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London Law Firm to Digitise Contracts Using Bitcoin Technology

(@GCaffyn) | Published on October 22, 2015 at 18:13 GMT
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A London law firm has announced plans to digitise its legal agreements using blockchain technology.

In partnership with Stash, a Texan startup formed earlier this year, Selachii will swap its paper documents for self-executing 'smart contracts' run on a layer above bitcoin's blockchain.

Selachii partner Richard Howlett told CoinDesk his firm, which has been researching various blockchain solutions since 2013, will start out with contracts such as wills, title registries and shareholder agreements. He said:

"We envisage smart contracts being revolutionary in ... litigation across the world. This is just the beginning of a game-changing implementation and execution of contracts. Ultimately, the technology is now in place for any contract to be a smart contract."

Currently, Selachii and Stash are still at the testing phase. However, the firm expects to roll out the product to UK clients by the end of 2015, with an international launch due in 2016.

In terms of clients, Howlett said he is currently in discussion with a European bank looking to use smart contracts with its commercial contacts. A London Stock Exchange has also expressed interest in recording and executing their trades on the platform.

Eventually, Howlett sees 'Selachii Smart Contracts' extending beyond the firm's clientele as a whitelabel service used by other businesses and individuals.

"Our aim is to establish ourselves as the top brand in this new and growing legal sector," he added.

Stash

First announced under six weeks ago, Stash is an off-blockchain system that uses the Open-Transactions platform – developed by co-founder Chris Odom in 2010 – which claims to be faster and cheaper than using bitcoin alone.

Once signed, each Stash contract is vetted by 'multi-signature voting pools' that are designed in such a way that only the user has access to their funds.

"This means a server running our software never receives user funds, never transmits user funds, and cannot access user funds. Nor does a server have the power to change a user's balance, reverse a transaction, or confiscate a user's money," the company's site reads.

Co-founder Cliff Baltzley said Stash will charge users on a "per-contract executed basis", with prices falling once its template contracts are in place.

While Selachii was its first client, he added, other bitcoin startups and legal firms had expressed interest.

Smart contracts

Smart contracts – a term first coined by cryptographer Nick Szabo – are cryptographically secured bits of code that, at their simplest, stipulate 'if this, then that'.

How are these types of contracts seen in the eyes of the law? Howlett says they are perfectly legal – "a contract is a contract" – and they bring with them game-changing benefits: speed, ease and immutability. Also, they can never be lost:

"Any important document can be placed [on the blockchain] and is always accessible by the person who stored it. For the users of the contract, ultimately, this will assist in bringing down legal fees, and could also lead to automated legal services to a certain extent."

IBM and BBVA are among those currently exploring smart contracts' use in a business context, which some see as a pathway to human-free corporations, also known as Decentralized Autonomous Organisations (DAOs).

And while startups like Stash are linking their platforms to the bitcoin blockchain, projects such as Eris and Ethereum are designing alternative blockchain platforms that have smart contract functionality built in. "What bitcoin does for payments, Ethereum does for anything that can be programmed," its site reads.

Contract image via Shutterstock

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