Updated: Aug 3, 2022
Nelson Rosario is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Illinois. Nelson is interested in the intersection of law, technology, and society.
His practice is focused on providing counseling to clients with respect to overall legal strategy, and in particular their intellectual property strategy. He has worked with clients in a range of areas including artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, blockchain, and smart contracts; financial technologies; business methods; trading systems; telemedicine; network and internet communication; and navigation and routing.
Nelson has also served as an adjunct professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law where he has taught classes on “Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, and the Law,” and “International Tech, AI & Digital Privacy.” He has have given numerous talks on emerging technologies, and the legal considerations surrounding them.
Prior to becoming an attorney Nelson was an election professional in Leon County, Florida working for the Supervisor of Elections office administering elections which covered the 2008 and 2010 election cycles.
Tell me a little about your background and your interest in blockchain.
I am a technology focused attorney in Chicago, IL. My partner Zach Smolinski and I run the law firm Smolinski Rosario Law where we work with growing technology companies and help them with their intellectual property matters, as well as their contract needs. My interest in blockchain stems in part from the fact that I have a degree in computer science and some familiarity with distributed computing. I remember discovering bitcoin in 2012 and thinking to myself “this shouldn’t work.” That interest stuck with me for the next few years and led to writing articles, giving talks, and eventually teaching as an adjunct law professor a course at Illinois Tech with another professor called “Blockchain, Cryptocurrency and the Law.” You can see the course website here.
Blockchain. Can you explain what it is, its current impacts on the practice of law, and why lawyers should care about it?
In short, a blockchain is an append-only censorship-resistant tamper-evident distributed ledger consisting of transaction data. Now, you can define each one of those words more deeply, and depending on the particular blockchain add additional properties, but at its core any blockchain will very likely have at least those properties. The most prominent blockchain on the planet is the ledger of bitcoin transactions in Bitcoin followed by the ledger of ether transactions in Ethereum. As my co-professor and I like to emphasize to our law students, blockchain is fundamentally about trust and organizing human behavior. Those two concepts are at the core of what lawyers do.
What are the biggest misnomers about blockchain?
I am not sure where to begin with this question. A lot of candidates come to mind. The widespread belief is that a blockchain is unhackable, but that is not really true. Blockchains are tamper-evident, and if you control a majority of the nodes that operate on the network you could in theory alter transactions at will; however, this turns somewhat on how old the transaction data is that the attacker is trying to change. Also, I am not convinced that a blockchain that is not also public and permissionless is that much of an advancement over pre-existing distributed database technology.
What is your view of legal tech and its importance to the practice of law?
Software has been eating law for some time now. In general, I think “legaltech” is inevitable depending on how you define it. I am hopeful that we will see the deployment of more legal solutions in practice everywhere, but I think a major sticking point is client demand. If a client does not demand cost-cutting measures, or efficiency improvements then firms are less incentivized to adopt them given their assumption that such solutions are net negative to firm revenue. I think that assumption is questionable.
What’s your view on whether lawyers should learn to code or not?
Lawyers and programmers are lost cousins. I think every lawyer who has interest in learning how to code should absolutely go for it. They will be shocked at how much of a creative endeavor it is and gain a much deeper appreciation of tech in general.