Debbie Hoffman is Founder and CEO of Symmetry Blockchain Advisors.
How did you become involved in legal tech?
During my career I have worked at a large law firm, as general counsel, and as a professor; with this experience, I have been able to identify certain overlapping needs within the legal industry. The more I learned about blockchain technology, it became apparent to me that the protocol has the capability to fix and provide tremendous improvements in a variety of sectors within the legal industry.
What projects have you been focused on recently?
My work focuses primarily on working with companies who are educating themselves and considering using blockchain in their processes. I also work with organizations that have determined that they want to incorporate the process but need help with strategic decision making in the implementation process of the technology. I work with a tremendous variety of companies—those that are solely legal, as well as many in the financial services and real estate sector. Given that there is a high bar of regulatory compliance in these industries, the integration of the blockchain protocol requires an expert to help combine the use of the technology with the details of the actual business. In addition to working on very specific projects, I am also on the advisory boards of several growing companies who utilize my expertise in the legal, real estate, and blockchain space including, for instance, LevelBlox and BlockDrop.
Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that you find yourself returning to or that was particularly formative for you?
In my former role as general counsel, I actually often found that the offerings in legal technology were not sufficient. We built a number of in-house solutions to help solve the issues, and today I’m seeing a variety of emerging offerings from companies that are able to offer legal professionals more off-the-shelf solutions. For example, as a GC, my internal team built a very robust vendor outsourcing program which included stages starting with the RFP process, continuing to onboarding, and, of course, continuing with periodic audits. I now sit on the advisory board of ClariLegal, a company that is offering this entire product to its legal clientele. We also built a solution to track litigation spend in a variety of ways. While there are many products out there, they didn’t seem to cater to small legal departments. More recently, I have seen a number of choices in these types of emerging platforms that not only track spend but increase the value of the spend. An example of this, for instance, is the company Qualmet Legal.
What technology do you think lawyers could look at in a different way that would benefit society?
Clearly blockchain! The emergence of blockchain will change the role of the attorney. There are a handful of conceptual areas in blockchain that will trickle down into legal practice. These include, for instance:
- Chain of custody, supply chain, and product provenance
- Intellectual property rights, sales, and royalties
- Records transmission, recordkeeping, and associated fraud
- Identity and authentication of signatures
- Smart contracts (self-executing triggers)
Because blockchain ultimately affects the way we will be able to identify people/parties, track our records, and review our supply chains, the course of litigation and transactional law will evolve. For instance, in litigation, discovery, as we know it today, will be transformed as a result of the efficiencies blockchain allows in the supply chain of evidence. In transactional law, in a merger and acquisition or real estate purchase, for example, the entire due diligence process will become more of an efficient flow rather than a catch-all of documentation from various sources. As these blockchain related processes evolve, so will the regulation around them—worldwide—since the concept of blockchain is that it opens up a global system of efficiency and liquidity.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
As you do your legal work, think about what you’re doing and how legal tech might be able to bring efficiencies into a process. It might not come to you at first, but give deliberate thought into the tasks that you repeatedly perform, and, specifically, ask whether a process flow can be automated or streamlined? We don’t want to eliminate the human element, but there are many things in legal tech that can help attorneys stay focused on the legal issue at hand, as opposed to the administrative tasks required in the practice of law today.
Stay interested and read about the latest developments in legal tech and get your creative ideas flowing. Don’t think that just because something has been done in a particular manner for years, with a “proven history,” that it cannot be done another way that might be better and have superior results. Stay cost conscious and aware of where legal spend is going and how legal tech might be able to help with these efficiencies.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
I have been working quite a bit lately with Anessa Allen Santos, an attorney also based in Orlando, Florida. She has a curiosity and inquisitiveness that is necessary to become a really great legal tech leader. She is not afraid to step out of her comfort zone and goes out of her way to meet with entrepreneurs to help them with their legal tech and blockchain endeavors. Anessa also routes for others—makes sure that collectively we propel an industry forward and that she is working as a team to make strides.