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Overview: A Decentralized Approach to Developing Technology Law and Policy on a Global Scale

Published onJun 23, 2018
Overview: A Decentralized Approach to Developing Technology Law and Policy on a Global Scale

On March 16-18, 2018, Legal Hackers1 and its organizing partners2 hosted the 2018 Computational Law & Blockchain Festival (“CL+B Fest”),3 a three-day global event bringing together coders, designers, lawyers, policymakers, researchers, and students of all backgrounds and skill levels to explore and develop solutions to pressing legal and policy issues related to computational law and blockchain technology.

The CL+B Fest was a “decentralized conference,” a global event centered around a common theme taking place simultaneously in more than fifty independent, self-organized “nodes” around the world (from Australia to Zimbabwe). Each node functioned as a stand-alone conference featuring tracks, content, and speakers chosen by the local node organizers. Node organizers were encouraged to rely on local experts and to tailor each node to local interests and resources, including by developing local language materials to enhance accessibility. Nodes were connected through a central website and several initiatives, including a Global Challenge, a 24-hour hackathon to develop prototypes related to smart legal contracts and blockchain-for-law use cases, and a Global Symposium, a worldwide policy discussion about blockchain-related law and policy issues.

To assist nodes and promote consistency while enabling experimentation, Legal Hackers created a shared pool of resources, including suggested tracks (LEARN, HACK, and DISCUSS), schedules, and session topics. In addition, in keeping with the Legal Hackers spirit, we required nodes to be free to attend, open to all, and subject to a code of conduct, and we requested that organizers release the outcome of each CL+B Fest node—including speaking materials, session videos, prototypes, and discussion reports—for free online to maximize the reach and value of the event to the public. Thus, while Legal Hackers and its partners provided a common foundation, ultimately the 2018 CL+B Fest was the product of the creativity, effort, and passion of hundreds of volunteer organizers, educators, and policy advocates, and thousands of event participants.

The Festival covered a wide range of content and activities, featuring over 150 speakers across all nodes. Educational “LEARN” track sessions ranged from basic overviews of blockchain technology and the cryptocurrency ecosystem to more advanced legal issues such as blockchain governance, due diligence, ERC token standards, information security, real estate transactions, sovereign identity, and tax issues. Several nodes also hosted hands-on workshops, teaching participants how to use Hyperledger Composer and Solidity to write their own smart legal contracts. The goal of the LEARN track was to serve as a massive, global awareness-building and training exercise to help ready the next generation of technology and tech-enabled lawyers for practice.

The “HACK” track Global Challenge asked participants to develop a conceptual design and open-source prototype in response to one or more global challenges presented by presenting organizers. The challenges included a Smart Legal Contracts Challenge (presented by the Accord Project and OpenLaw), a Collective Copyright Challenge (presented by Deconet), a Democratization of Data Challenge (presented by Vanderbilt Law School), a Dispute Resolution Challenge (presented by Sagewise), a Sovereign Legal Identity Challenge (presented by, a Transactive Power Challenge (presented by Sanctity Energy), a Zen Governance Challenge (presented by Zencash and, a Corporate Structure for Blockchain Ventures Challenge (presented by C4Coin, the Brooklyn Law Incubator and Policy Clinic, and RelateID), and a Decentralized Terms Validation Meta-Challenge (presented by CoMakery and TOS). Our hope was that these prototypes could create real-world computational law and blockchain-for-law use cases and would spur further development and research in these important areas.

The policy-focused “DISCUSS” track also covered a diverse array of issues, in part in response to suggested policy prompts developed by Peter van Valkenburgh of Coin Center, Aaron Wright of Cardozo Law School and Open Law, and Steven Nam of the CodeX Stanford Blockchain Group. Topics of discussion included taxation, securities law, anti-money laundering and financial surveillance, financial services licensing and chartering. privacy and security, token-related policy issues, and smart contracts as legal contracts. Official registered nodes were encouraged to submit a report of their respective node’s DISCUSS track content for possible inclusion in this edition of the Stanford Journal of Blockchain Law & Policy. As you will see, this issue contains detailed policy reports from the Hong Kong, Manila, São Paulo, Sydney, and Tartu nodes. 

While the bulk of the activity associated with the 2018 CL+B Fest took place during the March 16-18 weekend, the Festival also has spurred follow-on activity and content, as nodes have unbundled individual tracks, sessions, and challenges into stand-alone events for their local communities. For example, the Gothenburg node hosted a “CL+B Reunion” in May 2018 to follow up on issues that were discussed at their Festival node. Madrid Legal Hackers issued a free, 80-page Spanish-language blockchain law and policy report that drew from their node’s policy discussions. Several node organizers, including Tony Lai from the San Francisco node and James Miller from the Washington, D.C. node, organized CL+B-style events in new cities, including Bangkok and Tokyo. Finally, in August, Legal Hackers will be hosting a CL+B mini-Symposium at its Fourth Annual Legal Hackers International Summit, which may feature in a future issue of the Stanford Journal of Blockchain Law and Policy

With the 2018 CL+B Fest in the rearview mirror, we are now beginning to plan the 2019 edition. We hope the 2019 CL+B Fest will build upon the successes of this year’s event—reaching more cities, including more experts, engaging more developers, and resulting in even more productive output—while refining and streamlining our processes. We also hope that the “decentralized conference” model can be used to address other global policy issues, including algorithmic bias, data protection, intellectual property, platform regulation, and similar issues with global scope that require local nuance. In the end, our overarching goal is that, through our activities, Legal Hackers and the CL+B Fest can serve as a positive force for learning, building, and policy discussion at the intersection of technology and law. We hope you will join us.

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