Personal News: I’m Taking My Talents to South Beach (Figuratively)

It’s time to take a break from the regularly scheduled legal content to share some personal news. I have already informed my friends, family, and clients, but now that it is official I can tell the public: I am switching firms to focus almost exclusively on Web3/Blockchain legal work! I have officially joined Polsinelli’s Tech Transactions & Data Privacy practice group. It has been a long journey which started with buying basketball gifs and digital race horses, and has lead to a completely new and exciting career trajectory. I thought I would share some thoughts on where I started, how I landed my Web3 job, and where I see the space going.

For anybody seeing this blog and thinking the above- Fair! Tl;dr- after leaving a career which was professionally rewarding but mentally draining, I found a new passion in the legal work surrounding NFTs and I am now joining a firm which will allow me to continue that legal work full time and at the highest level possible. If you want to know how I got there, keep reading. If not, read my other (more helpful) blogs!

Background/Pre-NFT Life

I graduated law school at Washington University- St. Louis School of Law in 2015. I had a few firm offers after graduation, and chose to join a large St. Louis firm with the intention of becoming a real estate litigator. The firm I chose had a booming real estate practice and high profile clients who were constantly suing and being sued. However, I quickly realized there was nothing exciting about this work. These developers and construction companies all worked together on a variety of projects. The litigation was purely commercial between dispassionate parties, and was really just large corporations using litigation as bargaining leverage against other large corporations. I was stuck using the same case law and copy/pasted arguments used by hundreds of cases before.

Luckily, because I was the type of associate who never said no to projects (more on that later) I got thrown into a trade secret dispute fairly early in my career. In 2015, trade secret law was a patchwork of differing state laws. In 2016 the Defend Trade Secrets Act went into effect, which created a uniform federal statutory framework for trade secret misappropriation claims.

This was the excitement I was looking for in my career! Unlike property law, trade secret misappropriation law was largely undeveloped. I was able to be creative in my arguments. How would an analogous state law apply to a new federal law claim? Where did standard breach of contract law come into play? What are the policy reasons a judge should decide this new case law in a specific way I wanted? I was doing what a early mentor called “earning your bar card” by crafting creative legal solutions to problems rather than just doing things how they were always done. This was the intellectually stimulating work I became a lawyer to do.

From this work, I also got thrown into other intellectual property work like copyright and trademark matters. I loved learning about my clients’ business objectives, products, and how their intellectual property assets fit within those products and objectives. As one of the only associates with experience in this new area of law, I got to do things typically reserved at BigLaw for much more senior associates. I took corporate representative and expert depositions. I first and second chaired trials. I spent three months living out of a hotel in San Jose litigating a multi-billion dollar trade secret trial where our co-Defendant was Facebook. I was the primary drafter on dispositive motions in cases where the amounts in dispute exceeded $100 million. Things which are typically reserved for people with 10+ years of experience, I was doing on my second year out of law school.

But never saying no to projects took a toll. I was working 60-70 hours on the average week. 100+ hour weeks or 350+ hour months were not uncommon occurrences. My relationships with friends, family, and loved ones suffered. My physical and mental health was at an all-time low. When Trump gave his first presidential address on the Covid-19 pandemic in March of 2020, I remember exactly where I was. I was in a Kansas City hotel war room, preparing for trial, coming off one of those 100+ hour weeks, with an expected 3-4 more similar weeks ahead of me. When the trial was postponed due to Covid and I was driving home, I was listening to a podcast I listened to for years. I found myself laughing out loud for the first time in recently memory. It dawned on me how deeply unhappy I had been that I couldn’t even find enjoyment in goofy sports podcasts because of my prior workload.

I updated my resume and started looking for new positions the next day. While the Covid pandemic and associated legal slowdown made the search difficult, I ended up at Chilton Yambert Porter which was a great landing spot. It is a highly respected litigation boutique, so I still got to do the complex litigation I loved, but the hours were relaxed and I had free time to pursue other passions. Which lead to me discovering and diving head first into NFTs.

Immersion into NFTs

In late 2020, early 2021 I was introduced to NFTs by NBA Topshot. Prior to that I had dabbled in crypto and did a little crypto day trading on Binance, but nothing substantial. TopShot was a use case I could understand. Digital collectables, similar to physical collectables, but with provenance and authenticity 100% available on the blockchain. No need to hire third-party authenticators or worry about forgeries. As an early TopShot user I made very good money, and was exposed to collectors like dingaling who were in all sorts of other NFT ventures. That lead to minting Zed digital race horses; another use case I easily understood. While I was skeptical of profile picture projects at first (leading me to pass on Bored Apes, much to my later chagrin) I eventually dove into all sorts of projects. Some I bought just to flip, some I loved and failed, some I hated at first and boomed. I gained friends in the space, learned about what goes into NFT marketing and technical development, and otherwise was immersed in the industry.

Throughout, I noticed legally dubious things happening which nobody was talking about in the Web3 wild wild west. Copyright laws, consumer protection statutes, and contract violations seemed to be broken regularly and with reckless disregard. I started this blog primarily to warn friends and others in the space about the dangers of copyright violations and how that could legally wreck not just project developers but also anybody who bought or sold those potentially infringing works. That lead to other articles on all sorts of topics related to NFTs.

As one of the few practicing attorneys speaking about these issues in the space, people started approaching me to navigate the intersect between code-is-law and law-is-law when pursing NFT-related ventures. Similar to my trade secret work, this new area was professionally exciting. I have the opportunity in the space to help develop the law, assist in the launch of future Amazons and Facebooks of Web3, and have clients who are passionate about their work. The only problem? It was quickly apparent the needs of my new full service clients exceeded what I could provide them from a small litigation boutique firm.

Search For Current Firm

As I began searching for the firm which would allow me to take my NFT practice to the next level I had two major requirements. (1) they had to be a full service firm so I would have attorneys with subject matter expertise in all areas of law my clients could possibly need. Tax, intellectual property, corporate structuring, litigation, etc.; and (2) it had to be Midwest based to allow me to continue to offer reasonable billable rates to my largely start-up and rate focused clients (which I knew wouldn’t be possible at most large coastal firms).

Polsinelli was the top of my list. I am not a corporate structuring attorney and never will be. When my clients had corporate structuring needs, I would often send them to Kevin Smith, who is a good friend and I knew worked with others in the NFT space. From working with him and his colleagues, I knew Polsinelli would be the perfect landing spot. Polsinelli has a deep bench of fintech and blockchain attorneys, encourages and supports associates pursuing new areas of work (such as my NFT practice), and is highly regarded in virtually all areas of law.

While I had a few other competing offers, it was readily apparent that Polsinelli was the best fit for my growing NFT practice. By joining the Tech Transactions and Data Privacy team, I will be able to focus nearly exclusively on Web3 clients and Web3 adjacent clients to continue growing my network and provide more comprehensive services to my own clients. While I will be doing far less of the litigation I love, I will be pursuing a new and equal love of helping others pursue their dreams through Web3 technology and businesses.

I would be lying if I said this is where I expected to be two years ago. Now that I am here, I couldn’t be more excited for my career in this space. In our post-pandemic world we are seeing how the digital world can be used to connect people and businesses in new and exciting ways. There is a reason all the major players in Web2 have announced Metaverse/Web3 plans. The technology has limitless use cases, and the people in the space now are the people who will determine how those use cases are developed and implemented into everyday life.

Where The Space is Going

Is it scary to leave a great job and turn down other more stable legal jobs to pursue Web3 legal work full time? Unquestionably yes! I would much rather be starting this new role while crypto is pumping and everybody is getting rich and happy. But I wouldn’t be making this career shift for something I thought would be a flash in the pan. Everybody knew a market correction would come eventually. This, however, is when real builders build. No distractions or attempts to copy the newest shiny object. Real building, to create the infrastructure necessary to deliver on the project goals which were promised. I want to be there with all the resources possible to help them build and grow through this industry upheaval.

It’s exciting to know in the future I will be playing video games with digital assets I can buy and sell on secondary markets, investing in business ventures through DAOs, forming deep friendships with people in the metaverse, provided tokenized ownership stakes into the platforms I invest my time and money in, and treated as a partner rather than the product I am treated as in the current Web2 infrastructure. I have the privilege of working on the forefront of this new industry, and I cannot wait to see where we all collectively can take it.

While I expect many of the businesses in the industry today will fail (just like most early Web1 and Web2 platforms failed), for the ones that do make it, the sky is the limit. It is not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when/how those technologies are implemented into every day life and existing businesses. I look forward to helping new and old businesses alike change the world with this exciting technology.

Conclusion

Before I end this blog, I need to thank everybody who helped me along the way. All the Blockchain Barristers who shared my blogs and otherwise helped me navigate the space. My IRL friend group text forever titled “Zeddy Boyz” who would talk NFT degen stuff with me all hours of the day when most my other non-crypto native friends were sick of hearing about the newest monkey .jpg project. All my early NFT clients who took a risk on an associate at a litigation boutique to help them navigate all the legal issues surrounding the NFT industry. Without all of you, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I am forever grateful for your advice and support.

When I told my current clients about my impending move, 100% of them let me know they were sticking with me as their attorney no matter what firm I was at. It’s reaffirming to know that that Web3 work I am doing is valued and appreciated. I promise to continue to deliver the best representation possible to both old and new clients, now supported by a firm of over 800 other attorneys and associated resources. I cannot wait to see where we can take this space together.

Now, it’s time for the real work to begin! If you have any questions or would like me to write about anything law and NFT related, let me know on either of my twitter pages! As always, I am an attorney, I am not your attorney. For legal advice, you should always consult (and pay for) an attorney.

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