Bitcoins are NOT money?

 d6b179aecb76ff5af20a0314ced0de0e3036ca623fba316662d040285b98685cUnless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years (or maybe a ‘bricked’ phone, as it were), you’ve surely heard of Bitcoin by now – the digital currency… or… commodity… or, wait, what is it?

Exactly.

Bitcoin first gained significant attention when the Silk Road was exposed – an anonymous online market for the trade and sale of everything illegal, dangerous, illicit, and corrupt. From buying drugs, to hiring hitmen and prostitutes, the untraceable “currency” provided users with the ability to exchange ‘value’ for products and services without ever being tied to a government regulated or monitored transaction (i.e. credit cards, PayPal, etc). Although the FBI took care of the website, Bitcoin itself continued on. And, since then, its popularity has only surged as an online payment alternative. It even has its own exchange market, the BTC-E! However, it remains just an online exchange and not “real money” … right?

For one lucky Florida criminal, that questionable discrepancy just landed him a win.

In 2013, the Miami Beach Police, in conjunction with the U.S Secret Service’s Miami Electronic Crimes Task Force, set up a sting operation to weed out illegal activity via the Bitcoin market. They found Michell Espinoza, aka Michellhack, who it turned out was using Bitcoins to purchase stolen credit cards from the Russians. Fast forward through the operation to 2015 when Mr. Espinoza was arrested and charged with one count of “engaging in business as a money services business, to wit, a money transmitter” and one count of money laundering.

Sounds about as guilty as it gets, right? Then just how was the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss granted? According to Florida State Court Judge Teresa Mary Pooler, Bitcoin is not money and therefore not within the purview of the criminal statutes charged.

In Judge Pooler’s Opinion, she articulates numerous reasons as to why Bitcoin cannot be considered money. For starters, “virtual currency” is treated by the Federal government as property for tax purposes (see IRS Notice 2014-21). To continue, however, Bitcoin is not commonly accepted by merchants; it has a highly volatile fluctuating market (at one time valued 18x greater than the U.S. dollar), with insufficient liquidity and an uncertain future value; and it is decentralized without a reserve, failing to be backed by anything. Oh, yea, and it “cannot be hidden under a mattress like cash and gold bars”.

… Uncertain future value, not backed by anything… If you ask me, that sounds a lot like the U.S. dollar

Regardless, I often write about how our legal system is playing catch-up with an increasing transition to digital ‘everything’. Passing new legislation can be an arduous, lengthy process of research, commentary, and amendment, which by the time is done could already be replaced by the next new thing. But when the topic at hand is currency – very much ‘the thing that makes the world go round’ – it’s not at all surprising to see added backlash by the judicial system; setting precedent which may only further weaken the dollar and/or encourage a shift away from Federally-issued currency is not a favorable position to take.

Eventually, this is an issue which the United States Supreme Court will have to weigh in on. In the meantime, Bitcoin will continue to be traded, exchanged, used and valued, as all things are in a free market.

When Age Exceeds Experience: Too Old to Practice Law?

A Growing Trend of Growing Pains in Growing Too Old

Too Old for this Shit

When you choose a lawyer, what do you look for? Fair rates? Good reputation? Experience, certainly. But at what point does age no longer balance the scale in favor of experience? When does the length of time practicing and experience gained therefrom simply spill over, becoming ‘too old to competently practice’? And what, if anything, should the community at-large do about it?

It’s no secret that the legal market is over-saturated; there are more attorneys than jobs to staff them all, and more services offered than clients to need it. The obvious factor? Economics. But beyond the obvious is a subtler – and perhaps more troubling – factor in this equation: aged attorneys too old to competently practice, and an ego that overlooks a client’s best interests.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the oldest Justice on the Supreme Court) turns 83 years old next March. Antonin Scalia turns 80 just four days before her. But when it comes to private practice, many firms say 65 is too old to practice – – and for good reason.

A 2007 survey found that half of all firms nationwide with 50+ attorneys on staff had mandatory retirement ages; 38% of those firms required retirement at age 65, while 36% deferred until age 70. With age discrimination claims forcing action since that survey (like this), the statistics are likely to have dropped. But the practical and sensible reasons behind such policies remain true – and perhaps even more so today with new technologies integrating into all facets of practice.

Lets take a quick poll… Which legal service are you more likely to trust as accurate, fast, and thorough? Which would you prefer be utilized?

                                COLUMN A                                                                COLUMN B

  1. Online legal research (e.g. Lexis, Westlaw, etc.)       vs.      Print books with intermittent updates
  2. 1st level processing (e.g. Microsoft Word)                 vs.      Notes and tape later transcribed by a secretary
  3. First-hand knowledge of the latest technology           vs.      Second-hand instruction from a younger staff

These may, of course, be an oversimplification of the practice. But by-and-large, the dichotomy of knowledge between senior and junior attorneys is just that clear. And would you really expect anything different when one demographic is raised utilizing the very latest-and-greatest of the available tools?

Aside from ensuring these types of services, however, is another problem – mental competency.

As succinctly stated by John T. Berry, chair of the NOBC and Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers’ Joint Committee on Aging Lawyers, it’s a normal reaction for senior lawyers to take it personally when they are told their competencies are being reduced. However, “If we don’t do anything, it’s a disservice to the public and the individual attorney… there is an obligation on you as a professional that you are being objective in your decision making. We have to protect the public, and we have to protect you from having a long-term career ruined because you don’t realize it’s time to slow down or to retire.”

The law is as much a practice of know-how as it is memory and tact. So while the experience which comes with age may certainly benefit a particular knowledge, like the ins-and-outs of a small niche practice, in the long run it may be doing more harm than good. The client should always come before an attorney’s ego, and sometimes that simply means knowing when to step aside.

Every lawyer, like every case, is unique. Some people are as sharp at age 90 as they were at 30, while others can’t remember why they just entered a room. But before you choose your next attorney, it might be worth giving some thought to whether their length of experience is everything it sounds to be.