475A.01 Law & Policy Lab: Blockchain

“In 1993, hardly anybody had heard the word internet.… Yahoo was two years from its founding. Not a soul foresaw Facebook, Match.com, WikiLeaks or cat videos. Mark Zuckerberg was 9 years old. Think of the explosion and disruption that happened over the following decade. Think of how our way of life was completely changed by this internet thing. And so imagine what it means when Don Tapscott, who has been writing books and advising corporations about technology since the ’80s, says the blockchain is the next internet.”

--Kevin Maney, “Trust and Verify: the Coming Blockchain Revolution” NEWSWEEK (May 23, 2016)

The lawyer-leader of tomorrow must understand blockchains. Blockchains, decentralized databases that are maintained by a distributed network of computers, present manifold challenges and opportunities. Blockchains and associated technologies offer unprecedented potential to disrupt financial systems, to support civic participation and democratized access to resources, to change the way we contract with one another, and much more.

As an initial matter, we must consider the extent to which we allow regulation and government intervention, balancing the maintenance of social norms against the need to let a nascent technology innovate. Moving forward, as decentralized networks replace centralized systems, we must find ways to maintain rule of law through appropriate legal and regulatory levers. This course aims to help each of us become active participants in these endeavors by providing an introduction to the salient features—both technical to some degree and social to a large degree—of decentralized computing platforms. It also offers students the chance to apply this knowledge through the development of, and possible advocacy for, a legal or policy proposal related to this topic.

  • Collaborative
    The course is structured as a collaboration between Cardozo Law (Professor Aaron Wright) and Duke Law (Professor Jeff Ward), and students from both schools will share experiences (e.g. common speakers) and resources and, where possible, work together to solve real-world, practical issues presented by blockchain deployment. The course is also meant to be collaborative by encouraging students to work with outside professionals to produce the required work product
  • Law-focused but interdisciplinary
    Our approach to the complex issues presented by blockchain will be grounded in the law but will also seek to be broad and interdisciplinary, with the goal that each of us will walk out of the course with a better, more nuanced understanding of the complex web of history, culture, technology, psychology, law, and regulation into which blockchain has been placed. As part of this broad and interdisciplinary approach, not only will our readings derive from various sources (law, sociology, economics, history, etc.), but so too will our guest speakers.
  • Solution-focused
    By the end of the semester, in addition to the broad overview provided in class, each student will engage in helping to solve a real, specific issue or legal quandary presented by the rise of blockchain technologi


Fall 2017

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Research and/or analytical paper(s), 10-15 pages
Class participation
Jeff Ward, Aaron Wright
Degree Requirements
Course Requirements - JD
Course Requirements - JD-LLM-LE
Course Requirements - LLM
Course Areas of Practice
Course Areas of Practice