TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Blockchain For Law Students

Walter A. Effross (American), Blockchain For Law Students:

Why should law students become familiar with blockchain technology?

As a law professor, I know that the most popular faculty recommendations for new law students are: guides to studying, exam-taking, and career success; biographies of lawyers and judges; novels like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Billy Budd”; surveys of American legal history; and discussions of current social concerns.

But the graduation gifts that I sent in May to a friend’s law school-bound daughter included two other items: New York Court of Appeals Judge (and future Supreme Court Justice) Benjamin Cardozo’s commencement speech, “The Game of Law and Its Prizes,” and an introductory book on blockchain.

Cardozo told Albany Law School’s class of 1925 that beyond “mere knowledge of principles and rules and precedents” they had learned “the ability to think legally” by acquiring “an understanding of the method, the technique, by which the judicial process works.”  (As John Houseman’s Professor Charles Kingsfield would intone in “The Paper Chase” almost fifty years later, “You come in here with a skull full of mush, and you leave thinking like a lawyer.”)

The judge promised that the graduates would soon grapple with “new problems which call for new rules, to be patterned, indeed, after the rules of the past, and yet adapted to the needs and the justice of another day and hour”; and predicted that to create those rules they would have to “be historian and prophet all in one—the qualities of each united in a perfect blend.”

Just such problems, requiring just such perspectives, are created every day by blockchain, through which widely-distributed participants use encryption to pseudonymously register transactions on a secure, decentralized, and universally-accessible online record without relying on a trusted third party like a government or bank to maintain or verify the information.

Today, blockchain is most well-known as the foundation of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.  Despite ongoing speculation—in both senses of that word—on the value of such “altcoins,” even J.P. Morgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon, who publicly questioned Bitcoin’s viability, has acknowledged that “Blockchain is real.”

In at least ten ways, a basic background in blockchain will immediately enhance students’ experiences and opportunities in law school and beyond. ...

However, less commonly appreciated is that law school also prepares lawyers to educate others—be they agencies, courts, opposing counsel, colleagues, or their own clients.  The rise of blockchain offers students numerous opportunities to refine their own powers of explanation, in writing and in presentations, to different audiences.

Half a century ago, in the movie, “The Graduate,” a family friend famously advised Dustin Hoffman’s befuddled Benjamin Braddock: “I just want to say one word to you, just one word. . . Are you listening?. . . . Plastics.  . . . There’s a great future in plastics.  Think about it.”

Law students shouldn’t be waiting to take—or to ask faculty to create— courses in this area.  They should seize the opportunity to start educating themselves.  For today’s 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls, the word is blockchain.

This Web site offers:

  • A list (under the Bookshelf link) of recommended resources (for self-directed study and research, as well as for constructing or supplementing syllabi);
  • Summaries of and/or excerpts from the emerging body of caselaw (Caselaw) concerning blockchain and cryptocurrency;
  • A collection (Research Roadmap) of legal issues and responsive law review articles (and other sources), ordered by field of law;
  • A categorization (Ecosystem) of major types of participants in the blockchain economy;
  • Suggestions (Courses) on selecting law school courses relevant to blockchain practice; and
  • Various questions, opinions, and observations (Blog) about blockchain-related legal issues.

Legal Education | Permalink


If any reader of TaxProf would like to contribute to the blog component of my site a guest post on how law students (or new associates) can best prepare to work in this area (e.g., recommended reading, potential paper topics, organizations to become active in, suggestions for programming courses or tutorials), please let me know at Thank you.

Posted by: Walter Effross | Jul 22, 2018 12:21:25 PM

The most important thing I tell my legal writing students is that they should educate (teach) the judge on the law and the facts of the case. Helping the judge (or other reader or listener) understand the case is the most effective type of persuasion.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Jul 22, 2018 2:23:57 PM

All blockchain is, is a decentralized ledger. Think of a corporation whose entire books (literally every single transaction they have ever entered into) is undestroyable, because it's not in any one location -- it's everywhere.

Posted by: anon | Jul 23, 2018 11:24:05 AM