Tech Versus The Legal Industry

What it Looks Like When the Tech Industry Doesn’t Understand the Legal Industry, but Tries to Disrupt it Anyway

Technology can do great things in the legal space. CaseText is a very good example of this. Sometimes, however, a tech company can hype itself as disrupting the legal industry and get it very, very wrong. The most recent company getting it wrong is Stampery, an outfit promising to use the bitcoin blockchain to replace notaries entirely. Instead of having your grandmother sign that fourth will in front of disinterested witnesses and a certified notary as is legally required, with a few taps on a slick iPad app you can have it blockchained. Or something.

Quoth the co-founder:

It’s so new that for now nobody uses the blockchain in court. As soon as they use it, the judge will have to accept it. It’s not an opinion, it’s mathematic.

Yes. This. I tell judges all the time that simply because I tell them something it must be true.

What any real judge will say if someone tries to tell them that because they have a document certified by Stampery is just as good as having it signed in front of a notary is this: “LOL NOPE.”

This is a classic example of a tech company completely misunderstanding the point of why the court and legal system does a certain thing, and deciding they should disrupt it anyway. It should come as no surprise that Stampery has no attorneys on its team. If they had consulted with any attorney, that attorney would have perhaps told them that the reason notaries exist is more complicated than just verifying that a document hasn’t been changed. It’s to verify that the person signing it is who they say they are, and that they even put people under oath and have them affirm the truth of the contents of an affidavit. Blockchain doesn’t do these things, and is for this precise reason completely useless for replacing notaries. Maybe that attorney would also tell them that just because a tech company thinks they’ve disrupted something doesn’t mean an entire state’s legal system will automatically adopt it because “it’s mathematic.”

What’s so frustrating is that the legal industry is so ripe for meaningful innovation, for lawyers, law firms, court systems, and the people that go through that court system. The problem is two-fold: lawyers and the groups they form to protect themselves from outside competition are arrogantly recalcitrant to change in any way; while the tech industry is too arrogantly disconnected from the real issues the legal industry faces to bring useful products to market. Meanwhile the legal industry remains stagnant and the tech industry breathlessly raises millions on the promise of magic beans.

Hopefully this will change, but I tend to doubt it. There’s still a lot of venture capital to be raised on the promise of magic beans. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for tech innovation in the legal sector, but it has to be meaningful and useful innovation. But before it can be either lawyers and the tech sector need to learn to talk to each other about the things that matter.