Blockchain Coders Win Grant to Fix Smart Contracts With 'Legalese'

Blockchain startup Legalese has won a grant to develop a smart contracts programming language.

AccessTimeIconJul 12, 2016 at 11:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 12:22 p.m. UTC

The mantra 'move fast and break things' may work well in traditional software, but as the demise of The DAO illustrated, the approach might not be right for experimental financial technologies.

But in the wake of The DAO's demise, new efforts are beginning to emerge that seek to address the challenges developers have so far faced working with smart contracts, the key building blocks that underlined the project and whose exploitation led to its failure.

One such startup is Legalese, a project that grew out of internal efforts at seed accelerator JFDI Asia, and boasts a notable co-founder of that operation among its ranks.

Co-founded by Virgil Griffith and Wong Meng Weng, Legalese is an open-source project writing a new programming language specifically for smart contracts. Called L4, the language is designed to help coders properly vet contracts before they go live.

After winning $8,888 from a grants program offered by autonomous financial project String Labs, Griffith said he’s ready to continue his work with a team of established leaders in the industry.

Griffith told CoinDesk:

"The fundamental idea is that we wanted to create a programming language for law. Basically it is a mathematical way to describe obligations and relationships."

Using what is called the modal mu-calculus, Griffth and Wong, who previously designed the email infrastructure RFC4408, beat out about 30 other applicants for the grant.

New programming language

Legalese’s flagship offering is the L4 formal language, designed to make it easier for programmers to release smart contracts for public use without needing to have those contracts vetted.

Coders, the project leads said, would write in L4 which would then convert into Solidity, ethereum's newly created programming language. This language could then be compiled to byte code, which would be read and interpreted by ethereum virtual machines (EVMs), the component of the protocol that reads and handles the dynamic instructions.

The project's first product is a software-as-a-service application designed to help entrepreneurs complete paperwork for an angel or seed round, including encoding shareholder agreements, corporate resolutions, rights notices and corporate resolutions.

In the future, Legalese’s work could help prevent the release of code with loopholes that can be exploited by attackers, according to String Labs co-founder and Blockchain University co-founder Tom Ding.

Ding said:

"When you write the contract you want to catch all the bugs. Lawyers use their education and experience to catch loopholes and smart contracts need the same."

Open chain grants

Also announced By String Labs, on-chain credit history startup Distory won $10,000 to build a credit history system that that travels with users across borders.

The online credit histories could then be used by other smart contracts to facilitate both online and offline borrowing.

"The ultimate idea is to lower the cost of transaction," said Ding.

Legalese and Distory are the first winners of what Ding hopes will be an ongoing cycle of grants funding projects specifically built on public blockchains.

Fine print image via Shutterstock


Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.