London: Keep calm and use the blockchain
(London, June 2018) - Just seconds before the airport door opens for me I see my silhouette, holding my suitcase on wheels. I smile. As a child, I never saw myself in this role. Businessman, a lawyer. Travel light - just as my colleague Igor described in his blog. But I can say that deep inside there is always a child watching and wondering. I can imagine turning 80 years old and the child will wonder “how could I have possibly ended up in this old body, which requires a pretty thorough tune-up if I am still so young?”.
I approach the counter and the nice lady there interrupts my train of thoughts. An aisle seat, please. I have, yet again, perfectly timed my arrival. Boarding has started. What I really miss from when I used to travel during my ministerial times is that I did not have to take my shoes off at the checkpoint. I sit down and wait for take-off. I love it when the forces push me back into my seat while accelerating. Just like on a motorcycle. The freedom of speed and the joy of accelerating. Just like in business. It is good. We are up and flying, time for a power nap, then some notes are waiting to be processed.
Touchdown in London. I have been here on countless occasions and I know the city well. But even more, I know where it stands in the world of maritime business and law. All maritime legal disputes are resolved in London. Yes, it is, if I may use the word so often overused - massive.
This enclave of the most powerful global maritime influence stands on the history of legendary institutions such as the Honorable East India Company, also known as John Company, which dissolved after nationalization in 1868 and was the first multinational company larger than the British empire. And then there is the Society of Lloyd’s, formed in the memorable Lloyd’s Coffee House, founded by one Edward Lloyd. That was THE place where merchants, shipowners, and logistics businessmen met to exchange news and discuss insurance and trade. Later on, some of the most important institutions in maritime business emerged there, such as the insurer Lloyd’s of London, and Lloyd’s Register, to name just a few. Yes, when dealing in maritime business, the word Lloyd’s comes over quite often.
These places were the stuff of my dreams when I was a young student, and I can only count myself as lucky for enjoying the fortune of having a career that takes me to such important places.
But never before have I visited as a CargoX legal advisor. When two serious companies decide to start a collaboration, the legal squad is the first to set foot on the ground. Both sides need to secure their legal position to prevent the abuse of trade secrets and find the best possible negotiation strategies. First, the Letter of Intent is signed, and an NDA. Let us provide our NDA for you. Ok, our lawyers will take a look. Weeks pass and the document is adjusted on their side, then our side, until all the legal warriors are content. Only then is the first meeting scheduled to talk about what the point of interest really is and what our collaboration will bring. About what we are here for, in London. Two days. I shall underline that this is the standard procedure when both the companies involved really want to make something happen, when they sincerely hope to find a point of collaboration and they expect to grow together, symbiotically, to strengthen their positions in the market, where they face strong competition. Yet, this is the way it is, for mutual benefits.
At the hotel my colleagues are waiting - Stefan and Igor. They got here hours before me and, even though it’s late at night, we exchange some news.
When entering the room I first check its size. I’ve grown to like smaller and functional rooms, yet I do love it if they have enough room for me to exercise in the morning. Bigger rooms are just bigger opportunities to lose or forget something. This hotel is fully automated. At the reception, you register through an app on a tablet. There is another tablet in the room for managing room temperature, lighting, TV, orders, and more. It is a simple Smart Room. And the hotel is a Smart Hotel. And we are working on the Smart B/L. The venue was chosen by Stefan and the Smart Hotel could not have been a coincidence.
The three of us head to the first meeting. Taking an Uber. Another smart, user-friendly technological achievement. Wherever we travel in London, it takes us an hour and a half. And despite all the conference-call technologies, we still need authentic, live, head to head communication. I wonder how many generations will still feel the need.
First meeting. All goes as planned. Sincere interest and formal pleasantries. I have been to thousands of meetings and I can see when someone is there just because they have to be. This is not one of them. The first step is made, everybody is happy for having made this decision.
Security measures require us to register using our personal data when approaching, we are photographed, and we need to sign off when exiting. My colleagues, who were first to exit, have signed me off as well and I couldn’t sign off when I arrived at the exit. I resolved it with the security guys and my friends had a laugh. Laughter matters and friends are here to help you be a little more healthy.
Next meeting. London is jammed during rush hour. Rush hour all day long… Every time I move through a traffic jam at the speed of a sleepy snail I can’t help feeling lucky for where I live. It has some downsides, but living in a metropolis no longer interests me. I watch, moving slowly, the people who race past. I slip into thinking about automatization and the future. I am sure that the automatization of virtually everything is inevitable. But what role will people themselves have in the future? Will there be physical work? Will we only think and create? I don’t know. I think we will always need physical exercise and movement. I don’t know... Destination reached. A new meeting, registration, photographing, checking your back to make sure your friends not to play a prank on you… I got this!
Three meetings add up nicely to our evening discussion. We didn’t even have time for lunch, so we try our chances by going to a Filipino restaurant. The food was OK, but I’m from Slovenia, where the food is delicious, so we cannot really take this as a bad thing. Decent as it was, though, there was nothing Filipino about the food at all! We made up some theories until the waitress opened the book of secrets and told us that one of the owners is half Filipino by birth and they were just looking for a marketing gimmick to stand out from the competition. There are not many Filipino restaurants nearby, so the solution was obvious.
Another day of meetings and snailing through London passes. It is funny how a successful meeting marathon day can boost your energy and you don’t feel tired. The food was, again, not the best choice, even though we did avoid the Filipino restaurant.
In the club, each with his own East London Liquor gin (which I cannot recommend enough), we listen to a band. They play some good music in their own, funky style. That is my style, as I have been playing bass guitar in a band since my teen years. Total relaxation! I watch closely how Stefan and Igor go over their impressions from the meetings. Bottom line - we are all satisfied with the outcomes.
Soon two lawyer friends from London join us. We have a quick discussion about blockchain and our Smart B/L, how digitalization is not going to skip the logistics business, and what the role of maritime lawyers will be. We will have to revise our deep-rooted beliefs and maybe adapt some of them to the new reality, just to be able to advise our clients correctly when it comes to implementing such novelties long overdue.
The adrenaline starts to fade out, fatigue gripping our bodies. And the flight home was still waiting. I could imagine how I would knock back and in the cab and nap to the airport, and my colleagues had the same looks on their faces. We were all exhausted. What a two-day trip it had been! But, as life always plays tricks, this time it sent us a Somali taxi driver who was on a mission to save the world with us on our ride to the airport. We did save it, at least verbally. But in a specific way. One of us was sleeping, while the other two kept him busy. One couldn’t have done it himself.
It is the lawyer who knows most about the opportunities and traps of international and national law, who has to be the guide through a maze of often rationalized rules that are based on irrational behaviours and historical misunderstandings. When working on a startup that is really revolutionary, it is even more important to be able to shed light upon the most distant shadows, if only possible. Yes, we are working with elements that have, until today, been archaic and seemed set in stone. But we are changing that, just as the first men who set sail to find new lands. They often had no idea what they would find, or what they would bring back from new territories.
Luckily, we are living in the age of information, and the CargoX team knows very well where we are heading. The blockchain revolution welcomes everyone and it isn’t going away.
Patrick Vlacic, Ph.D., is CargoX's legal advisor. He is an expert on maritime, transport (sea, air, rail, road), and an associate professor at the Faculty of Maritime and Transportation Studies of the University of Ljubljana, as well as at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. He was the Minister of Transportation of the Republic of Slovenia (2008-2012).