How I Was Inspired by Blockchain Technology to Start My Own Law Firm
It’s 3:00 am in Times Square on May 16, 2018, and I have never felt more awake or alive. As the lights flash and move relentlessly despite the late hour, I stand in the middle of New York City with my best friend, and we talk about the impact of what we had just heard and the endless possibilities we could explore. By chance, my friend had convinced me to spend a small fortune to attend the Consensus Blockchain Conference in New York City, and I stood there stunned by the enormity of it all. Why was no one talking about this?
Sure, people have been talking about Bitcoin for years. It was ridiculed as fake internet money used by criminals, drug dealers, and gamblers to engage in nefarious activity online (e.g., the Silk Road). In May of 2018, the cryptocurrency market was coming down from the top of its first mainstream retail market cycle in 2017. During that fateful week in New York, however, no one was worried about the declining price. They were discussing the possibilities.
Blockchain Promises a Future of Possibilities
At that time, the blockchain space was a fringe tech sector for cryptography enthusiasts. The mainstream financial world — banks, hedge funds, private endowments, and investment firms — labeled Bitcoin and cryptocurrency “Rat Poison Squared.” The Securities and Exchange Commission had begun 2018 by threatening numerous blockchain entities (particularly those that had conducted Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs) with criminal penalties for the unlicensed sale of securities. Coinbase, then a fledgling cryptocurrency exchange, was forced to de-list virtually all of its tokens except for Bitcoin and Ethereum.
At Consensus, however, the developers, project leaders, and current blockchain users I met saw way past the curve of that Fear-Uncertainty-and-Doubt (FUD) cycle. If I was to list the 50 smartest people I have ever met, a huge percentage of them were at Consensus that week. If I had any doubts about the future of this technology, they disappeared when I heard Andreas Antonopoulos talk about the promise of democratizing finance for the majority of people in the world that remain unbanked. His point was brought home later that day when I met a man from Venezuela who talked passionately about how Bitcoin (the volatile asset that is “too risky” to own) had freed him from the endless poverty induced by his local currency and allowed him to save money for his family and for his future for the first time in his life.
Smart Contracts and the Decentralized Future
Ethereum and smart contracts expanded the possibilities even further. I heard ideas and proposals for technology that would tokenize every asset in the world—from real estate, to art and music, to wine and much more. I heard about how internet and mobile applications would be remade to be censorship proof and decentralized. How individuals would regain control of their personal data and medical history. And how decentralized finance applications would allow the unbanked to access financial services for the first time, obtain loans, and generate real yields on their savings.
If you haven’t taken the deep dive into blockchain technology, some of these things may not seem very momentous. Why do you need to tokenize assets? If you can already obtain a loan, why do you need decentralized finance? The answer lies in the calling card of this revolution — the mandate that fueled Satoshi Nakamoto’s creation of this revolutionary technology: decentralization.
The Perils of Today’s Internet
I am an attorney, not a blockchain developer. In 2018, I was a Partner in one of the largest law firms in America. As an attorney, I have handled a large variety of commercial matters and disputes. But some of my larger cases involved trade secrets and intellectual property, and I routinely counseled clients and gave presentations on the perils of the digital age.
Today’s college graduates grew up in the internet age. As the internet has developed and matured, people and companies have furiously created content and shared it online, but they have increasingly fallen victim to the digitization of those assets. Blogging, an enterprise given birth by the internet, became fertile ground for the theft of ideas and copyrighted material. If you liked a photograph you saw online, you could just copy and paste it onto your own site. And people did.
We also saw the rise of social media and internet search firms like Google. Today, we post continuous content about our daily lives, our businesses, and our interests. This data is tracked relentlessly and monetized by social media platforms and internet search firms to bring us a constant stream of carefully curated advertisements. In the process, many of us have lost ownership over our identities, our data, our intellectual property, and much more. In certain parts of the world, banks make loans to individuals based in part on a “social score” derived from analyzing their digital footprint and behaviors. If we engage in controversial speech, our ideas are routinely censored by tech behemoths with different political or social views. And if we create content and post it online, it is routinely stolen, demonetized, or sequestered to the dark corners of the internet for failure to pay sufficient advertising fees to the internet gatekeepers.
Legacy Financial System Puts Individuals at a Disadvantage
In the legacy financial system, your bank account balance is simply an IOU — the bank is not actually holding your money. The government prints money as it sees fit until yours is rendered worthless. Given the reckless monetary policies of the last generation, a “savings account” will soon come with a negative interest rate, meaning you will pay the bank for the privilege of using your money. If you want to buy shares in a company, you cannot do so at the discounts enjoyed by Wall Street insiders (a/k/a “Accredited Investors”) right before an Initial Public Offering. Instead, power brokers and insiders purchase these shares for pennies, and then retail traders and main street investors buy up the stock after the IPO to make the Wall Street insiders rich. If a bank engages in reckless derivatives trading that imperils the entire financial system worldwide, they simply get bailouts to cover their losses, print money through reckless lending to pay themselves huge bonuses, and then rinse and repeat.
By contrast, if regular people need money to get through the difficulties caused by that bank’s reckless behavior, they are routinely denied access to capital because of a poor credit score or some other arbitrary metric. Simply put, the centralized world that we live in today is rigged, and it’s not in your favor. These are just some of the evils that Satoshi Nakamoto sought to solve through decentralization.
Decentralization Levels the Playing Field
Now, the internet and the applications that run on it are being remade through decentralized protocols running on blockchain technology. These networks are decentralized, permissionless, uncensored, and beyond the control of any individual, entity, or government. Anyone can access them and the applications that run on them, regardless of their social score, their credit score, or their political views. More importantly, governments and large corporations cannot control them. When it comes to assets and intellectual property, blockchain technology makes it virtually impossible for an asset to be transacted twice. This prevents fraud, and means no one else has the power to control or transact our assets. Through non-fungible tokens on Ethereum, artists, photographers, and other content creators can now tokenize their creations so that only one person can own their original rights.
In the future, real estate deed records will be transacted exclusively on the blockchain instead of on microfiche, and title insurance will be largely unnecessary. Our medical records and other personal data can be aggregated within digital wallets, and we can gain complete control over that data and who can access it. With the Brave internet browser, we can prevent our search history from being tracked and sold to advertisers. And with decentralized social media platforms, we can post content without fear of censorship or demonetization. Finally, with decentralized finance, we can access every type of financial instrument, investment platform, derivatives trading, coin offerings, yield farming, and much more without permission and anonymously. Anyone with a cell phone can access capital regardless of their social score or lack of credit history. And this is just the beginning. Through it all, we the people will regain control of our money, or data, and our lives.
How One Cryptocurrency Conference Pushed Me Toward Change
When I was standing in Times Square on that fateful day, I knew that blockchain would change the world and my own life forever. I did not know exactly how or why I would end up working in that space, but I knew that one day it would happen. I am a problem solver, a creative thinker, a storyteller, and a fighter. I love clients that build things (real or virtual), and I want to be a part of helping them create that future. When I later returned to my fancy office, I realized just how much I did not care for the big law game that had come to dominate my life. So I decided to do something about it.
One of the great ironies of most law firms is that we advise people who have built amazing businesses by taking risks about how to minimize their risk. As a consequence, most lawyers are extremely risk-averse people, and I was no exception. For many years, I did not think that I could survive outside of big law and the platform that it provided. But after attending Consensus, I found myself spending more and more time with entrepreneurs, and their mindset can rub off on you over time. The more time I spent looking into blockchain, the more I began to see risk as opportunity. Not only did I become less risk-averse, but I began to empathize more with the needs of my clients to find workable solutions to their problems and business needs. In light of this, I decided to open my own law firm to provide real solutions to my clients, and I developed some core principles to guide my new practice.
Taking Risks to Succeed
First, like my clients, I must be willing to take risks to succeed, and I have now done that by opening my own practice and leaving the comforts of big law.
Second, I want my services to focus on problem solving first and foremost. Sometimes clients get into disputes that can be resolved early before litigation even begins if their counsel is focused on the business result more so than billable hours. I am passionate about early case assessment for both plaintiffs and defendants, and I am good at resolving tensions and crafting negotiated resolutions for clients before a dispute becomes intractable. I trained as a neutral mediator and I am registered with the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution, so I can help parties resolve their disputes through negotiated resolutions rather than litigation
Blockchain Knowledge and Experience
Third, I want my clients to know that I am dedicated to knowing and understanding their industry and business. Over the course of my career, I have represented many manufacturers, and I have come to understand a great deal about the business of manufacturing. Today, I also represent clients in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space, and I have devoted extensive time to learning this industry and the technology involved so that my clients can get legal advice from someone that understands the unique nature of this space and the challenges they face. While I have and will continue to represent clients in a number of industries, I will always work to understand my client’s business so that my legal advice is congruent with their business objectives.
Legal Innovation Inspired by Blockchain
Fourth, I want to explore ways to innovate the delivery of legal services in the blockchain era. As an initial matter, I will accept payments for invoiced legal services via certain cryptocurrencies. In addition, while I will continue to offer hourly services, I will also use flat fee, contingent fee, or other alternative fee arrangements when they better meet the needs of my clients, allowing me to stay focused on delivering results. I also plan to explore other ways that my firm can utilize blockchain technology to provide new types of legal services or products. Large law firms are perhaps one of the slowest institutions to adapt to changes in technology and business, but my firm is focused on shaping the future of business with an innovative approach to legal services and dispute resolution.
Fifth, I want to help entrepreneurs and small to medium sized businesses reach their potential. I have helped clients avoid potentially disastrous mistakes in a large variety of contract negotiation and risk management matters. For clients that want a lawyer on-call, I am offering outside general counsel services, allowing entrepreneurs to pay a flat monthly fee and have access to me for any client needs or advice that may arise, such as:
- operating agreements,
- commercial lease negotiations,
- trademark issues,
- vendor contract negotiations,
- confidentiality agreements,
- ordinance variance hearings,
- general business advice.
Credibility in the Courtroom
Finally, when a dispute cannot be resolved, I want my clients to have a battle-tested trial lawyer with a track record of results against the best attorneys in the country. I have obtained over $200 million in trial verdicts, arbitration awards, and settlements for my clients to date, and I have tried cases against members of the nation’s most feared and respected defense firms with great success. While a trial is almost never the desired result in litigation, a successful resolution requires your lawyer to have the credibility to fight a case to its conclusion. The Ether Law Firm delivers that track record of success!
With these principles in mind, I am now embarking on this grand new venture by embracing that fearsome courageousness that was so abundant at the Consensus conference in 2018. I have escaped the vortex of big law, and I am excited to help clients bring their business into the future with a focus on results. If that speaks to you, contact The Ether Law Firm today to schedule a meeting.