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Coinbase Goes on Legal Hiring Binge as Circle Attorneys Depart

Feb. 10, 2020, 10:30 AM

Coinbase Inc., a San Francisco-based digital currency exchange specializing in bitcoin transactions, has gone on an in-house hiring spree a little more than a year after recruiting former Fannie Mae general counsel Brian Brooks to serve as its chief legal officer.

Within the last three months Coinbase has brought on three more top in-house lawyers. One of those additions, former JPMorgan Chase & Co. assistant general counsel Rachel Nelson, was named in January to co-chair a new market integrity working group for the Blockchain Association, a trade association for the U.S. blockchain and cryptocurrency industry.

The additions by Coinbase come at the same time as a series of departures from Circle Internet Financial Ltd., a Boston-based blockchain payments company backed by The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Several in-house lawyers have left Circle since last summer amid a series of layoffs and divestitures by the company as it reshapes its business around stablecoins.

One of the departed is Gus Coldebella, a former Fish & Richardson partner and acting general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security. Coldebella joined Circle as its chief legal officer in September 2018, around the same time that Coinbase brought on Brooks.

Coldebella told Bloomberg Law last month that he stepped down from his top legal role at Circle on Dec. 31 but would continue to serve as an adviser to the company on public policy and regulatory issues related to cryptocurrencies.

“The remaining legal and compliance team at Circle is well-poised to handle the issues that the business faces,” Coldebella wrote in an email. He declined to discuss what his next move will be after Circle.

Circle Changes

Circle has tapped chief compliance officer Mark duBose to manage its compliance team and anti-money laundering function. duBose, who was hired last year, is a former chief operational risk officer at Santander Bank NA and ex-head of policy and global financial crimes compliance at Bank of America Corp.

Circle deputy general counsel Lisa LoGerfo will oversee legal and regulatory issues, Coldebella said. LoGerfo, who joined Circle in mid-2018 as senior legal counsel, is assisted by Natalie Langlois, who was hired late last year as managing counsel for litigation and investigations. Claire Wells, hired by Circle in 2017, serves as its London-based regional director of legal and business affairs.

London is where former Circle head of compliance Blair Halliday jumped ship in late January for the U.K. and European Union affiliate of the New York-based Gemini Trust Co. LLC, a cryptocurrency exchange founded in 2014 by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. Halliday now serves as European chief compliance officer for Gemini Europe.

Other in-house lawyers to have left Circle include associate general counsels Robert Bench, who in mid-2019 became director of applied fintech research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and Carla Carriveau, who left left around the same time to become general counsel at Forge Global Inc., a San Francisco-based commodities and securities brokerage formerly known as Equidate Inc.

After five years as corporate general counsel at Circle, Noah Spaulding left the company in early 2019 to become chief legal officer for Cambridge, Mass.-based Hometap Equity Partners LLC, a home lending startup that recently secured $100 million in financing.

Benedicte Nolens, an attorney and former in-house compliance director at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse AG who served as vice president of international government relations at Circle in Hong Kong, also left last summer to join the fintech and innovation arm of Standard Chartered Bank. Nolens continued to serve as an adviser to Circle through January.

Coinbase Recruits

As for Coinbase, it began its recruitment initiative in October by adding a new top regulatory lawyer in Nelson, who began her career as an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell and WilmerHale. Nelson joined Coinbase as a senior director and associate general counsel from Kraken, a San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange owned by Payward Inc. that in December acquired Circle’s over-the-counter trading desk.

In January, Coinbase hired Lawrence Zlatkin, who joined Baker McKenzie’s New York office as of counsel a year ago after nearly 25 years in-house at General Electric Co., to serve as a vice president of tax. In a statement, Zlatkin told Bloomberg Law that he joined Coinbase for the “challenge of working in a new 21st century business that also is best-in-class and will play a, if not the, leading role in setting tax and legal policy for cryptocurrency.”

Coinbase also hired Debra Noll in November to serve as associate general counsel of Coinbase Pro in San Francisco, where she will advise the company’s professional trading platform on the launch of new products. Noll previously spent roughly 17 years in-house at American Express Co. counseling the company on payments products and digital and e-commerce platforms.

Coinbase also promoted Marcus Hughes, a former executive director at Morgan Stanley who joined the company in 2018, in September to serve as general counsel of its international arm. Eric Weingarten, another former in-house lawyer hired by Coinbase a little over a year ago, was also recently promoted to senior director and associate general counsel for product at the company.

Other Additions

Coinbase and Circle aren’t the only companies in the fintech space adjusting their in-house legal and compliance functions.

  • Bitday Inc., an Alpharetta, Ga.-based blockchain payments provider, brought on Cox Enterpises Inc. assistant general counsel and privacy officer Eden Doniger as general counsel and chief compliance officer in December.
  • FanDragon Technologies Inc., a Los Angeles-based provider of blockchain software, added veteran in-house legal consultant Lori Ross as vice president of legal and business affairs in January.
  • TokenSoft Inc., a Chicago-based blockchain compliance platform, hired Alex Levine as chief legal officer in December. Levine most recently served as general counsel and chief compliance officer at Pangea Money Transfer.
  • U.S. Bancorp, a Minneapolis-based banking giant, added former Alston & Bird partner Lauren Giles in January as an assistant general counsel and chief counsel for its global payment processing subsidiary Elavon. Giles, who is based in Atlanta, previously co-led Alston & Bird’s blockchain and distributed ledger technology team.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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