When Technology Gets Ahead of Legal Considerations
“What I enjoy most about my job is my ability to help people accomplish their goals,” said Elaine Wyder-Harshman. “Whether it is helping clients protect their intellectual property or applying regulations to a client’s idea in blockchain, I enjoy what I do.”
Elaine Wyder-Harshman is a Partner at Convex Legal, a boutique law firm that services clients in the securities, trading, entertainment and emerging technologies fields. We sat down with Elaine to learn more about how her passion for intellectual property led to the blockchain space, how she helps her clients navigate an uncertain landscape and why she sees so much potential in blockchain technology.
After getting her J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law, Elaine started her career as an appellate litigator in the Civil Appeals Division of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. After spending seven years there, she entered private practice and became a corporate/transactional lawyer with a focus on securities and intellectual property.
While she was studying fine arts in undergrad, it was intellectual property that really caught her attention.
“When art became digitized my interest in intellectual property grew and it inspired me to learn how to code,” she said. “I coded for interactive media for several years before turning to law.”
She began working with blockchain in 2014 focusing on the legal issues involved with cryptocurrency investments.
“The law was even less developed than it is now, and it has been a great challenge to understand the possibilities within blockchain,” she said.
Elaine and her partner Christopher Williams, whom she met through mutual friends, launched Convex Legal in March of 2018.
“Chris had the regulatory background, an entrepreneurial spirit and tremendous energy. I knew right away that I wanted to work with him,” she said. “We chose to help firms in the blockchain space because it was an opportunity to make a difference in an emerging field. We were already familiar with the regulations that were becoming an issue for blockchain and cryptocurrencies.”
Convex Legal works with technologists, the creative industry, and financiers to navigate the legal requirements of their fields. Elaine says she is able to help clients take calculated risks to accomplish their goals.
“Some of the biggest challenges I see for my clients is when a technology gets ahead of the legal considerations,” she said. “Also, sometimes blockchain clients have significant problems with banking because banks, in my experience, are leery of blockchain and cryptocurrency companies.”
Another issue Elaine sees is getting government and advocacy groups working together to integrate blockchain applications into existing infrastructure. She sees this happening through more legislation though.
“States like Arizona and Wyoming have taken the lead in exploring regulatory sandboxes and blockchain regulations,” she said. “However, there is a lot of controversy about loosening regulations and whether this would help or harm investors.”
Chicago's Foundation of Knowledge
Elaine said that she consistently updates her clients and their involved parties on the regulations for each state that they are doing business in.
“A lot of our clients already trade commodities so we help them with additional registrations to trade cryptocurrencies too,” she said. “We want to help our clients grow their business so that regulations guide them, rather than hold them back.”
Elaine explained that there was a large shift in awareness of the need to comply with regulatory guidelines about a year ago.
“We watched as many firms realized that their business model fell under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission,” she said. “This forced them to re-evaluate their business models. Not only did they need to make sure they were regulatory compliant but also, that their offering made sense under this new regulated landscape.”
One of the reasons Elaine is passionate about helping clients in the blockchain space is that she sees the potential of blockchain applications. She believes this market will continue to grow, especially in Chicago.
“Chicago’s community has an amazing array of people working on blockchain projects. Some are dedicated to the ideals of decentralization, and others are traders who see it as an area to make money due to the level of volatility in crypto,” she said. “Let’s not forget, Chicago is home to modern derivatives. We have built a great foundation of knowledge on which we can create a sustainable structure.”
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