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Get to grips with crypto and blockchain, top judge tells lawyers

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Master of the Rolls says every member of the profession will require ‘familiarity’ with new technology

One of the country’s most senior judges has urged lawyers to get to grips with cryptocurrency.

Master of the Rolls Sir Geoffrey Vos warned that “major developments are imminent” and those in the profession — and presumably law students seeking to enter it — “require familiarity with the blockchain, smart legal contracts and cryptoassets”, the Law Society’s Gazette reports.

Sir Vos’ comments came at the launch of an updated report on the key issues lawyers need to be aware of when advising clients on distributed ledger technology. The guidance, published on Tuesday, has been produced in collaboration with the Tech London Advocates (TLA) Blockchain Legal and Regulatory Group.

The Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce endorsed Vos’ advice. She said: “Distributed ledger technology, smart legal contracts and cryptoassets will likely form the infrastructure of the digital economy and basis for future transactions, which lawyers will continue to advise on.”

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Sir Vos isn’t the first judge to pass judgement on crypto.

In a speech delivered in 2018 at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, Supreme Court deputy president Lord Hodge warned against the “irrational exuberance” of “speculators” in the cryptocurrency space. He went on to argue that the digital currencies “risk creating bubbles if they are not brought under governmental regulation”.

Sir Vos’ advice to lawyers comes some two years after a group of leading London barristers penned an official statement in a bid to clarify the legal status of crypto and smart contracts under English and Welsh law.

The UK Jurisdiction Taskforce of the Lawtech Delivery Panel — made up of Lawrence Akka QC, Sam Goodman (both Twenty Essex), David Quest QC (3 Verulam Buildings) and Matthew Lavy (4 Pump Court) — said the former should “be treated in principle as property” while the latter are imbued with “contractual force”.

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