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MIT Legal Forum on AI and Blockchain

On October 30th and 31st, Legal Talk Network attended and covered the inaugural MIT Legal Forum on AI and Blockchain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. This two-day event in Cambridge featured big names in legal technology from MIT, IBM Watson, Baker & Hostetler, CodeX, blockchain startups, and Cryptocurrency organizations. The presentations, breakout groups, and panels were far beyond platitudes and lofty predictions. They were about the nuts and bolts of utilizing artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies in the legal profession.  

During our many travels around the country to legal tech conferences, we have encountered numerous opinions and ponderings about artificial intelligence and more recently blockchain. Questions like will artificial intelligence take our jobs and what is blockchain and how is it relevant to my legal practice are commonplace. Because these fields are relatively new and the legal profession is under widespread pressure to modernize, inquiries of this nature can be difficult to address satisfactorily.

Led by MIT visiting scientist Daniel “Dazza” Greenwood, the MIT Legal Forum took a different approach to answering questions like the ones mentioned above. Conference attendees were treated as active participants as they played a role in what would ultimately be discussed. Although there was a schedule of events, the content and subject matter were set to change based on feedback from the attendees. In addition, there were smaller gatherings of breakout groups designed to generate ideas, discussions, and expertise exchange in smaller more intimate venues. Notably, these breakout groups continue innovating online even after the in-person part of the conference ended on October 31st.


Will Artificial Intelligence Take Our Jobs?

According to what what we gleaned from the MIT Legal Forum on AI and Blockchain, the answer to that question is not exactly but probably yes. Perhaps that reply is not comforting but the truth is developers are actively seeking to automate the repetitive tasks germain to the practice of law and there is downward client-imposed pressure on the billable hour. Perhaps even more unnerving to some is that capabilities of AI are growing and the list of tasks it can automate is expanding. The competitive practitioner will need to find ways to implement the automated tools of artificial intelligence in a way that scales their practice rather than fight the “prevailing winds” of change.

In terms of specifics, here is what experts from MIT’s Legal Forum are saying artificial intelligence can and can’t currently take over:

  • Can: Repetitive tasks not requiring creativity or special attention
  • Can: Drafting of contracts in predictable areas of law
  • Can: Drafting of contracts with human oversight
  • Can: Assist in legal research
  • Can: Help predict the results of legal action for pro se clients
  • Can: Act as judge and jury for small matters such as traffic violations and related fines
  • Can’t: Perform unique, nuance, and non-repetitive legal tasks
  • Can’t: Counsel the client on matters requiring high E.Q. (emotional intelligence)
  • Can’t: Design our system of law
  • Can’t: Perform autonomously as attorneys and judges for general matters


What is Blockchain and How is it Relevant to My Legal Practice?

Without getting into the technical aspects of what makes it run, blockchain is basically a network of decentralized computers that act together as a ledger to authenticate and verify records. For some, the next logical question is so what, why is that a big deal? Well, the simplified answer is in the way blockchain operates. Because it is decentralized, it is extremely difficult to corrupt as compared to more traditional and centralized systems for authentication. This feature allows blockchain enabled applications like “Bitcoin” to operate without central oversight across national borders.

BitcoinBitcoin is probably the best known use for blockchain technology but there others and legal technologists, like the ones attending MIT’s Legal Forum, are dreaming up many more. So getting to the “how is this relevant to my legal practice” question, it is quite possible that you are already using blockchain technology without realizing it or your practice area of law is impacted by it. To illustrate, let’s take a look at what blockchain is good at, verifying records, and apply that to the law with this list of current/possible uses:

Current/Possible Blockchain Uses:

  • Maintaining accounts and an open exchange for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin
  • Authenticating valuable records like titles, immunizations, and, yes, diplomas for MIT
  • Transferring ownership and relevant documentation from one party to another
  • Verifying licenses for occupations and other activities
  • Establishing and maintaining portable and personal digital identifications (DIDs)

Basically, if something requires authenticated records, blockchain could potentially facilitate its use or operation. So in terms of legal practice, if evaluating property, verifying documents, proof of ownership, transferring of assets, Initial Coin Offerings, etc. are relevant to your clients’ interests, then blockchain is pertinent to your practice of law.

For more information on artificial intelligence and blockchain and how they impact the practice of law, please tune into our collection of 10 audio interviews recorded from MIT’s Legal Forum and also please reference the list of participating experts below.


Episodes from MIT Legal Forum on AI and Blockchain:

MIT Legal Forum 2017: The Future of Lawyers and Technology

Host Jonathan Askin interviews MIT professor Alex Pentland about the inaugural MIT Legal Forum on AI and Blockchain as well as access to justice, the role of lawyers with artificial intelligence, and smart contracts.

MIT Legal Forum 2017: A Glimpse at the Tech-Enabled Firm

Host Daniel Linna is joined by BakerHostetler’s Bob Craig to talk about blockchain, Bitcoin, and how lawyers don’t need to be programmers but should have a basic understanding of how certain technologies work.

MIT Legal Forum 2017: Lawyers Outsmarting their Smart Contracts

Host Jonathan Askin sits down with CEO of Monax Casey Kuhlman for a conversation about the creation of smart contracts, the high value of experienced practitioners, and why it’s important for young attorneys to learn how to scale their work.

MIT Legal Forum 2017: Using AI as Augmentation not a Replacement

Host Jonathan Askin is joined by IBM Watson Legal’s Shawnna Hoffman and Brian Kuhn for a discussion about artificial intelligence and whether or not it will replace human lawyers.

MIT Legal Forum 2017: The Legal Hackers Movement

Host Jonathan Askin interviews CEO of Tony Lai and Brooklyn Law School’s Mark Potkewitz about legal hackathons, access to justice, and today’s push for open data.

MIT Legal Forum 2017: Deconstructing Self-Sovereign Identity

Host Amy ter Haar is joined by Evernym’s Drummond Reed to talk about self-sovereign identity and how the decentralized use of blockchain will offer more authentic identification that’s less corruptible.

MIT Legal Forum 2017: An Introduction to the New Certification Program at Suffolk

Host Laurence Colletti hands the microphone to Suffolk Law Dean Andrew Perlman and Suffolk Law’s David Colarusso for a discussion about Suffolk University School of Law’s new certification program and their upcoming clinical conference in April focusing on innovation.

MIT Legal Forum 2017: Blockchain in Ireland

Host David Fisher interviews Matheson’s Rebecca Ryan and Barry O’Connor about their first hackathon, uses for blockchain, and fears associated with that new technology. Tune in to hear how global businesses and governments are implementing blockchain into their operations.

MIT Legal Forum 2017: Technological Decentralization in the Legal Industry

Hosts Trent Carlyle and Laurence Colletti sit down with CEO of Learning Machine Chris Jagers to discuss the practical uses for blockchain as well as its application in the legal industry and beyond. Tune in to hear how this new technology might be affecting your practice area including low-tech fields.

MIT Legal Forum 2017: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Blockchain

Host Trent Carlyle is joined by MIT’s Christian Smith for a conversation about blockchain and its strengths and its weaknesses. Tune in to hear what you need to watch out for with this new technology.  


The following individuals participated as a host or guest in the interviews listed above:

  • Jonathan Askin (Professor at Brooklyn Law School)
  • Trent Carlyle (Chief Technology Officer at Lawgical and Legal Talk Network)
  • David Colarusso (Data Scientist for Committee for Public Counsel Services and Adjunct Faculty Member at Suffolk University Law School)
  • Laurence Colletti (Executive Producer at Legal Talk Network)
  • Bob Craig (Chief Information Officer at BakerHostetler)
  • David Fisher (CEO of Integra Ledger)
  • Shawnna Hoffman (Global Co-Leader for the IBM Watson Legal Practice)
  • Chris Jagers (CEO of Learning Machine)
  • Casey Kuhlman (CEO of Monax)
  • Brian Kuhn (Global Co-Leader for the IBM Watson Legal Practice)
  • Tony Lai (Co-Founder and CEO of
  • Daniel Linna (Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law)
  • Barry O’Connor (Partner in the Asset Management and Investment Funds Group at Matheson)
  • Andrew Perlman (Dean of Suffolk University Law School)
  • Alex “Sandy” Pentland (Professor at MIT)
  • Mark Potkewitz (Legal Technology Fellow at Brooklyn Law School)
  • Drummond Reed (Chief Trust Officer of Evernym)
  • Rebecca Ryan (Partner in the Healthcare Group in the Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department at Matheson)
  • Christian Smith (MIT Sociotechnical Systems Research Center (SSRC) and the founder of Anvil Research)
  • Amy ter Haar (President of Integra Canada at Integra Ledger)

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After receiving his J.D. and MBA, Laurence Colletti went into solo practice with emphasis in general business and commercial real estate. He has always carried a strong passion for web-based media with a particular interest in podcasting and video. Laurence leverages his legal background against that passion to help bring sophisticated, relevant content to Legal Talk Network podcasts. You can follow Laurence on Twitter at @LaurenceEsq.