Considering bitcoin’s origins as a decentralized technology designed to disrupt the world banking system, it’s no surprise that the cryptocurrency community has a rather tepid relationship with financial regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Meanwhile, alleged cryptocurrency scams like Centra Tech — which the SEC believes raised $32 million in a fraudulent initial coin offering last fall — have done little to help the relationship from the regulator’s perspective.
Add this complicated background to the fact that the SEC is still developing its official policy on how to regulate cryptocurrencies, and you’ve got an incredibly vague and shaky legal environment from which to try to run a business.
Now, as companies big and small compete for a piece of the cryptocurrency pie, much of the ground work is being done by an invisible force in the C-suite: the general counsel — which is to say, cryptocurrency companies’ in-house lawyers.
Many of the lawyers on this list have spent their careers in finance law or in-house at other tech companies. One lawyer went in-house just one year after finishing her law degree, while another held senior-level roles across three different presidential administrations before finding his way into the world of bitcoin.
Whatever their experience, these 9 lawyers are helping some of the biggest names in cryptocurrency navigate the shaky and ever-changing landscape of blockchain regulation and compliance.
Here’s who you need to know.
Brynly Llyr — Corporate Counsel at Ripple
Undergrad: Mills College
Law school: University of California, Berkeley
Why you should know her: Llyr’s career has spanned both tech and finance, making her uniquely qualified to work in cryptocurrency.
“I joined Ripple in 2016 for the company’s technology and vision,” Llyr told Business Insider. “Improving the efficiencies with payments helps real people around the world – many of whom are either shut out of the banking system altogether or are subject to high fees and poor visibility into the payment system.”
Prior to joining Ripple, she was at PayPal and eBay for a combined total of five years and managed a range of issues from litigation to patents. Before that, she was at a law firm representing both corporate and individual clients in regulatory investigations, among other things.
But one of Llyr’s most defining experiences may likely be one that happened before she had a law degree at all. Llyr spent seven years as a project manager and stock broker at Charles Schwab, which gives her unparalleled understanding of the financial systems that Ripple is trying to conquer.
Mike Lempres — Chief Legal and Risk Officer at Coinbase
Undergrad: Dartmouth College
Law school: University of California, Berkeley
Why you should know him: Lempres’ career has spanned both public and private sectors, including time in senior government positions under three different presidential administrations.
He joined Coinbase in January from a similar role at another blockchain company, Bitnet Technologies. Before that, he was assistant general counsel at Silicon Valley Bank’s financial group.
“I first heard about cryptocurrencies from friends who were on it very early. Later I was working at a bank that focused on technology companies in the Bay Area, and a few crypto companies were looking for a bank,” Lempres told Business Insider. “The space was fascinating to me, and I began to believe it could change the world […] I still love the technology and the legal art in this space. No looking back!”
Lempres also has a less conventional item on his resume — mayor of Atherton, an affluent Silicon Valley town and the most expensive zip code in America, which is home to influential tech billionaires like former HPE CEO Meg Whitman and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt. He still sits on the Atherton city council.
Marco Santori — President and Chief Legal Officer at Blockchain
Undergrad: University of California, Berkeley
Law school: University of Notre Dame
Why you should know him: Santori is likely the crypto lawyer with the most name recognition among his peers — and with good reason. In addition to practicing law, he has been a central figure on the foundation level, helping bring legal clarity to a developing field.
Santori joined Blockchain from Cooley LLP, where he was head of the financial technology group. While he’s spent most of his career at law firms, Santori started building a name for himself in crypto around 2013, when he joined the Bitcoin Foundation as chairman of the regulatory affairs committee.
He even co-authored the authoritative white paper on Simple Agreements for Future Tokens (SAFT) — a new investment vehicle which has given venture capitalists and other investors a way to invest in blockchain startups outside of the traditional equity model. The SAFT model is used by top investors, like Sequoia Capital’s Matt Huang, today.