As part of the Digital Currency Council’s Continuing Education partnership with Inside Bitcoins, the DCC’s Vice President, Sarah Martin, had the opportunity to interview the thought leaders that will be speaking at the Inside Bitcoins Conference in New York City on April 27-29, 2015. Today, we share insights from Christopher Hopkins of Akerman LLP.
Sarah: Tell us about how and why you got involved in Bitcoin and digital currencies.
Christopher: I published my first legal article about bitcoin in January 2011 which discussed “Will Your Law Firm Accept Bitcoin?” There were no lawyers in the virtual currency space at that point in time. About two years ago, I started getting emails from people looking for legal help who had found my old article. I was hooked. Since then, we’ve helped one bitcoin ATM company get registered and licensed in Florida, another virtual client launch their alt-coin, and several clients with Terms and Conditions and litigation.
Sarah: Your firm advises myriad clients at the bleeding edge of technology. How do you help new technology start ups navigate complex and often uncertain legal terrain?
Christopher: Emerging technology companies want to be scalable. In more traditional parlance, “scalable” means having a good foundation from the start. Virtual currency companies cannot start out without Terms and Conditions, valid business practices, and reliable contracts – if you cut those corners, no venture capitalist will touch you. If you use cookie-cutter or online forms, you may not protect your rights and you appear unprofessional – not scalable. Worse, state and federal agencies can and will punish an organization which acts outside of the law and then, after some money comes in, tries to “go legit.” Budget for legal advice from a lawyer who knows digital currency. Your lendors and investors will take you seriously and it will protect your rights.
Sarah: InsideBitcoins NYC has brought together many of the best minds in the industry. What do you hope to hear from others at the conference?
Christopher: Last year the discussion was whether or not the industry was going to embrace or resist regulation. And everyone recognized that regulation was inevitable and it was needed to reign in the bad actors and present a legitimate picture for investors and end users. This year, I would like to hear from companies which are making a profit explain the secret to their success. I’d like to hear how the industry is going to broaden the popularity and use of digital currency.
Sarah: As digital currencies evolve, what are you looking forward to seeing develop this year, or in the next 5-10 years?
Christopher: I’m more focused on growth of the industry and use of digital currency. That’s our base. If society doesn’t accept and use bitcoin, nothing we do is going to go far and a superior technology is going to be ignored. I too yearn and strive for alternative uses of bitcoin. But I’d like to hear ideas how we can go back to step one and bring bitcoin into the mainstream.
Sarah: What do you see as the greatest challenge for the industry?
Christopher: The greatest challenge to digital currency is the public’s perception. Few people understand bitcoin. Few people trust it because of the bad actors who make headlines. And fewer still actually buy and spend bitcoin. We need a better “face” of the industry. We need to clean up the bad actors (which litigation and regulation will ultimately flush out). We need to convince investors and users of the value and validity of digital currency and blockchain technology.
Sarah: What’s your advice for growing the industry? How do we engage more people in digital currencies?
Christopher: We need to rid the industry of the bad actors who are cheating the system and skirting the law. At the same time, we need to create public trust and understanding. Digital currency entrepreneurs may want to partner with existing, respected businesses in order to broaden the appeal of bitcoin for consumers.
Start ups need to contract and act like sophisticated business from day one – which means getting solid legal advice on regulation, contracts, Terms and Conditions, and privacy.
Don’t just pick a large law firm or, on the other hand, the cheapest. Ask your lawyer if he or she actually has digital currency clients. It’s great that a lawyer knows contracts or securities or banking regulations. But do they know bitcoin? (blogging about it doesn’t count) Does your lawyer personally use virtual currency? A lawyer needs to know this industry in order to serve it. Don’t be a “test case” for your lawyer to learn on your dime [Satoshi!].
Sarah: Thanks very much for your thoughts, Christopher. Looking forward to a great conference.