Last spring, then-1L Cleveland-Marshall College of Law students Patrick Lipaj and Elliot Nash were looking for something that would peak their interest and allow them to get more involved with the C|M|LAW community. Around that time, both of them read Blockchain Revolution, a foundational book on blockchain technology, and learned about the Blockland Cleveland initiative led by Bernie Moreno, chair of the Cleveland State University Board of Trustees. Immediately realizing the revolutionary potential of blockchain to impact numerous industries, the two friends decided they wanted to delve into the subject from an educational perspective and formed the Cleveland State University Blockchain Law & Business Association (BLBA).
“Blockchain” is a system to structure data with coding designed to connect or “link” blocks of transactions and share a digital ledger across a network of computers without the need for a central authority and with no single party having the power to alter the records. The “blocks” are digital pieces of information and the “chain” is the public database in which the information is stored.
To date, blockchain’s most prominent use has been for digital currency, also known as cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin. In fact, Nash explains that a common misperception is that blockchain and cryptocurrency are interchangeable.
“When I talk about blockchain I hear people say ‘oh that trend is over, who needs Bitcoin’,” said Nash. “I have to explain that blockchain is a totally different ballgame. While you can’t have crypto without blockchain, you can certainly have blockchain without crypto.”
Neither student is a technology expert or has a widespread understanding of the coding behind blockchain. Nash likes that the technology is brand new and has disruptive potential with decentralized autonomous organizations. Lipaj’s entrepreneurial spirit drew him to blockchain because he sees the technology having a major impact on a diverse group of sectors including finance, insurance, tax code, real estate and government.
The duo developed the Blockchain Law & Business Association with the goal of being a platform to educate and connect CSU law, business and general population students with other interested students as well as others in the community working in the blockchain space. They also hope to help a greater portion of the CSU community understand blockchain through the association’s outreach. Professor Brian Ray, Director of C|M|LAW’s Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection Center, serves as BLBA’s faculty advisor.
In the association’s first semester of operation, Nash and Lipaj developed a bi-weekly newsletter with stories on the latest developments in blockchain and what is happening in blockchain in Cleveland specifically. The newsletter already has a couple of hundred subscribers, made up of C|M|LAW students, CSU undergraduate and graduate students, CSU community members, and other interested parties from the greater Cleveland community. (Subscribe Here)
The Blockchain Association also hosted its first Lunch and Learn, where students visit a Cleveland-area law firm and talk with the firm’s attorneys on how they see blockchain affecting their industries and the law. The first Lunch and Learn took place at Friedman & Nemecek as approximately 20 law, business and information technology students had a conversation with the attorneys on how blockchain technology will affect the criminal side of the legal field. Plans are underway for one or two Lunch and Learns during the Spring Semester, with a focus on business law.
The BLBA also had the opportunity to partner with College of Graduate Studies to offer interested students scholarships to attend Cleveland’s first Blockland Solutions conference in December. Both Nash and Lipaj attended the conference, with Nash serving on the BlockLand NexGen Mode committee. Both students came away encouraged by the potential opportunity for Cleveland to become a blockchain hub and hope to find ways to partner CSU’s Blockchain Association with the Blockland initiative’s efforts in the future.
Nash and Lipaj are both native to the Cleveland area and would like to see he city become a leader in the blockchain space – a movement that they see as having the potential to be as revolutionary as the evolution of the internet.
Nash explained that for Cleveland to attract entrepreneurs to start businesses in the blockchain space, the city is going to need people with knowledge of blockchain in many complimentary industries, including law, to offer a network of support to work with these companies. Both students think that the blockchain education they are acquiring and attempting to provide to other students will benefit the city’s efforts. Individually, they both envision careers in various sectors of business law where their blockchain competencies will add value and make them attractive to employers.
“Having a background with and understanding of blockchain technology is going to be extremely valuable as blockchain’s prominence expands,” said Lipaj. “Being able to offer that knowledge is going to make me valuable to whatever firm I am working for.”