Welcome to Inside Track, a briefing from Law.com editor and reporter Greg Andrews providing insights that help in-house counsel navigate their rapidly changing world. Have an opinion? Email me here. Want to be alerted to this dispatch in your inbox every Thursday? Sign up here.
Kevin Smith, the newly appointed chief legal officer of fintech startup EquityBee, not only thinks his new employer is a promising business. In a small way, he hopes it makes the world a better place.
“I love working with smart, creative people building companies, products and services that add value to people’s lives,” he said of EquityBee, which connects employees who want to exercise stock options with the capital to do so. “Fintech companies in general are at the center of a really interesting Venn diagram where innovation in technology, law, policy and regulation overlap.”
His zeal is everywhere in fintech these days, which helps explain why the sector is raising unprecedented billions in growth funding. Just through the first nine months of 2021, the fundraising haul was $91.5 billion, nearly twice the total for all of 2020, according to CB Insights.
The deluge of cash also helps explain why top attorneys from all kinds of backgrounds, including Fortune 500 firms, are racing to get in on the action. Opportunities especially abound in cryptocurrency, which is lawyering up in preparation for government regulation that industry leaders believe ultimately will fuel growth.
Oliver Linch, who last month left Shearman & Sterling in London to become general counsel of the crypto exchange Bittrex Global, summed up the new mindset.
“Bittrex Global feels that the regulated tortoise wins the race,” he told Law.com’s Hugo Guzman last month. “There’s no advantage to playing fast and loose with anything. In fact, we want to be sure that we comply with and help shape the legal environment so that our users feel protected.”
Crypto attorneys are in the driver’s seat as they mull offers. As Tal Lifshitz, a partner with Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in Coral Gables, Florida, put it: “For the right people, the right level of experience, on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s an 11.”
The opportunities extend far beyond crypto, Satya Patel, co-founder of the venture capital firm Homebrew, told Forbes.
“Financial services is one of the largest industries on the planet, but until recently the way it operated had remained unchanged for decades,” he said. “And because of that, there are huge segments of the population that are underserved or ignored by current financial services players. Fintech is changing all of that by decreasing costs, increasing access and improving experiences for financial products and services.”
Just this year, 200 fintech companies have achieved unicorn status, meaning they have achieved valuations topping $1 billion, according to CB Insights.
One of those was New York-based Current. It was launched by former Morgan Stanley currency trader Stuart Sopp in 2015 with the stated aim of making banking more accessible. The company says its platform provides members “greater stability, faster money and cost efficiencies.”
Current in April raised $220 million, which boosted the company’s valuation to $2.2 billion.
Not surprisingly, top legal talent is jumping aboard. In September Jodi Golinsky quit as associate general counsel of the Canadian e-commerce firm Shopify to become Current’s first general counsel.
In another big fintech hire this fall, Adam Schuman, the “Wolf of Wall Street” prosecutor and partner at Perkins Coie, left Big Law to become general counsel of Menai Financial Group. Menai is a digital asset investment and trading company founded by former Morgan Stanley co-president Zoe Cruz.
Like many in fintech, Schuman strikes an evangelical tone.
“I look forward to supporting Menai in delivering a reliable and secure infrastructure to create better institutional-grade access to the digital asset space and help accelerate the democratization of finance,” Schuman said.
Of course, some of the fintech startups will soar, while others will falter or outright fail. So legal jobs in the tumultuous sector aren’t for everyone.
But those with a sense of adventure are excited to buckle up for the ride.
As Bittrex Global’s Linch put it, “The joy of a job like this is I can’t tell you what comes next, because I don’t know where the business opportunities are going to take us.”
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