On Campus: Australian National University Democratizing Legal Disputes with Blockchain


Scott Chamberlain, Entrepreneurial Fellow at Australian National University (ANU) School of Law, grows very animated when talking about the potential of blockchain and law. 

“Imagine an eBay-like platform that can resolve consumer law disputes without engaging the court system,” he marvels.

Chamberlain’s research has long focused on innovations in and the impact of tech on the law, with blockchain an increasing area of study. At ANU, he runs a project called Lex Automagica, a tech stack automating legal processes that he envisions will allow society to run like clockwork. 

He believes this is possible because—at its most basic—the law is simple. In the event of a dispute, the law must confirm the identities of the people and things involved, along with the relationship and rules of interaction between them, to arrive at a resolution. 

Blockchain can already perform these confirmations and automations through identity, tokenization, smart contracts, and dispute resolutions projects. Making it a short leap to apply these new technologies to the law.  

If done properly, Chamberlain’s hope is that the project will create a capacity to solve an enormous number of social disputes without having to engage the middlemen and gatekeepers that he says often leverage their positions of power and wealth. Of course, he’s quick to point out that his vision for a decentralized, democratized practice of law would not replace the legal profession. 

“This is not about getting rid of lawyers or eliminating jobs,” said Chamberlain. “There will always be cases and situations that demand a higher level of expertise.” 

Instead, he sees blockchain and smart contracts as providing an unprecedented opening to resolve more routine disputes and bring resolution to those who might normally be unable to afford legal services. The key is to differentiate the types of legal problems, and then provide solutions appropriate to the scale of the dispute. 

Advancing this topic will be the central goal of two new courses launching as part of ANU’s Master’s program next year. Made possible through the support of Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI), the courses will roll out in sequence and task students with identifying a specific legal problem then outlining a technology solution to arrive at what Chamberlain calls a “justice dividend.”

Chamberlain credits UBRI with helping to turbocharge the University’s overall study of blockchain and the legal profession. Ultimately, he believes the funding will help prove that blockchain can underpin a sustainable and significant improvement in people’s ability to exercise their rights and discharge their obligations through technology rather than by having to throw more money and lawyers at a problem.

 To learn more about UBRI, please visit our UBRI website and look for monthly Insights posts in the On Campus series.

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