- Coinbase’s planned direct listing, with help from lawyers at Fenwick, is a milestone.
- A surge of crypto investment has spurred a boom in lawyers to help navigate gray areas.
- Lawyers at big firms like Goodwin and boutiques like DLx Law are working on cutting-edge issues.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Ten years ago, lawyers could be forgiven for thinking bitcoin and blockchain were a flash in the pan.
Over the past decade, though, and particularly in recent months, digital assets have boomed.
Big names like MassMutual, MicroStrategy, and Tesla have bought Bitcoin; PayPal and Square’s CashApp have made it easy to buy crypto with the tap of a finger; and major financial players like BNY Mellon and Visa and Mastercard have said they’re planning to offer custody and transaction services for certain digital assets.
Some SPACs have even considered getting in on the action, according to people interviewed for this story.
While complex technology and scrutiny from regulators might deter some investors and big firms from adoption, lawyers have been riding the wave, clocking billable hours as they try to help clients reimagine finance while avoiding lawsuits, scandals, and enforcement action.
They’ve found that a mix of startups and established technology, banking and investment firms are clamoring for good advice.
“This is a very difficult space to get a good lawyer,” said Phil Liu, the chief legal officer at Arca, an investment-manager focused on digital assets. “You have to have a working knowledge of just about everything.”
Big firms like Davis Polk, Goodwin Procter, Skadden, and White & Case tout blockchain specialists
Dozens of big firms, including Davis Polk, Goodwin Procter, Skadden, and White & Case, tout the presence of lawyers who can advise on blockchain issues and anything else a company in the space might need help with. And sought-after lawyers can also be found at boutiques like DLx Law and Waymaker and mid-size firms like Sullivan & Worcester.
Big-name lawyers who aren’t necessarily crypto specialists have been involved, too. When the Treasury unit FinCEN proposed a rule in December that would have required exchanges to gather information on the owners of private wallets, Coinbase’s scathing comments were filed by a lawyer at the elite litigation shop Bartlitt Beck. The Blockchain Association, a trade group, hired former solicitor general Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis to prepare a lawsuit to block a rule, if one had been issued. (Instead, the comment period was extended.)
“Simply being reactive to regulatory developments is no longer an option in the cryptocurrency industry,” said Marco Santori, the general counsel at…