NetDocuments Delves Into Blockchain With New Proof of Concept

The document management platform is experimenting with new ways to bring digital trust to documents.

Blockchain has been a hot topic in the legal technology sector for quite some time. But established vendors within the industry are just now starting to move beyond a theoretical conversation about the possibilities of the distributed ledger infrastructure and into more meaningful development.

Cloud-based document management company NetDocuments this week announced it had completed a proof of concept for an integration with blockchain technology. The idea, tested initially on nondisclosure agreements, is to apply blockchain’s digital trust framework in a way that gives attorneys and organizations assurances that they are working from the same specific version of any agreements.

Peter Buck, vice president of product strategy for NetDocuments, said the company was looking at ways to help customers deal with establishing trusted identities for document signatories and also for documents themselves. “There is a fair amount of friction when multiple parties want to execute documents, or take business action on those documents or submit them to the court,” he said.

“It became really clear that if agreements are encoded in documents, we need a better way to encode the relationships between these parties. Blockchain became the obvious way to do that,” Buck added. NetDocuments developed its interest in the idea of leveraging blockchain through a set of consortium events, notably those held by the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium.

Through the proof of concept, each document location, stored in a URL hosted by NetDocuments, is given a unique identifier in blockchain’s ledger.  NetDocuments can then help parties match multiple parties’ identifiers to ensure they’re looking at the same exact document.

Attorneys have long struggled with issues of collating document versions across multiple dierent parties. In legal technology, e-signatures have been touted as the way to ensure and verify identity for various parties.

Buck explained that blockchain’s use in this space may be a way to help users sidestep some potential digital trust concerns around e-signatures, which can be hacked, changed or removed from agreements somewhat haphazardly.

Moreover, Buck explained, e-signatures don’t have a way for parties to trust the document itself. “When you’re looking at the printed copy, you can’t be certain that that is the final executed document. We can deliver the document with absolute mathematical certainty that that’s the one you’re looking at.”

 Blockchain is often lauded for the permanence of data stored on its ledger, which can boost digital trust. But industry leaders are now beginning to think through what the potential implications of that permanence might be. “The industry is wrestling with that question,” Buck noted.

NetDocuments is handling that question by storing the location of NetDocuments documents in the blockchain, rather than storing the document itself on the blockchain. “We  think that’s better because if for any reason the blockchain is compromised, we can secure that document in our repository,” Buck explained.

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