May 15, 2018

Light years ahead

Emma Waddingham, Modern Law, hosted a cross-Atlantic interview with Rocket Lawyer and Open Law (a blockchain-based protocol for the creation and execution of legal agreements, created using ConsenSys Ethereum blockchain technology) to discover more about the partnership to deliver smart legal contracts, how far ahead of the game they really are and why legal could well be the next ‘killer’ app. 

We spoke to: Charley Moore (CM), Founder and CEO of Rocket Lawyer; Mark Edwards (ME), SVP Global Operations, Rocket Lawyer, and; Aaron Wright (AW), co-founder, OpenLaw and Professor at Cardozo Law School.

 

ML: Aaron – most of our readers will know about Rocket Lawyer but tell us more about your involvement in the partnership.

AW: I’m one of the Open Law founders. We build a legal layer to create smart contracts or legal agreements using ConsenSys  Ethereum BlockChain technology – a great tool to keep track of assets of various different types, from legal agreements to the structure of transactions. The ConsenSys’ Ethereum blockchain enables us enabled us to create virtually signed for and executed smart contracts.

 

ML: What came first – the tech or the relationship?

AW: The conversation about building the legal layer has been there from the start. People often get a little muddled with blockchain tech and presume it’s one piece of tech when it’s really a new commercial stack that lots of people are building. Blockchain sits at the bottom as an asset management layer and there are additional layers being developed to fit in – such as identity layers to prove you own the assets, a legal layer to structure the risks related to it and custody layers to keep those assets safe. Our version solidified a couple of months ago.

CM: We can see pretty quickly why the partnership was pre-ordained. At Rocket Lawyer, we provide contracts, visual agreements and attorney services to service everyday legal needs for entrepreneurs, enterprises – including global brands such as Google – and consumers. We have been doing that for 10 years and have got further than anyone else in terms of making a global legal platform for everyday law. As well as in the US, we also operate in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Spain and are expanding rapidly into the rest of the world.

CM: We have around 22 million customers who use our services for everyday legal matters, primarily around making digital agreements and documents based on personal matters – Wills, Power of Attoneys, childcare applications, etc. to more complicated business contracts, real estate transactions. Hundreds of thousands of people also have Rocket Lawyer as an employee benefit, from Google to Facebook and Snapchat. Our mission never changes: we aim to make legal services affordable and easy to seek and get help with.

CM: In the UK in particular, we’ve been really successful at that. We’ve worked with the SRA, we operate as an ABS in London providing answers for any legal question through our network of lawyers and also – due to deregulation in the UK, directly to customers, at an affordable price. So we’re really excited to partner with ConsenSys.

CM: Smart contracts are a natural extension of our mission and our tech vision due to the machine-to-machine, self-executing nature of those agreements as well as the democratising nature of these elements. Ethereum Blockchain, used by ConsenSys, helps us to democratise access to justice for more people, around the world.

 

ML: This is more than just a ‘partnership’ in the loosest sense of the word. What innovations should we expect next from you both?

CM: We have the tools and infrastructure that ConsenSys is developing and feel that these will become standard for this type work in the legal sector. From the Robot Lawyer side, we are building on the development and platforms that connect to millions of end users. This is a combination of a lot of things we’re already doing in terms of user experience and also applications that can be leveraged via Open Law and ConsenSys’ activities in building Ethereum blockchain stacks and smart contracts to support customers. We’re building the pipes!

 

ML: What about the reaction from consumers? Do they understand the benefits of blockchain – or need to?

CM: This is what Robot Lawyer is all about. We make tech as simple and as integrated into everyday life as we possible can and that’s why we established in the first place. We build our legal services and support regulators to redress the overly complex (for most people – even for well educated people) and difficult to navigate legal system with our tools.

CM: We want to make it as easy as possible for people and businesses to interact with the law – as easy as it is to play video games, Spotify or access commerce sites. If someone has to understand what blockchain is before they can use it then we’re not doing it right.

AW: Blockchain is there to ensure more efficient transactions, more reliable or recurrent payments are as secure and as easy as possible to make.  Blockchain provides the benefits and solutions; it’s not about the tech.

 

ML: We expect the increasing deregulation of services due to hit the market in April 2019 will offer even more opportunities for Rocket Lawyer. How will you respond to the increasing liberalisation of the market?

CM: We have been literally at the forefront – one of a handful of companies (and the first) – of developing innovations with the SRA. We’ve worked with the regulator for a number of years to experiment with legal services and see how we can liberalise certain services. Nothing the SRA does is a surprise to us or offers something for us to react to.  We’ve already collaborated with the SRA on some of the new deregulated moves. We’ve already implemented many of the ‘new’ things that will become standard practice.

ME: The SRA created its innovation space to allow legal tech companies to come along and test new models. We were the first company to be invited into that space and given the ability to give legal advice directly. Lawyers are using our tech to provide legal advice in the UK in a really efficient way.

CM: We provide lots of services to independent solicitors in the UK and will continue to do that. Our hybrid model is the right model as we know smart contracts are something solicitors will need to integrate with their practice. There is also a terrific opportunity for smart contracts to become the defacto infrastructure for for big law and we have an opportunity to participate in that too.

CM: Let me be clear, I don’t consider that it’s our job is to disrupt the relationship between lawyers and their clients – quite the contrary. We provide a hybrid model where our solicitor clients are very happy that we services some of the less profitable work through our tech, resulting in the more profitable work going to them.

 

ML: In terms of your work with UK lawyers, has the market changed in the last 12 months – what kind of impact does your relationship with solicitors have on their practice?

CM: As someone who is over 5000 miles away watching our UK business grow, it’s a little like watching a child grow up from afar. Whenever I come back I’m amazed by the progress and think ‘look how big you are and how smart you grown’. We work with solicitors who have grown their firm from sole practitioner roots to a large and new kind of legal practice. They’ve achieved this using our tech to generate lots of clients online and service them digitally – operating on a time and geo shifting basis. For example, answering questions for clients online, rather than face-to-face, in any time zone or place. They can support clients across the country, immediately, digitally, and then sign smart contracts. This new wave of legal services will accelerate further still when courts become fully digitised. The sector has changed and grown rapidly in terms of this style of legal service – and right before our eyes.

 

ML: Is legal tech ahead of the game commercially – why do you think it’s so important?

AW: One thing I think is underappreciated is that, possibly, the first broad and significant use for consumer-facing blockchain sits within the legal industry. Thanks to our partnership with Rocket Lawyer and our other activity within the sector, we can see that legal could be the second killer app – with profound implications globally. There is a tremendous amount of interest in this from government, law firms and other parties that are ancillary to the legal sector – it’s coming much faster than anticipated. Faster than those launching the tech anticipated for this sector.

CM: I agree with that and think there’s something here for each type of person that we serve – from SMEs to solicitors. In time, all contracts will be smart contracts and that’s incredibly exciting. For enterprises, there are so many high volume, routine and high scale agreements executed every day so smart contracts bring tremendous efficiency in this space. In addition, there are great opportunities for government and lawyers for blockchain asset recording and measuring capacity.

CM: Legal tech is a terrific space to deploy these innovations in and could absolutely be the next ‘killer’ sector app. Each constituent of Rocket Lawyer will benefit from the apps we will build on top of Ethereum blockchain solutions provided by ConsenSys and we’ll keep on building.