Crypto Agency Bison Trails Faucets Ex-Goldman Lawyer as Authorized Chief

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Crypto Firm Bison Trails Taps Ex-Goldman Lawyer as Legal Chief

Bison Trails Co., a founding member of digital currency group the Libra Association, has recruited a former in-house lawyer from The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to be its first general counsel.

Elizabeth Ralston began working remotely as Bison Trails’ first in-house lawyer last month, she told Bloomberg Law. The move comes eight months after the company—founded in October 2018 and backed by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins—raised nearly $26 million in a Series C funding round led by Blockchain Capital LLC and Coinbase Ventures, an affiliate of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase Inc.

In July, Coinbase recruited Paul Grewal, a former deputy general counsel at Facebook Inc. Grewal’s hire was the latest in a string of notable in-house additions in the cryptocurrency space, where companies have sought to ramp up their legal and compliance efforts to bolster their credibility with regulators and other financial services institutions.

“As a young and growing industry, it’s important that members engage with global policymakers to help educate and influence the regulations and policies that will undoubtedly have an effect on our future,” Bison Trails founder and CEO Joe Lallouz said in a statement touting Ralston’s hire.

Ralston, who spent four years in Goldman’s legal department, comes to Bison Trails after two-and-a-half years as the sole in-house lawyer at BlockTower Capital Advisors LLP. The Stamford, Conn.-based cryptocurrency and blockchain investment firm was started in 2017 by former Goldman investment manager Matthew Goetz.

Ralston was BlockTower’s legal and compliance director, a role that saw her handle fund formation and regulatory work, as well as negotiate numerous agreements with other cryptocurrency exchanges, custodians, OTC desks, and software and service providers.

Lallouz touted Ralston’s experience at BlockTower navigating an emerging regulatory environment for digital currencies. He said Ralston “will help drive strategy and operations as they intersect with risk, legal, policy, and compliance.”

Regulatory Wrangling

Bison Trails is a member of Libra and the Celo Alliance for Prosperity, a rival global cryptocurrency group seeking to use digital assets as a means of increasing financial access and inclusion.

Ralston declined to discuss Bison Trails’ involvement in those organizations, which have attracted the attention of regulators over their efforts to broaden the appeal of virtual currencies.

In May, Libra hired financial crimes compliance expert Robert Werner as general counsel, a move that followed Libra’s addition of CEO Stuart Levey, Werner’s former colleague at the Treasury Department and HSBC Holdings PLC.

Ralston said she’ll be doing some policy work at Bison Trails to try and clear the regulatory cloud that surrounds cryptocurrencies. Gunderson Dettmer has been a primary legal adviser to Bison Trails early on, said Ralston, adding she expects to reach out to other law firms to help her engage regulators.

“There are a lot of good actors in the space who want to do the right thing,” Ralston said. “We want to educate regulators and advocate for the industry by coming up with a good regulatory framework that protects the public interest.”

One key regulator is Brian Brooks, a former legal chief at Coinbase who now serves as acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Ralston’s praised Brooks’ appointment, noting she hopes his in-house background at Coinbase “gives other regulatory agencies more comfort that there are legitimate people working in this space.”

The digital currency arena got a boost in late July when the OCC said that licensed U.S. banks and savings associations can hold cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple for their customers.

“It’s a really important technology,” Ralston said. “It would be really unfortunate if the regulatory environment quashes this industry and doesn’t allow it to progress.”

Other Crypto Openings

Ralston, who jokingly noted she’s paid in cash, not cryptocurrency, joins other new legal chiefs hired this summer at cryptocurrency-focused outfits like BlockFi Inc. and Paradigm Operations LP.

Anchorage Hold LLC, a cryptocurrency custodian backed by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and blockchain payments company Circle Internet Financial Ltd., both of whom saw their former general counsels recently depart for two separate fintech companies, are looking for new top lawyers.

Paxos Trust Co. LLC, another cryptocurrency startup that earlier this year hired former WeWork Cos. Inc. associate general counsel for global compliance and ethics Emily Meyers as deputy general counsel, is in the market for another deputy legal chief.

Bitfarms Ltd., a Toronto-based owner and operator of blockchain farms, announced June 1 the resignation of general counsel Ryan Hornby and has yet to name a replacement.