Spartan Lawyer Summer 2019

FACULTY VOICES:
CARLA L. REYES

Assistant Professor Carla L. Reyes joined the MSU Law faculty in fall 2018, and is recognized as an expert on the intersection of blockchain technology and the law; she theorizes about this emerging technology from a commercial and corporate law perspective.

She directs the Center for Law, Technology, & Innovation at MSU Law, and will serve as a 2019-2020 Fellow at MSU’s Hub for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Society tends to expect technology to do more than it can actually achieve, at a faster pace than it can actually move. The resulting hype cycle infects all forms of discourse around technology.

Unfortunately, the discourse on law and technology is no exception to this rule. The resulting discussion is often characterized by two or more positions at opposite ends of the spectrum, with participants speaking past – not to – each other. The rich context that sits in the middle ground goes disregarded altogether. This difficulty in discourse is often compounded by the fact that those working in the area of law and technology must reach across disciplines to work productively without a common language. Each discipline uses its own terms of art, and it’s tempting to assume understanding without actually achieving it.

One example of the difficulty of interdisciplinary communication centers around blockchain-based smart contracts. When lawyers hear the term “smart contract,” many immediately jump to a vision of technological versions of legally enforceable contracts. This leads many lawyers and legal academics to agonize over the details of whether, and under what circumstances, smart contracts meet the classic contract law requirements: offer, acceptance, and bargained-for exchange.

Here’s the thing: smart contracts are not about those things at all.

Indeed, industry currently does not use smart contacts, standing alone, to create legally enforceable agreements. As a result, many legal minds have devoted substantial time and attention to issues that do not really exist, diverting the conversation away from the interesting issues that do actually exist. If, as part of our discipline and training, lawyers learned to understand how those from other academic backgrounds use various terms, we could provide more value to clients and better guide the path of the law.

My research increasingly considers many of these issues in the classroom and through the Center for Law, Technology & Innovation (CLT&I). One of those research questions – namely, “how can I systematically offer my students opportunities to learn technology in meaningful ways without sacrificing doctrinal coverage, and how can I do so in a way that can scale to the entire Law College?” – led to a 2019-2020 fellowship with MSU’s Hub for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. Alongside other interdisciplinary Hub fellows, I hope to build prototype tools and other resources that use the power of emerging technology itself as pedagogy. My work with the Hub will provide opportunities to grow initiatives between the CLT&I and innovators at other colleges across campus.

My hope is that my work creates avenues for MSU Law students to engage in interdisciplinary collaborative work as part of the everyday fabric of their legal education. Doing so offers a tangible mechanism to resolve the very real communication barriers that often hinder those of us working at the intersection of law and technology.