Project to make smart contracts mainstream grows, as top firms burnish tech credentials

Blockhain: lawyers working together to standardise contracts

Smart contracts in cross-border commerce moved a step closer to the mainstream last week when three City law firm giants joined an international project seeking to create global legal standards for blockchain-backed transactions.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Allen & Overy (A&O), and Slaughter & May joined the Accord Project, which already has some of biggest law firms in the world as members.

The project is pushing for the adoption of an open source technical and legal protocol that will accept any blockchain or distributed ledger technology – a so-called ‘blockchain agnostic’ standard.

Lawyers from firms such as Linklaters, Dentons, Simmons & Simmons, K&L Gates, and DLA Piper are among existing group members thrashing out the new ‘techno-legal’ protocol.

Shruti Ajitsaria, head of A&O’s tech innovation arm, Fuse, said the project “has done a great job in bringing industry, academia and the legal profession together and we are very pleased to be part of it”.

Rob Sumroy, head of Slaughter’s emerging tech practice, said: “Our lawyers are hungry to embrace all the changes and new tools in the market and this is a great opportunity for our firm to work with other leading industry players to explore and promote new and more efficient ways of working.”

Meanwhile, legal services business DWF has launched a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) with the University of Manchester, aimed at incorporating legal tech, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, into the firm.

The 30-month KTP will involve a post-doctoral data scientist, Mayowa Ayodele, who will work with the firm’s business intelligence team and “play a key role in helping the business establish a model for enhanced data use and management”.

The academic overseeing the KTP’s work, Professor Ian Miles, said: “Legal services are among the professional services that are now seeking to seize the opportunities that are emerging around such technical developments as artificial intelligence, big data and data analytics.

“This project will be simultaneously exploring the technical and organisational elements of establishing new types of support for a particular set of activities within a legal services firm.”

In other tech news, Clifford Chance has launched Tech Academy – an internal training programme aimed at its staff and partners that will include workshops, seminars and courses covering “e-commerce and connected vehicles to artificial intelligence, blockchain, data privacy and cybersecurity”.

Anand Saha, a US-based capital markets partner, said: “It is critical that our people are fluent in the key technological trends that our clients are facing… The goal is to stay on top of the issues and remain in tune with our clients as they grapple with rapidly changing technologies.”

Separately, A&O has launched a London-based graduate scheme focused on legal technology and project management. It will mirror the structure of a training contract, with four successful candidates doing six-monthly rotations.

Kevin Oliver, the firm’s head of advanced delivery technology, said: “The… graduates will grow up in A&O, receiving exactly the same level of training and access as our trainee lawyers, and building networks that will make them a key part of the business.

“Technology is only going to increase in importance and we expect that this group of people will play a crucial role in shaping the legal landscape of the future.”


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