By Brad Rosen, J.D.
"With respect to blockchain, we are seeing the rapid and mass adoption of a network of value, as well as a groundswell of demand that will not abate. This is a foundational technology that lawyers will need to become educated on sooner or later." So observed Nelson Rosario, a Chicago attorney who is the founder and main organizer for the Blockchain Lawyers of Chicago meetup and networking group. About 70 lawyers and other blockchain enthusiasts met up at a Chicago Loop watering hole recently to network, share experiences, and swap information on this nascent, but burgeoning, industry and area of the law.
The growth of the meetup group has mirrored the explosion in cryptocurrencies, ICO’s and blockchain itself in some respects. Rosario, a patent law specialist at Marshall Gerstein, a Chicago-based IP boutique, launched a LinkedIn group in April, 2017 that later evolved into the meetup group. The first meeting in October, 2017 attracted around 30 attendees according to Rosario. "I saw a market need developing. There were plenty of meetup opportunities for those involved in technical aspects of blockchain, but none for lawyers. It’s gratifying to see people connecting, lending support to each other, and sharing information," he noted.
Many of the meetup attendees were closely following the introduction of Bitcoin futures contracts at the CBOE Futures Exchange and the CME earlier in December, and the regulatory developments related to those product launches. Recent comments by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton on cryptocurrencies and ICOs were another a topic of intense interest and ongoing discussion as lawyers and laymen alike seek clues and clarification on how ICO’s are going to be addressed by the SEC in 2018.
The Blockchain Lawyers of Chicago meetup also captures the unique culture, energy and generosity that often accompanies blockchain related activities and innovation. One of the attendees, a cyptocurrency fund manager and trader, was intent on providing this writer with a comprehensive history of Bitcoin and its mythic inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, who mysteriously disappeared from the scene around 2011. Nakamoto authored the legendary white paper, Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System in October, 2008. The fund manager noted, "this is the creation story for cryptocurrencies—its book of Genesis. I have read it many times."
Furthering blockchain history and lore, as well as promoting related education, appear to be at the core of this emerging community. Rosario is also playing a key role on this score as well. In January, 2018, he will be teaching a new course offering at Chicago-Kent College of Law titled Blockchain and the Law, along with Professor Daniel Katz, a leading authority on legal technology and innovation. According to Rosario, Kent is one of a handful of law schools that offers a course on legal issues associated with blockchain. "The course has been in high demand and filled up immediately. This is yet another sign of the growing interest in blockchain among members of the legal community," Rosario observed.
The Blockchain Lawyers of Chicago is scheduled to meet next on February 21, 2018.