“It is one of the best areas for lawyers to work in,” says Addison Cameron-Huff in his clear, measured tone when asked about working in an environment where the rules are still being formed. “There's an interesting moment and challenge every single day.”
As President of Decentral Inc., Cameron-Huff is the epitome of agile and adaptable. In this new and emerging world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, he is one of the select people helping to shape the legal landscape—without textbooks or case law to rely on.
A large part of his role involves “judging where things are headed and preparing the company to deal with them, which in this space is a bigger issue than in most.” He explains, “[The people in government] want to do a good job and they look to industry to know what ‘doing a good job’ means. So my role gets to impact the legislation and regulations in Canada primarily but in the United States a little bit, which is very unique for such a small company.”
Founded and led by CEO Anthony Di Iorio, Decentral boasts the Ethereum blockchain, a decentralized platform that runs smart contracts; and the blockchain interface Jaxx, a freely available cryptocurrency wallet to enable people to manage their digital assets.
Like most in-house counsel, Cameron-Huff’s path to this position was not planned. He started his legal career as a student at Research in Motion, in the technology licensing group. At the time, they had one of the largest, most sophisticated commercial in-house counsel groups in Canada. Then he articled at McCarthy Tétrault, where he worked for “some of the best technology law minds in the country.” At the end of articling, he started his own technology law practice.
“When I first started doing legal work for cryptocurrency companies, it was a tiny niche that few people had heard of. It was technically complex and presented novel legal issues,” he says. “After building my practice and profile for several years, I became one of the few lawyers in Canada who could say that they did blockchain law full-time.”
One of his early clients was then-unknown Di Iorio, now one of the most successful people in the cryptocurrency industry. “He often tells people that I was the only lawyer who came to visit his office when he asked for a meeting,” recounts Cameron-Huff.
That work became the majority of his business, so when he was offered the position of Chief Legal Officer at Decentral in September 2017, he made the move in-house. The company’s growth has been steady and swift, with Cameron-Huff being promoted to President two short months later and a new General Counsel being hired in 2018.
“I am not quite out of it. I still deal with the company’s legal matters, some of them anyway,” he says of his promotion. “[But] it’s more that I am on a team of people dealing with it, rather than handling it all on my own, which is nice.”
“[The CLO role was] already a management job.… Now I have a broader mandate of management rather than just the legal items,” he explains. “But even the idea of someone who is in-house counsel dealing with purely legal matters is just fiction!”
Since joining Decentral only one year ago, the staff has gone from 12 to 50—and continues to grow.
“Today we have one of the most respected blockchain development teams in the country and also one of the nicest,” he asserts. “I say ‘nicest’ deliberately. One of the challenges of tripling a company is maintaining a positive culture. We've been sure to scale while also building to a positive place where people are respected, feel empowered and they agree with the company's viewpoint. I feel strongly that this is the right thing to do, and it's paid off for us in terms of employee retention and hiring great people. Ethics is of critical importance in my personal life, in law and in building a long-term business.”
Cameron-Huff firmly believes ethics are an asset, not a cost: “I have said no to a variety of requests over my legal career that were unethical, unprofessional or were off-side of the rules for Ontario lawyers.… Someone may ask a lawyer to bend or break a rule (whether or not they realize it) but they'll usually also appreciate someone who can be trusted to consistently follow the rules. That's the sort of lawyer I've worked for in the past, who I would want to hire and it's the sort of lawyer I've strived to be in my career.”
He also believes in sharing his views and experience. He cites his blog as one of his most worthwhile career investments: “It took a lot of time and paid $0 per hour (which was something to think about when I was first starting my law practice!), but it ended up being essential for my career. Writing for the public demonstrates your knowledge, leads to interesting connections and is a way of giving back to the community.” As in-house counsel, he continues to share through Decentral’s blog.
Another secret to his success has been taking the time to learn. “I've been successful as a lawyer because of my knowledge outside of law,” he says. “When I was at Research in Motion I read about every company product, upcoming initiatives, and industry developments. As an independent technology lawyer, I learned everything I could about the details of cryptocurrency so that I knew more than almost all of my clients about the technical workings and industry developments. In my current position, I spend time every day reading about the industry and emerging technological developments.”
Indeed, it is critical that he is well informed and up to date: “Being in the blockchain industry means making important decisions in an environment of very high uncertainty. [We] have to make quick decisions as to which opportunities to explore, without solid information because the space is evolving every day.”
While this environment is not for everyone, it has allowed Cameron-Huff to thrive: “We have the opportunity to build an industry and help to shape it in a positive direction. I spent many years as a lawyer working reactively (often being engaged once something was underway), so I find it refreshing to be working so proactively.”
This article was initially published in the Fall 2018 issue of CCCA Magazine.