Crypto law is still an emerging discipline. But some legal firms have been early to the party and are striving mightily to outdo one another. Here we profile a handful of them.
In historical terms, crypto and blockchain have only been around for the blink of an eye. The Bitcoin whitepaper came out only in 2008, with the first block mined the next year. Ethereum launched just eight years ago. And despite the waves of excitement, most of the world has never owned or traded crypto. That contrasts with roughly 86% of people who have used a smartphone. A technology not much older.
In that time, cryptocurrency has been at the center of large-scale legal tussles the world over. Last month, the US Supreme Court presided over its first crypto case: an appeal from Coinbase to pause class-action lawsuits.
And whenever there’s a legal battle, you need a lawyer. Preferably a team of them. BeInCrypto sampled some of the practices that have planted a flag in crypto law, big and small.
Perkins Coie claims to have the world’s largest Blockchain, Digital Assets and Custody industry group. Clients have included such familiar names as Ethereum, Coinbase, and Ripple Labs.
The firm’s Blockchain, Digital Assets and Custody practice is co-led by Dana Syracuse, a former associate general counsel for the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS), who joined in 2016. In that role, Syracuse helped write the first comprehensive digital currency regulation in the United States. Syracuse also interacts with lawmakers at the state and federal levels on blockchain and crypto issues.
Perkins Coie has been one of the beneficiaries of the boom in crypto legal cases. In an interview with Bloomberg Law last year, Joe Cutler, the co-chair of the firm’s fintech group, said they often hold weekly team calls with 50 to 70 attorneys in attendance. “We have content coming out of our ears,” he said.
Latham & Watkins
Latham & Watkins is the second-largest law firm by revenue, with offices in over 30 major global cities. In the crypto world, it took on work during the recent turbulence as the industry lost billions in value. It represented the crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital as the latter filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy in the US. Latham also represented football star Tom Brady, along with other celebrity defendants, in an FTX-related case. Litigants claimed Brady was liable for helping steer investors to the disgraced crypto exchange. Litigants claim FTX was a Ponzi scheme.
The firm has a formidable reputation. The question, for any law firm, is whether it can build on that clout as crypto and blockchain grow ever more sophisticated and specialized.
Latham announced last year that one of its former partners rejoined the firm. Nicholas Quaid has left the Department of Justice, where he helped build the enforcement of crypto crime legislation. Quaid is a former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the US Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.
In 2021, the firm put over 700 of its lawyers to work on crypto or blockchain issues. “The market is exploding, not just at the partner level but at the associate level too,” a co-chair of the firm’s global digital assets and Web3 practice said in an interview with Bloomberg.
In the public mind, Brown Rudnick might best be best known for representing Johnny Depp in his high-profile defamation suit. The Hollywood A-lister and his ex-wife Amber Heard took part in an unmissable grudge match. The trial briefly turned a courtroom in Fairfax County, Virginia, into the world’s biggest stage.
However, the firm made headlines recently by poaching several experienced crypto lawyers from rival Anderson Kill. All five previously worked in Anderson Kill’s Blockchain and Virtual Currency Group, established in 2018.
Brown Rudnick represents a number of the industry’s big names, including Binance, the Bitcoin Foundation, and the Cardano blockchain. Brown Rudnick’s Digital Commerce practice group has over 40 attorneys. The practice is behind some of the other big beasts of the business in terms of capacity. But its recent acquisitions are a sign that it wants to make up lost ground.
The firm was also recently elected to the Crypto Fraud and Asset Recovery Network (CFAAR). A group intended to develop the legal framework for asset recovery and dispute resolution in the industry.
Cooper & Kirk
Cooper & Kirk are undoubtedly the smallest of the practices profiled here. Although they have made a name in the legal world for their impact, most recently, in the realm of crypto law. Last year, the National Law Journal wrote that “few firms in Washington, D.C., can lay claim to being as influential on a national stage.”
Last week, the firm released a white paper titled “Operation Choke Point 2.0: The Federal Bank Regulators Come For Crypto.” A shot across the bow for the industry, following the collapse of Silvergate and Signature Bank.
The report states that federal regulators are using the same regulatory tools and tactics employed during Operation Choke Point. This Obama-era initiative aimed at disconnecting controversial businesses from the financial system. Back then it was payday lenders, pawn shops, and tobacco stores. Cooper & Kirk had previously won a lawsuit against the agencies involved in the original Operation Choke Point. Today they say the same is happening to the crypto industry.
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