‘Common Law’ Explores Just How Big Blockchain Will Be

Professor George Geis, Attorney Mayme Donohue Discuss New Technology’s Impact on Industry
George Geis and Mayme Donohue

George S. Geis is the William S. Potter Professor of Law and Thomas F. Bergin Teaching Professor of Law at UVA Law. Mayme Donohue is an associate with Hunton Andrews Kurth in Richmond.

March 12, 2019

Blockchain technology may revolutionize a range of industries, two experts say on the latest episode of “Common Law,” a podcast sponsored by the University of Virginia School of Law.

Professor George Geis, who wrote a paper on the potential impact of blockchain on corporate law, and Mayme Donohue, an attorney with Hunton Andrews Kurth who helps run a blockchain blog, discuss what a blockchain revolution could look like with hosts Dean Risa Goluboff and Vice Dean Leslie Kendrick ’06.

Blockchain — the same technology that makes cryptocurrencies secure — has implications for tracking stocks, payment systems, tracking supply chains such as grocery produce and more. The technology creates tamper-proof, publicly available ledgers of digital transactions.

“If the technology plays out the way a lot of people think it might play it out, it actually could have pretty big implications on corporate law, because I think it could change the way we track ownership histories of stock,” Geis said.

More accurate accounting of who owned stock when could lead to more accurate shareholder voting, but raise questions over corporate governance and liability, he said.

“It’s neat to think a little bit more about how distributed ledger technology might work in some specific applications and also to rethink how it might change some of our theories about what corporate law really means or even what contract law really means,” Geis said.

Donohue helps clients like banks think through the legal issues when implementing blockchain technology. Companies like Walmart Inc. and IBM are already working together on broader applications of blockchain, like food safety.

She pointed to the romaine lettuce E. coli scare in November, which removed the product from stores and restaurants for several days.

“[With] blockchain technology, you could actually trace the source of that illness within a matter of seconds because of the transparency of the record and the ability to track from farm to shelf immediately,” she said. “There’s a potential to really unlock a lot of pieces and parts of our economy, and players and participants in a way that could be really profound.”

“Common Law” is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, YouTube, Spotify and other popular places you can listen to podcasts. You can play it on Amazon Alexa by saying, “Alexa, play ‘Common Law’ podcast.”

You can follow the show on the website commonlawpodcast.com or Twitter at @CommonLawUVA.

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