Democracy, Voting and the Blockchain….Digital Democracy….

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017 at 08:57

Right now Horizon State is running its Initial Coin Offering (ICO). Horizon State is a “token-based blockchain voting and decision-making platform that delivers unprecedented trust through the integrity and post-unforgeable attributes of blockchain technology.” Or in other words it’s a digital ballot box.

Horizon State is the second Australian ICO after PowerLedger, a P2P blockchain trading platform for energy.

My disclosure here: I am a member of the advisory board of Horizon State and very proud so to be. This is one of those projects one can believe in.

The central problem addressed by Horizon State is that voting and elections are centralized and opaque. We have no way of knowing if our votes have been registered, taken account of, or just thrown away. Think of the Kennedy-Nixon presidential election–it was said that Jack Kennedy won because the Mayor made the graveyards of Chicago vote early and often. That’s clout….

With blockchain voting becomes transparent and secure. Once you’ve voted the vote can’t be altered. If there is a hacking attempt, it leaves a trail. You know your vote is recorded in the right place so the technology itself creates a system of trust which traditional voting never quite achieves.

Paper is delicate: it suffers in fire and water or simply being put in the rubbish, and it’s slow and can get lost. Even electric voting machines aren’t safe. DEF CON hackers in 2017 took less than 90 minutes to hack into standard US WinVote voting machines and take control. (They were still using Windows XP. Sounds like the hacks into the NHS computers–XP again.)

We’ve had good reports of the project. Smith + Crown said “…while its peer companies remain focused on creating a working prototype, Horizon State has begun to develop its vision of creating an ecosystem that can fundamentally shift the way voters inform themselves and relate to the democratic process more broadly. While this approach will likely be emulated by other companies, Horizon State’s advance could be enough, at the very least, to ensure it a considerable stake in what will almost surely become a sizeable market.”

Forbes has run an interview with the CEO, Jamie Skella, which puts the point directly:

Horizon State is utilizing distributed ledger technology, otherwise known as blockchain, to deliver a digital ballot box that cannot be hacked. Sharing all of the technological benefits that makes Bitcoin possible – being verifiable transactions of value without a bank – we are using blockchain transactions as votes, while still maintaining anonymity of the voter. The end result is a system that is quicker to orchestrate than traditional voting methods, more convenient for voters which reduces apathy, and far cheaper than centralized, physical voting processes. What is costing Australian tax payers AUS$122 (USD$95) for a marriage equality postal vote would cost in the vicinity of AUS$2 million (USD$157,000) using our system. This equates to a cost per eligible voter of less than $1, instead of $7, or more.

Next year I’m running a new course for law students at Griffith called “21st Century Legal Practice: Professions, Disruption, and Technology” and blockchain technology will play a significant part in the course. Of all the technologies, it is probably the one that lawyers, and people generally, understand least. Time to move law from the 19th to the 21st century then…..

Professions and Narratives: Can They Reconstruct Their Futures

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017 at 05:51


I have put up new paper on SSRN titled: “Professions and Professional Service Firms in a GlobalContext: Reframing Narratives“.

The abstract reads:

Professions are changing rapidly and profoundly as new technologies, organisational forms, and regulations are introduced into the professional world. As a result, professions are creating new narratives to stake their legitimate claims in the world and justify their positions. This paper examines some of these narratives in the contexts of organisation, globalisation and technology among others. The legal profession is used as a case study of change.


Back in the USSR…Russia Actually

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017 at 07:55
(thanks to

In this photograph I’m comparing glasses with another delegate at the St Petersburg International Legal Forum. Actually we were at Legal Street, an event held by the Forum and the Russian Ministry of Justice and were being shot by a fashion magazine–, as you do.

The last few months have been active, especially in the area of law and technology and new directions for the legal profession. Three events in particular stand out. First is the Law Without Walls ConPosium in Miami; second is the JDHorizons symposium in London; and finishing up with the VII St Petersburg International Legal Forum in Russia. All quite different but with themes in common running through them.

I’ve written extensively about LWOW in this blog as I have been involved since its inception in 2011. What I will add to my previous comments is the dramatic growth in the students’ skills and talents in formulating their projects. In the early days projects would often involve an innovative web portal that enabled people of different kinds to interact. In a couple of projects this year we had students creating chatbots to interact with their audiences. We have students using ideas based on games to coach people in new areas. Their creativity is dazzling. LWOW has now developed an incubator to help develop the winning projects.

LWOW is one of the growing number of programmes that show legal education can’t remain trapped in the 19th and 20th centuries, merely based around doctrinal law. New courses such as Iron Tech Law at Georgetown and Law Apps at Melbourne use the Neota Logic platform to develop legal apps targeted at specific problems. Michigan State Law School has LegalRnD for legal services innovation. There is still enormous resistance from conventional law faculty to these types of courses, but among students, when offered them, the clamour for them is strong.

JDHorizons is part of a series of annual events held by Janders Dean, a law firm consultancy. What is unusual about Janders Dean is the way it combines the worlds of practice and academia. Each gets an opportunity to speak to the other, which, as an academic, is so enriching. We had socio-legal scholars, psychologists, lawyers, among others. It means one can be cross-disciplinary as well as cross-professional. Janders Dean is also involved in LWOW.

The VII St Petersburg International Legal Forum is different from the other two. The forum had 4,000 delegates from 70+ different countries. It is as much a forum for networking as it is for exchanging ideas. I was originally invited for one session but ended doing three. The forum is organised by the Russian Ministry of Justice each year on a distinct theme, which for 2017 was law and technology.

I was originally invited to participate in the Plenary session with the Russian Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev. Our panel was unusual in that besides myself we had the head of the Swiss Parliament, the CTO of Aliexpress, the head of the UCL Blockchain centre, a co-leader of IBM Watson. The central theme was the disruption of law and legal practice by technology. In particular we discussed how artificial intelligence and blockchain were radically altering our approach to business, life and the professions. (We had a two-hour lunch afterwards with the Prime Minister and the Justice Minister where we carried on these discussion. I have never had such extensive and intensive conversations with politicians before who clearly knew what they were talking about.)

The following two days I talked about law as algorithm as well as the future of legal education.

Normally I don’t go to conferences like this. But I am glad I did attend. I had the opportunity to meet with and talk with a range of people, lawyers, academics I might miss. I gained an enormous amount of knowledge and contacts in St Petersburg. (Plus, it is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited.)

In these days of interdisciplinarity academics need to step out of their normal worlds and experience new things, ideas, and forums. It’s the necessity to be experimental and innovative. It can be challenging, when over many years one has built expertise and knowledge in specialised areas, to come to grips with new spheres of knowledge where one isn’t the expert. We also need to transmit this through our educational systems.

I will admit too as a legal sociologist something like the St Petersburg International Legal Forum is a great opportunity to observe other worlds and try and understand their folkways and rituals.



The Future of Legal Services and Legal Education?

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 at 01:57

When one starts thinking about the intersection of legal services, the legal profession, and legal education, I honestly don’t think it’s too far removed from the Venn diagram above.

On 13 December my good friend, Julian Webb (and also Paul Maharg), organised a legal services forum at Melbourne Law School to bring together academics, policy makers and practitioners to discuss the challenges of the future of legal services and how we should research them in order to be able to meet them. Richard Moorhead came from London to give a plenary address and I moderated a panel on technology and innovation in the sector. Fortunately, the school videoed the proceedings and you can see the videos here. Happy viewing…


Rule of Law and Legal Education: Do They Still Connect?

Monday, January 2nd, 2017 at 09:52

I’ve put a new paper up on on the rule of law and legal education. The introduction reads:

When we connect legal education and the rule of law it has two connotations: to what extent should legal education be protected by the rule of law, and to what extent should the rule of law be taught within legal education. It is not difficult to see how both connotations
could cause problems in certain countries where the rule of law might exist in
a different form. For example, China is becoming a rule of law-based country in
respect of its commercial and intellectual property rights. Yet its record on human
rights and the due prosecution of them is abysmal. The rule of law like most
legal rubrics is slippery and tends to avoid easy definition (May 2014). Jeremy
Waldron captures this when he says “…people’s estimation of the importance of
the Rule of Law sometimes depends on which paradigm of law is being spoken
about (Waldron 2012: 9).” For Aristotle safety was located in customary law and
for Hayek it was the evolutionary development of the Common Law (id; but cf.
May 2012). Tom Bingham’s idea of a thick definition of the rule of law has
appealing since it is elastic and has an anthropological intuition about it
that maintains a connection to community (Bingham 2010). In contrast to Waldron
who would keep the rule of law at a meta-level rather than a substantive one,
Bingham includes specific instances of rule categories such as, notably, the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which the right to education is
enshrined (id: 83).

In this chapter my focus is not so much on the theoretical debates surrounding the rule of law
but rather how it is implicated and treated in the developments of modern legal
education and practice. I first analyse the changing legal world for which the
salient period is the post-World War II to the present. We have the rise of the
international and transnational institutions and the emergence of the modern,
organization-based, and increasingly financialised, legal profession that plays
a significant role in globalization. To provide the labour force for the
profession the academy’s role has come to the fore and is now the main gateway
to the legal profession. Even with its duality of roles as reproducer and
gatekeeper, the academy is now more remote from the profession. This in part
reflects a desire on the part of the legal academy to be a more academic and
intellectual member of the academy than hitherto (Cownie 2004). The rise of
subspecialties within law marks this shift as does the increased number of law
professors with PhDs, often in other disciplines. The increased tensions
between the academy and the profession have fostered argument over both the
content and structure of the law degree. One might almost ask if the issue is
not so much the rule of law but the rule of lawyers. Finally I examine some of
the challenges for legal education—such as the rise of legal technology—that
will have enormous effects on legal practice and the rule of law, especially
where it abuts access to justice.

My approach to the topic is essentially sociological, which means I ask under what conditions
would the rule of law be promoted or diminished and by whom? In this respect I
look to the legal profession, courts, and legal academy as key players. By this
I mean they are crucial to the design of the legal system and its
implementation. The relationship of the legal profession to the state or market
can signify to what extent lawyers might be viewed as radical or conservative
in their approach to legality and juridical questions (Rueschemeyer 1973). For
example, Weber (1978) saw the English legal profession as a craft-based
profession with relatively little input from the academy. The development of
the common law therefore depended on the creativity of practitioners who became
used to devising solutions to problems as they arose. In the absence of a legal
code, lawyers innovated in law through an ad hoc process. On the mainland
continent, and in many other countries, the civil code system depended on
commentaries by academics that kept the law in tune with its primary
principles. This resulted in a different but less innovative law making. Thus,
for example, whereas in Germany pfandbriefe
are creatures of statute, in the UK they were created by contract using common
law principles (Flood 2007). The alliance between the state, academy, and legal profession is much stronger in code systems whereas common law jurisdictions are typically associated with
the market and so depend far more on practitioners.