Big Law’s Bitcoin Foray

bitcoin law

You may have thought that Bitcoins had gone away, but in a “Revenge of the Nerds” style resurgence they are not only back, but Big Law is also seeking to be part of the Bitcoin action.

Steptoe & Johnson have entered the Bitcoin market with a focus upon the “Blockchain” technology that may well change the way we all do business.

The concept, which brings us closer to a fully privatized money supply is something that Steptoe’s ‘multidisciplinary practice’ is entering, to be lead by  the well-known

steptoe bitcoin law
Jason Weinstein

blockchain and FinTech team of former Department of Justice Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, who led the DOJ’s cybercrime and organized crime enforcement efforts, and former Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Alan Cohn, who was responsible for establishing and overseeing the cyber policy office at DHS.

The firm have even launched a blog focused on the cryptocurrency, called the Steptoe Blockchain Blog, which will feature opinions and analysis tracking the trajectory of the blockchain.  In addition, the firm will soon accept Bitcoin as payment for fees.

To quote their release: Steptoe’s blockchain practice has a unique role in the blockchain industry and brings an unparalleled combination of FinTech, financial services, regulatory, and law enforcement experience.

Over the past two and a half years, Steptoe has advised just about every type of participant in the blockchain ecosystem – including investors, entrepreneurs, early stage companies, exchanges, transaction processors, and retailers.  During this time, Steptoe has helped lead efforts to spread the word about the almost limitless possible applications for blockchain technology.  Steptoe serves as an advisor to both Coin Center and the Chamber of Digital Commerce, two of the industry’s leading advocacy groups, and Mr. Weinstein serves on the advisory board of BitFury.  In 2015, Mr. Weinstein was invited to speak at the first-ever “Blockchain Summit” hosted by Sir Richard Branson on Necker Island, and Mr. Cohn was invited to speak at the same event this year.

In October 2015, along with the Chamber of Digital Commerce and Coin Center, Steptoe co-founded the Blockchain Alliance, a coalition of blockchain companies and law enforcement and regulatory agencies.  The Blockchain Alliance is an industry-driven effort to promote the growth of the industry and protect public safety by educating enforcement agencies about digital currencies and the blockchain, and helping combat criminal activity involving this technology.

Since its launch, the coalition has rapidly expanded and now is comprised of more than two dozen companies and two dozen law enforcement and regulatory entities around the world, including Europol and Interpol.  Among other activities, Steptoe and the Blockchain Alliance have conducted educational programs for more than 400 law enforcement officers and regulators from more than 15 countries.  Steptoe serves as counsel to the Alliance and Mr. Weinstein serves as its director.

“We are expanding from serving as counsel to blockchain companies, to serving as counsel to companies affected by the blockchain,” said Mr. Weinstein.  “What we’re experiencing here is similar to the early stages of the Internet in the 1990’s.  The blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the way the world does business, and the applications for this technology are endless.”

Mr. Cohn commented:  “We are focusing on the next generation of blockchain and distributed ledger technology applications.  It is not just about blockchain — it is about applying blockchain technology to your company or business, and making it real and operational while addressing any legal and compliance issues.”

Leading the Cryptocurrency Charge

The firm has been long involved in the Bitcoin business, since “day one”.

 With Alan and Jason, we already had one of the best-regarded blockchain teams of any major law firm,” said Steptoe Chair Phil West.  “By combining our firm’s blockchain experience with seasoned lawyers across industry sectors, Steptoe believes it can provide a unique set of services to a wide array of clients, helping them not only understand this technology but also determine the feasibility of applying this technology in their business and sector, and ultimately, utilizing this technology in the most efficient, secure manner in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.”

Steptoe’s expanded blockchain practice features experienced lawyers and professionals in a number of industries that will be impacted by blockchain technology in the coming years, including representatives from the firm’s Energy, Transportation, Insurance, Financial Services, Intellectual Property, Corporate, International Regulation and Compliance, International Trade, Government Contracts, Government Affairs and Public Policy, Tax, Cyber, and Government Investigations and Enforcement groups.  The full-service blockchain practice also includes representatives from the firm’s London, Brussels, and Beijing offices.

The expanded practice has the ability to advise industries, companies and governments that are just learning about how the development of distributed ledger technology can be applied to their sector, or who are ready to take the next step in applying this technology to their activities.

“This is such a new area, it requires policy-making, not just enforcement,” said Micah Green, head of Steptoe’s Financial Services practice and co-head of its Government Affairs and Public Policy Group.  “Participants in the marketplace need to know where regulators are as they map out their business plans.  Steptoe is engaging with regulators and other government agencies on behalf of clients who are adopting blockchain-based applications and services to help ensure that they are in compliance with applicable rules – and to try to change those rules where needed.”

Along with advising the Chamber of Digital Commerce and Coin Center on legal and regulatory issues and serving as counsel to the Blockchain Alliance, Steptoe is representing companies in investigations by the US Department of Justice, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and other government agencies.

Steptoe is also advising financial institutions on anti-money laundering compliance issues relating to digital currencies, advising the world’s largest blockchain transaction processing company, advising retailers on digital currency and blockchain issues, and advising venture capital firms on regulatory issues involving the blockchain.

The new Bitcoin legal market is one that offers interesting, if challenging opportunities for those in the Bitcoin ‘know’ and many might see Steptoe’s initiative as stealing a march on an area of technology that offers both hope and challenge in equal measure.

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