, all these agreements can be clarified and honoured.

· Life-changing: Contract Vault is working with partners, such as Arkadia Lending, who are building a platform that offers financing for viable projects in developing nations and emerging markets. People and businesses can thrive when their financial arrangements are guaranteed; but if access to the law is too expensive, these businesses can never get off the ground (or at the very least, compliance drains them of resources). With Contract Vault’s legally-enforceable smart contracts, thousands of new businesses can be incubated — and our work with Arkadia Lending is living proof.

As with eBay, both these cases are examples of entirely new classes of transaction which were previously unavailable. And this is why Contract Vault isn’t interested in replacing lawyers, or ripping apart the existing architecture of the law. It’s what some other Blockchain businesses seek to do, but we think that will be unproductive, costly to communities and ultimately fruitless.

Instead, the commercial opportunity is in supporting and expanding upon existing legal structures: making the law more accessible and practical for everyone, and in making contracts a natural part of reaching an agreement.

Instead of breaking the system, we’re going to make contracts as simple as shaking hands.

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