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Cryptocurrency poses new ethics questions for lawyers

In the past few years, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum steadily gained credibility in the global finance market. Still, cryptocurrency—a digital or virtual medium of exchange-- is so new that many people barely know of it, let alone understand it. But as this new type of currency gains mainstream traction, it is raising complex issues in numerous fields.

Only one state—Nebraska—has issued an ethics opinion regarding cryptocurrency. And as many lawyers have found, accepting payment via cryptocurrency has opened a floodgate of legal ethics quandaries.

New currency, and new ethics

There is remarkably little precedent regarding cryptocurrency. There are very few laws addressing these virtual assets. Currently, attorneys have few guidelines regarding the ethical implications of accepting payment with this medium.

The ethics opinion issued by the state of Nebraska opinion treats cryptocurrency as property. However, this opinion treats cryptocurrencies different from other forms of property that lawyers might accept as fees for their services, because it requires the attorney to convert it into currency upon receiving it. Objectors say that there is no breach of ethics in accepting cryptocurrency and keeping it as a virtual medium, as long as the transaction is disclosed.

A world of possibilities…and legal trouble

Cryptocurrency is an exciting, if bewildering, new frontier for currency. It has the potential to completely transform how people around the world use money. But it will also pose numerous ethical challenges. Lawyers who accept cryptocurrency may run into legal snafus, including professional malpractice lawsuits. As attorneys navigate the complex and murky world of accepting payments via Bitcoin, Ethereum and other digital currencies, they must remain vigilant about minding the law and keeping up to date on the ethics of cryptocurrency.

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