Lee A. Schneider. Courtesy photo

Lee A. Schneider, one of the foremost fintech law practitioners, has left McDermott Will & Emery to become general counsel of blockchain software developer Block.one, effective June 4.

Schneider will be responsible for all of the company’s legal, regulatory and compliance affairs, according to an announcement from the company on Tuesday. Block.one bills itself as the  world’s largest blockchain developer and the author of the EOSIO software. It is a Cayman company with offices globally, including Hong Kong and the United States.

Schneider had just joined McDermott’s financial institutions advisory group in October 2017 from Debevoise & Plimpton, where he was head of broker-dealer and fintech practices. His relatively quick succession of job changes illustrates the hot market for fintech attorneys who are moving around often.

“Firms are looking for their Odysseus to help navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of cryptocurrency regulation,” said Gary DeWaal, special counsel in financial services regulation at Katten Muchin Rosenman in New York and a fellow fintech expert, of the startling lateral movement among fintech notables such as Schneider.

Block.one CEO Brendan Blumer said in a statement, “Lee’s unique legal expertise and leadership in blockchain makes him an ideal fit for our business. His background spans many of the most important companies and projects in the space and he has practical experience on both the technology itself and its real-world applications.”

Schneider said, “I’m excited to join at this critical moment in the development of blockchain technologies. Block.one is a diverse business with grand ambitions and unprecedented growth potential, and I look forward to contributing to the firm’s successes,” in the announcement of his hire. He didn’t respond to an interview request by deadline.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, David L. Taub, head of McDermott’s financial institutions advisory practice group, said, “it has been a pleasure working alongside Lee to further enhance McDermott’s premier fintech/blockchain practice.”

“We wish him the very best, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with Lee as a client and a valued member of McDermott’s alumni network,” Taub wrote. 

A prominent figure in cryptocurrency and blockchain circles, Schneider created and co-hosts “Appetite for Disruption,” a bi-weekly podcast with former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission member Troy Paredes on fintech issues, and contributed to a regulatory guidance publication, “A Securities Law Framework for Blockchain Tokens” developed by Coinbase Inc.

Schneider also co-founded Genesis Block, a blockchain advisory and consulting group in 2017.

He joined McDermott last fall with partner Lilya Tessler and associate Verity Van Tassel Richards, both of whom were associates at Debevoise.  He holds a J.D. from American University’s Washington College of Law.

DeWaal said of his fellow fintech practitioner, “Lee is a real thought leader in the space. He developed the practice first at Debevoise when no one knew what the word ‘cryptocurrency’ meant.”

Competition for regulatory and litigation expertise in the fast-growing blockchain/cryptocurrency fields is intense, with lawyers jumping often among firms that are trying to grow their practices by luring top talent away from others. 

One top lawyer in this space who has moved recently is Kathleen Moriarty, a partner in Chapman and Cutler’s corporate and securities department in New York, who is also an expert on exchange-traded funds and an advocate for a bitcoin ETF. Moriarty practiced at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and Katten Muchin before moving to Cutler in October of last year. 

Government lawyers who have worked on these matters are also leaving their posts for in-house and law firm jobs. Andrew Ridenour, a general attorney at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission recently joined GDAX digital asset exchange at Coinbase as counsel.

DeWaal said, “demand for legal practitioners with expertise is overwhelming. This is a very challenging area of law with very little certainty and there are a wide group of firms that want to do the right thing.”

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