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Hate lawyers? Can’t afford one? Blockchain smart contracts are here to help.

Many people in the US already use online services that let them set up legal agreements without needing to pay for a lawyer. Such firms have made it far easier for people, especially independent contractors and small businesses, to access legal services and get paid what they’re owed. 

Now the two biggest players in the market—Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom—are experimenting with blockchain smart contracts. In theory, they could help automate a vital part of the process and make some legal services easier and cheaper to use for everyone.

Rocket Lawyer’s mission is to use technology to expand “access to justice,” says CEO Charley Moore. 

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Smart contracts are computer programs that can run on blockchain networks and can automate payments. The idea is that blockchains could track all the rights and obligations of a given contract and automatically trigger payments as the contract progresses, without anyone having to chase up payments offline.

Rocket Lawyer’s service lets users create and sign contracts, but the act of doing what is legally required by a contract is typically managed offline. For example, a business might agree to pay a freelance worker for doing a specified job or delivering a particular work product by a certain time. Using smart contracts, it should be possible to automate the tracking of this part of the agreement, known as the “performance,” says Moore. If it works, it could be a powerful tool for contractors, small businesses, and others who sometimes struggle to get employers to submit payment on time.

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