This week, ILTACON 2019 will be held August 18-22, in Orlando, FL. Attendees will have the opportunity to attend a four-part series on the hot topic and still mysterious cluster of technologies known as blockchain. The program is the brainchild of Katherine Lowry, Director of Practice Services at BakerHostetler. I recently interviewed Lowry to gain some insights into the evolution of her interest in blockchain in the law and her goal in designing the ILTA program.
According to Lowry’s LinkedIn write up, attendees who come to the “Blockchain series will have the opportunity to demystify and learn the practical impact of blockchain for lawyers.” Below is a description of the sessions which will run Monday through Wednesday at the ILTA conference in Orlando.
The series facilitator is Amy Y. Wan, CEO, Sagewise & Bootstrap Legal. The sessions and speakers will be:
- Building-a-Blockchain live (without computers) to bring clarity on how permissioned and permissionless blockchains work, but most important, identify what problems are solved using this technology. Speakers: Diana J. Stern and Christian Smith
- Demonstrations on how blockchain technology can be used to support practical business applications today! Speakers: Peter Buck, Hal Marcus, and Daniel Rice
- Smart contracts developed LIVE! Speakers: Carla Reyes and Henning
- Industry mapping of blockchain-based consortia and hear market leaders reflect on the future of blockchain. Speakers: Nita Sanger, Jay Hull, and Adrienne Valencia Garcia
I asked Lowry how she became interested in blockchain. She pointed to a 2015 article in The Economist entitled, The Trust Machine. She began to have discussions with her firm’s CIO, Bob Craig, on how to turn blockchain into a transformative business model. For several years, Lowry and Craig had been involved in developing a technology segment for the firm’s partner retreat. They shared the Economist article with lawyers and that triggered deeper conversations about innovation within practice groups. The firm hired a consultant, Mark Smalley, who helped them develop a “master class” for attorneys on probable uses for blockchain. The firm decided to form a “blockchain team,” including lawyers and technologists which explored research and development opportunities that focused on evaluating client needs. What are the pain points or white spaces where blockchain could address a client issue? Ultimately, this all led to the creation of a 10-person innovation team known as IncuBaker, which Lowry oversees. Blockchain technology is just one of the projects that this team supports. The team includes a blockchain developer and an IT systems architect.
I asked Lowry how her prior experience or training helped prepare her to take on blockchain projects. Lowry, a lawyer by training, was drawn to using her legal knowledge to address legal technology issues rather than practice law. She worked for a large legal information vendor, became a software programmer, worked as a consultant, and as an in-house trainer. In all of these roles, she found that her focus was always on trying to improve the existing tools with new enhancements or improving workflow by creating completely new solutions.
In the 10 years that she has been at Baker, Lowry’s role has expanded from overseeing research services to include managing IT training, overseeing a project management team, and now driving innovation. She was given the autonomy to both create solutions and drive adoption. Lowry emphasized the importance of building bridges between IT and the lawyers. Since the launch of IncuBaker, her role has required extensive client outreach. In her current role, she meets and interacts directly with clients several times a week. This has enabled her to understand that clients and law firms often have very similar needs. As if her day job were not demanding enough, Lowry started a Cincinnati Blockchain Meetup Group which now has almost 400 members.
I asked Lowry to describe what her goal was in developing the blockchain program for ILTA. Lowry hopes that attendees will have an “a-ha” moment in which blockchain is demystified. Success would mean that attendees leave the program with an understanding of what blockchain is, how it works, and recognize the types of problems it can solve. Blockchain is not a single technology — it is a suite of solutions which can solve problems relating to the order and validity of transactions. The first session of the ILTA program will break down blockchain transactions using humans rather than computers to illustrate exactly how blockchain components interact. The second and third sessions will show blockchain in conjunction with specific business applications, such as digital signatures and validation of documents.
Session 4 will provide an overview of blockchain consortia and the future of blockchain. The session will map consortia by industry and identify likely future developments. Lowry sees blockchain opportunities in supply chain, digital identity, and interoperability between systems.
Not everyone will be ready to embrace blockchain technology when they leave ILTA. Lowry would regard the program as a success if attendees are simply no longer be confused and intimidated when they hear the word “blockchain.”
Jean O’Grady is a knowledge strategist/librarian/lawyer with over 30 years’ experience leading the transformation of research and knowledge services in Am Law 100 law firms. She is the author of the Dewey B Strategic blog, which monitors the evolving landscape of technologies and companies that are transforming the business and practice of law.