What the heck is blockchain anyway?

Blockchain is one of the many hyped up buzzwords of our times. Everywehre you go, people interject it into their talk and strategies or features. But what does it actually mean? And more importantly, as lawyers, what is the hype all about and should we be caring?

Dissecting blockchain seems to be the only way to understand it, because as soon as you venture into its constituent parts, intricately connected, there’s far more tech speak than any of us lawyers can pretend to muster. It feels a little like reading Latin in your first year of law or piecing together Roman law with our modern Constitution.

So what is blockchain, if one had to try and explain it in Human? It refers to a series of blocks, with each block presenting an individual transaction operating on an internet connected network, linked together by a series of rules. The rules are preprogramed and serve to govern the transactions that are automatically concluded between two peer groups (contracting parties) on the network  when the preprogramed rules are complied with, without the need for a central, “trusted” authority to render them valid.

The predetermined rules, known as consensus rules, manages the transactions and how the parties interact with each other and the transactions on the network by defining, when a transaction would be deemed valid, what the transaction costs would amount to, providing a mechanism by which transactions are validated (similar to a digital signature, password or biometric data) and lastly, the rules on changing the existing consensus rules.

Thus, holistically a blockchain represents a complete ledger of all transactions that have occurred over a series of time, starting with the first transaction known as the Genesis and each transaction concluded thereafter being added to the chain, linking up, as more transactions are undertaken and concluded, to provide for an ever continuing chain between two peers without a central, managing authority.

Blockchain not only offers the ability to store an immense amount of information, which is generally regarded as unmanageable, but also provides for the decentralised, independent verification of information without a central controlling body and for increased certainty as transactions, once they have been concluded are added to the blockchain and cannot be deleted, changed or tampered with unless all parties agree thereto and the consensus rules are amended. (Altman, 2018)

Blockchain holds significant potential in the changing legal landscape, especially in automating routine legal procedures and processes by way of smart contracts, comprised of scripted logic, terms and conditions which allow for automatic execution of basic contracts, such a the renewal of a lease agreement or conclusion of a non-disclosure agreement, which does not require human oversight or negotiations.

With smart contracts, blockchain also creates the potential for the automatic transfer of assets between participants on the peer to peer network where the preprogramed (conveyancing) rules and regulations are complied with, without the need for a controlling, central deed of registries to validate the transfer of ownership, saving time and costs and allowing for easier transfers and better customer relations. Blockchain further offers significant value to the legal field in terms of the immense amount of information it can store, recording pervious legal matters, transactions and events over a long period of time such as irrefutable intellectual property claims or criminal charges and providing legal firms with the opportunity to discover hidden evidence or contradictions that could assist in winning legal argument. (The Legal Executive Institute , 2019) (Altman, 2018)

Now the question is – have you actually ever seen a smart contract? Is this all fiction or is it real?

Join the Futures Law Faculty on 4 July at 5pm at the Inner City Ideas Cartel to delve into this hyped up technology to uncover the truth.

The Presenters:

If there’s one expert in South Africa, it’s Tanya Knowles, Faculty Member of Singularity University and Chairperson of the South African Financial Blockchain Consortium (SAFBC) which is comprised of over 50 members including the country’s largest banks, financial institutions, regulators, consulting and legal firms and start-ups. Tanya has been internationally recognised as one of the leading women in blockchain technology.

Tanya will be joined by Adv Jackie Nagtegaal, a futurist and legal professional that has conducted research into the application of blockchain and legal practice. She will contextualise Tanya’s finding to the legal fraternity and show examples of application from around the world.


Get your ticket here. 


Environmental Scan: Digital Revolution & Law

To understand the affect of the 4th Industrial Revolution on the practice of law, a scan was conducted on the current trends taking shape in the legal ecosystem.

The following guiding questions were used as a departure point to initiate the scan:

  • How is the industrial revolution shaping our concept of legal rights?
  • Who are the role-players and how are they adopting technology?
  • Where has the funding for legal technology coming from?
  • Is technology enhancing service or changing service?
  • What regulation is in place to enhance or hinder development?
  • What do these questions look like through the STEEP lens?

These aspects were considered globally, and then brought back to focus locally in South Africa. This brings an interesting dynamic to the scan; while the world converges as a result of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the legal systems are still territorial, in application and approach. Due to the different trajectories of growth geographically, the future seems to be happening in different time zones, which corresponds to our understanding, adoption and application of legal rights and how the law is practiced.

Download it here: How the Fourth Industrial Revolution is Shaping the Practice of Law

soft skills for lawyers

Developing Soft Skills for Future Lawyers

The future needs a new type of lawyer.

According to the respected legal futurist, Richard Suskind, it’s no longer just enough to teach the old basic skills of lawyering in the new, AI-driven, automated economy. A new type of lawyer is needed who is not only trained in the use of coding and legal technology, but also in skills that AI will not be capable of automating. These include the very “human” capabilities of creativity, empathy, compassion, and emotional intelligence. More and more if you want to practise law you need to become a trusted adviser to your client, you need the ability to listen, to communicate and relate to others to help solve their legal problems. No matter how technology transforms the legal market place, these skills will remain highly prized.

Being a good lawyer requires more than the ability to get the facts, apply the applicable law, analyse and advocate for your client’s position. It needs humanity and compassion. When I say compassion, what I mean is the ability to feel with – the ability to empathise, tapping into our innate desire to help, and taking steps to alleviate suffering. This ability is what transforms a good lawyer into a great lawyer.

For those looking to future proof their careers, building competencies in areas that machines will be unlikely to tackle effectively (i.e. compassion, empathy, negotiation and problem solving) is likely the best recipe for success.

Developing soft skills for future lawyers.

I believe it starts from the inside out! Psychometrically measuring your current soft skills will give you the foundation from which to work. Like any other skill, these abilities can be nurtured and improved with practice. It boils down to the ability to inspire confidence in your clients so that they can trust your advice. Cultivating these traits provides the opportunity to understand the issues and offer practical solutions. Be honest and give your clients all the knowledge and help possible. The stronger the relationship, the more work and referrals you’ll receive.

Compassion is the foundation for good people skills. Without empathy, you cannot put yourself in your client’s shoes or fully understand the issues your client faces. Without compassion, you cannot understand your adversary’s position, anticipate what they will do, and take pre-emptive steps to benefit your client. Without it, you cannot provide the best solutions.

The report from McKinsey Global Institute has highlighted how it thinks a range of jobs based on human skills are likely to be affected by AI and automation. It emphasises the top skill sets workers will need to develop between now and 2030 if they do not want to be left behind. These skills include emotional intelligence, compassion and empathy.

In my workshop, I will address the soft skills needed as well as give lawyers an understanding of where they are at with regards to their own soft skill levels in the legal industry, while also providing developmental guidelines.

Taking the time to develop your soft skills will set you apart as top legal talent and assist you in taking your legal career to the next level. Take the first step today for a better tomorrow.

– by Sonica Mouton
Futurist & Industrial Psychologist

Sonica Mouton is a futurist, industrial psychologist with a particular interest in coaching future skills and developing strategic solutions for a brave new world.

Sonica has specialised experience in leadership and executive development, talent management, coaching and developmental feedback and in the assessment and integration of specific solutions based on the results of psychometric tools developed and created by herself.

Don’t miss Sonica’s workshop on developing soft skills for future lawyers.