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Coinbase Adding Lawyers, Taps New Compliance Chief Ahead of IPO

Feb. 18, 2021, 9:52 PM

Coinbase Global Inc. has announced its addition of chief compliance officer Melissa Strait, the latest in a series of legal hires by the largest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange.

Strait joins Coinbase as it prepares to go public. She spent the past five years at Stripe Inc., where she was global head of financial crimes at the online payment processor, which has been busy hiring in-house lawyers in recent months.

Strait herself is not a lawyer, but her hire by Coinbase was touted by Paul Grewal, a former deputy general counsel at Facebook Inc. who joined the San Francisco-based company last summer as its chief legal officer.

Grewal wrote in a Feb. 17 blog post that Strait will be responsible for Coinbase’s global compliance programs, including anti-money laundering initiatives and managing the company’s relationships with global law enforcement agencies.

“As Coinbase continues to be the bridge between the cryptoeconomy and the traditional financial system, implementing industry-leading compliance programs will be critical to earning and maintaining the trust of our retail and institutional customers,” Grewal said.

Grewal noted that Strait’s “experience at the very cutting edge of fintech innovation makes her uniquely qualified to navigate the complex web of regulations to which we not only comply with but are also helping to shape.”

At Coinbase, Grewal replaced Brian Brooks, who recently served as acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Brooks, a proponent of transforming the future of financial services, stepped down from the federal banking regulator last month after making a last-minute rule change that unnerved Wall Street.

Coinbase had already recruited several legal staffers prior to the end of Brooks’ tenure as legal chief nearly a year ago. Its pace of in-house additions accelerated after Grewal’s appointment, as Coinbase sought to build out a compliance, legal, and regulatory apparatus ahead of a potential public listing.

In December, Coinbase filed confidentially for an initial public offering. The company disclosed last month that when it does go public it will do so via a direct listing.

Crypto Recruits

Within the past three months alone, Coinbase has added more than a half-dozen lawyers, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis of LinkedIn profiles, state bar registries, and job listings by the company.

Coinbase earlier this month hired Lowenstein Sandler counsel Alexander Zozos, a former special counsel in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Trading and Markets, as a senior product counsel in New York.

The company also brought on product counsel director Kenneth Hwang, associate general counsel for consumer product Lindsay Danas Cohen, associate general counsel for regulatory Meghan King, associate general counsel Samuel Brown, and corporate counsel Jolie Yang in January.

The London-based Brown joined Coinbase after serving as senior legal counsel for Sloan Robinson LLP, a dissolving hedge fund, while Yang and King were associates at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York. Hwang, another ex-Davis Polk associate, spent the past eight years at Google LLC, most recently as senior counsel in San Francisco.

Danas Cohen comes to Coinbase after spending the past two years as general counsel for Velocity Markets Inc., a digital asset startup she left in November.

That same month Coinbase hired former E*Trade Financial Corp. associate general counsel Kirill Kan as a senior counsel and picked up a senior director of legal in Leah Bressack, who worked with Grewal at Facebook, where she was an associate general counsel and strategic counselor to the general counsel.

Bressack at Facebook worked on the social media giant’s Libra cryptocurrency project, now called Diem. He also previously clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch when Gorsuch was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Grewal didn’t respond to a request for comment. Coinbase acknowledged its latest batch of new recruits but declined to discuss them further. The company is now in a “quiet period” mandated by regulators that precedes a stock market debut.

Coinbase’s rapid growth has not come without controversy. The company saw some lawyers and its former compliance chief depart last fall in the aftermath of a mandate barring political activism in the company’s workplace.

Eric Weingarten, a senior director and associate general counsel for product at Coinbase, left the company in January to become general counsel at San Francisco-based Truework, a venture capital-backed identity management startup that raised $30 million last year. Deok Keun Matthew Ahn left his role as an associate general counsel at Coinbase in October to become deputy general counsel at Zumper Inc., an apartment rental startup whose legal chief is former Coinbase lawyer Aaron Hou.

Other Coinbase lawyers have taken roles at company-supported endeavors. Amy Luo, senior counsel for global business development and stablecoins, wrote on her LinkedIn profile last month that she had become general counsel for the Centre Consortium, a group backed by Coinbase and cryptocurrency company Circle Internet Financial Ltd., the latter of which hired a new general counsel in September.

The Centre Consortium backs USDC, the world’s largest stablecoin and one pegged to the U.S. dollar whose value last summer broke the $1 billion mark.

Coinbase currently lists over 20 in-house legal and compliance jobs on its online careers page, including several associate general counsel roles and head of legal and compliance chief positions in Japan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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