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A Q&A Conversation with Leslie Katz

March 18, 2022

On March 30, Member Leslie Katz will host a webinar with international trade attorney Mark Ludwikowski that will focus on how blockchain technology can help with ongoing supply chain disruptions and create a more efficient future for businesses.

Katz recently discussed the basics of blockchain technology and previewed what she and Ludwkikowski will discuss. Registration information for the webinar is found here.

To start, could you please explain to me the basics of blockchain?

Blockchain is very much like your traditional ledger of information, except that it’s done digitally. It is a “chain” that links together “blocks” of information into one longer chain. This is done with thousands of different computers all ensuring that the information on there is accurate. Linking it together provides a ledger of information, and is considered a more secure system for recording and storing information and transactions in a database.

The beauty of the blockchain is that when information is put in, it’s verified, and it can be seen by everyone that has permission to see what information has been approved on the blockchain. It also removes some of the intermediaries that would have normally been involved in a transaction.

How is blockchain then connected with cryptocurrencies?

One of the things I always like to remind people of is that bitcoin and other digital currencies are not blockchain, and that’s been a big misnomer that’s out there. Bitcoin is an application and blockchain is really more like the internet. You have applications that go on that chain like different types of digital currencies or NFTs that get created on the blockchain. Blockchain is really more of an underlying support system that allows for all these different kinds of transactions.

Who have been some of the early adopters of blockchain?

For traditional banking institutions, they are looking at how blockchain can actually help their functioning because it’s an immutable ledger. Once something gets recorded on the blockchain, it can’t be changed, so that’s very helpful for banks that are conducting transactions because tracking can become somewhat automated.

Walmart was actually an early adopter of using blockchain to track their logistics and supply chain management. If there was an E. coli outbreak, it would usually take two or three months to figure out its origin and address the outbreak. Using blockchain with tracking sensors and the internet, we can track from the row on the farm where the lettuce was grown, the date it was picked, what truck it went on, what processing planet it went to, and then where this lettuce was distributed. That can all be found in a few minutes now, savings millions of dollars while keeping consumers healthy. That to me is the use of blockchain in an ideal way.

The supply chain disruptions have had day-to-day impacts on everyone, but something like blockchain is still a foreign concept to most, how do you plan to present these topics as being connected to each other?

I’ll do a deeper dive into exactly what we mean by the blockchain to get everyone on the same page as we’ll certainly have a wide variety of understanding of blockchain. We’ll then go into how it can apply to businesses and then more specifically go into what’s happening in the supply chain arena right now, where some of the pain points are and how blockchain could be helpful on that front with logistics management.

For purposes of our webinar and marrying two areas that are certainly in the news right now, we’ll touch on Canada as an example since they’ve done some very interesting things with using the blockchain to monitor and facilitate the movement of trucking and supplies in different areas. They use it to figure out the shortest and most fuel-efficient routes, and having that on the blockchain allows all of this information to be recorded and applied to enable more efficient movement of goods.

What are some of the legal implications for blockchain?

Within blockchain, you have something called smart contracts that involve if/then statements that are built into the coding language. As lawyers, we have a very different way of looking at contracts and all of the criteria that go into it.

Over time, this will be interesting for attorneys to determine the implications of these smart contracts when something goes wrong. If they’re relatively simple, you’re going to be in good shape, but these are interesting issues for lawyers to look at because smart contracts differ from what we would have considered traditional contracts. There are also tax issues that are very much at the forefront of the legal world, as well as significant IP-related matters connected to blockchain, digital currencies, and NFTs.

The concept of blockchain is still relatively new, how have you incorporated it into your practice?

It really is still in its very early days, so a lot of people liken it to the early days of the internet. People didn’t fully understand all the implications and what the eventual use cases would be for it. So as an attorney, it’s really exciting to look at policy issues, how do you ensure proper privacy standards get implemented, how do you regulate an industry where you want to protect consumers, but you also want the industry to continue to grow.

It’s an interesting balancing act for my practice in both government and regulatory affairs and then also in the practical applications with corporate and business clients. It’s really changed my practice as I’ve started focusing on this and looking at the whole ecosystem. It affects so many different areas of law practice now so it’s been exciting to be part of that.

What was your first introduction to blockchain?

I’ve been doing this for a number of years now. I was involved in policymaking around emerging technologies when I was a former elected official. One of my contacts from that period came to me with my first blockchain client, a nonprofit in the seafood industry. They were trying to figure out how to track the provenance of seafood so that they could determine where and when it was fished and what kind of fish it is because there’s a lot of falsification of the kind of fish that’s put out to market. This was a way of ensuring both the safety and handling of the seafood but also its provenance. They came to me with this new concept and said they were going to use the blockchain for this. I didn’t quite know what they were talking about at first, so I started researching it and then started diving into blockchain work.

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