…I don’t think of myself as a “movement” person, but I’d love to see a wholesale re-thinking of the arbitrary rules of the workplace. Some of them were designed at a time when most professionals were men who had wives who took care of home and family; more recent “rules” of how to succeed in the tech world were created by and for young, single men with gourmet cafeterias and other amenities on-site. There are a lot of expectations of round-the-clock availability, business, entertainment, etc. that are not really necessary, and that serve as barriers to success for women who have family obligations (or just want to be with their families or friends) or anyone who wants to live a healthy, balanced life.
I had the pleasure to interview Laura Jehl. A partner at BakerHostetler and a former top lawyer at AOL and Resolution Health, Inc./Anthem, Inc., Laura Jehl focuses her practice on the intersection of law, data and emerging technologies. She is the founder and leader of the firm’s national Blockchain Technologies and Digital Currencies team and advises clients on the rapidly evolving legal and regulatory issues businesses experimenting with blockchain, artificial intelligence, IoT and digital identity solutions face on a daily basis. With her experience as a senior in-house lawyer and business-side executive, Laura understands the business, legal, technological and regulatory challenges and opportunities her clients face, and uses that experience to provide clients with practical advice and thoughtful advocacy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?
After graduating from Harvard Law School, I started my career as a litigator in private practice, but I began to focus on the intersection of law and emerging technologies when I went in-house to work as a lawyer at AOL in the late 1990s. The internet was really taking off, but existing laws didn’t fit the new issues that seemed to arise every day, and new laws had yet to be written. In that role, I witnessed firsthand — and played a role in — the way law and technology influence each other’s development. I found it fascinating, and still do, as new technologies like AI and blockchain raise their own sets of legal issues.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I do a lot of work in the areas of privacy and data security, and I’m really excited about the potential for blockchain-enabled “self-sovereign identity” solutions. Using these solutions (some of which are already being piloted), individuals can control their own personal data, share it peer-to-peer without creating any centralized repository of personal data, and provide only the minimum data necessary for any given transaction or interaction. This technology has the potential to solve a number of significant problems, including the challenges faced by people around the world who lack official identity documents, and the seemingly endless stream of data breaches created by insecure username and password identity systems providing access to huge “honeypots” of data. At the same time, it also presents a number of challenging privacy and security issues, including its interaction with the EU General Data Protection Regulation and other new privacy laws, and I’m really enjoying helping clients think through and resolve those issues.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredibly smart, wise, funny, practical and innovative people over the course of my career. Most of what I’ve learned has come from engaging in spirited debates about tough, complex legal, business and technology issues with my colleagues, sometimes in the office, sometimes over a glass of wine. And I’ve had two really good mentors — both men — who helped me succeed in different professional roles. Now I enjoy paying it forward by mentoring others — mostly women, because I’d like to see more women succeed in this space.
What are the 3 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
(1) Digital identity solutions have huge potential to change lives in the developing world, and to enable individuals everywhere to have much greater control over their personal data, who it’s shared with and how it’s used; (2) Cryptocurrencies are already transforming the banking and payments system by speeding up and eliminating costs in the established financial industry, as well as by enabling direct peer-to-peer transmission of value, which can really help underserved areas; (3) I love the use of blockchain for track-and-trace supply chain systems; two of my favorites are the solutions being used by the UN to better track aid distribution, and the emerging pilots for tracking the food supply. Both have real potential to improve — and even save — lives.
What are the 3 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
(1) The hype is overheated; blockchain will not solve all the world’s problems; (2) Anonymity and lack of regulation continue to make crypto a magnet for fraudsters and criminals; (3) At the same time, emerging regulation of cryptocurrencies is vague, confusing and contradictory, inhibiting growth in the space. Without clear rules, only the biggest risk-takers will move forward, which is not necessarily the behavior we want to incentivize if we want to build a healthy, sustainable technology ecosystem.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I try to bring goodness to the workplace, which is a location that too often isn’t very strong in that department. I believe strongly in being collaborative and in mentoring more junior people who work with me. I also really try find the humor in even the most difficult situations, to get home to spend time with my kids, and to help them grow up to be people who will make a positive contribution to the world.
As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the blockchain space to thrive?
(1) New technologies offer fantastic opportunities to anyone willing to dig in and learn, and to keep learning on the job. It’s not as if there are a lot of people who have 30 years’ experience in blockchain. It’s all brand new, there’s really no one ahead of you in line, so you can grab tremendous opportunities to lead. (2) Don’t be intimidated by the technology or by the late-night hackathon culture. Even if you’re not deeply technical, you can understand the basic properties and capabilities of the technology, as well as the opportunities and risks it presents. You don’t have to be a coder to be entrepreneurial, innovative or influential in blockchain or crypto. (3) Think big, be creative, but be practical. Learn from some of the mistakes the tech industry has made in the past; try to build solutions to real problems affecting real people. And have fun.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
I’m actually optimistic that there will be more women in blockchain than there have been, historically, in other areas of tech. I think we’re at a moment where several forces are converging: the flaws and weaknesses in some of the big Silicon Valley companies (mostly dominated by men) are becoming clear just as the “#MeToo” movement has made women more willing to keep their careers from being limited by men — all at the same time that blockchain is breaking through to more mainstream adoption. Women are realizing that this is an opportunity for them, and for a “do over” from at least some of the mistakes of the early internet and tech era. My firm recently co-hosted a conference with [email protected] and the young women in blockchain I met there were incredibly impressive and inspiring.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
When I was in law school, the graduate teaching assistants were protesting low wages, and they wore buttons that said, “You Can’t Eat Prestige.” That’s an important message for women professionals everywhere, and certainly in blockchain. If you’re good, you also need to be well compensated.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I don’t think of myself as a “movement” person, but I’d love to see a wholesale re-thinking of the arbitrary rules of the workplace. Some of them were designed at a time when most professionals were men who had wives who took care of home and family; more recent “rules” of how to succeed in the tech world were created by and for young, single men with gourmet cafeterias and other amenities on-site. There are a lot of expectations of round-the-clock availability, business, entertainment, etc. that are not really necessary, and that serve as barriers to success for women who have family obligations (or just want to be with their families or friends) or anyone who wants to live a healthy, balanced life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m a privacy lawyer, and I actually believe in online privacy, so I try to keep a fairly limited social media presence. You can follow me at:
Twitter: @LauraEJehl LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurajehl