Recently the American Bar Association made a bold new ethical requirement for practicing lawyers. Comment 8 to Rule 1:1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct now requires that attorneys “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”
We know that new technologies arrive with increased frequency. In the 90s, email and the Internet changed the world. Then online merchants like Amazon.com and Ebay changed the way we shopped. Less than a decade later, social media sites like Facebook started to redefine the way that people kept in touch with each other and maintained their “web-presence.” What’s next?
The answer is becoming increasingly clear: cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, have arrived and will probably revolutionize the very idea of money. Everyday consumers and merchants throughout the world increasingly accept Bitcoin. The way we spend, save, transfer, and accept money may never be the same.
Yet many lawyers have no interest in learning about Bitcoin. Either they are convinced that it is a fad or that it is beyond their technological expertise. Regardless, however, of whether a lawyer practices in the high tech sector or in a debt collection practice, there are aspects that we all need to know about the new currency on the block.
For instance, many domestic relations lawyers spend countless hours trying to learn how an angry spouse or deadbeat parent is making, spending, and, sometimes, hiding money. Without a rudimentary understanding of Bitcoin (and its cousins like LiteCoin and DogeCoin), they may not even ask the questions in interrogatories, document requests, or depositions, that would force the opposing party to disclose how they may be hoarding crytocurrencies in order to hide them in the litigation. It is easy to see how the same example applies to other areas of the law, such as debt collection and judgment execution.
Likewise, without an understanding of these “protocols,” a civil litigator may not understand how to ask the right questions of an opposing party that runs a business that may be putting Bitcoin into various different “wallets,” so as to understand the full profits the enterprise might be realizing.
The examples go on and on. Believe it or not, the odds are that there is someway that Bitcoin touches on your own practice areas.
We, as lawyers, have no obligation to become computer engineers to fully understand the full programming details of these emerging technologies. But we should, at the very least, take a few minutes to gain enough of an understanding of the new world of Bitcoin to be able to fully and competently represent our clients’ interests. It really is easy enough, after all. Check out some of the links on CoinLawBlog that explain Bitcoin and some of the current legal issues at play. You can also go to Bitcoin.com for an excellent presentation on this exciting new currency.