MetaLawMan, X Hall of Flame – Cointelegraph Magazine
Crypto lawyer James Murphy — better known online as “MetaLawMan”— found himself in an odd situation where he became a creditor of the bankrupt crypto exchange FTX while, at the same time, CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was sharing his posts slamming the exchange.
“Sam Bankman-Fried started reposting my stuff, which is wild because some of my stuff would say like, ‘It appears that FTX was a criminal enterprise from the beginning,’ and he would repost that,” Murphy explains.
Murphy became prominent in crypto for digging into Bankman-Fried’s bail situation after the collapse of FTX in November 2022. Murphy claims “there was no bail bond” and that the math didn’t tally up to the $250 million U.S. prosecutors claimed.
He notes that Bankman-Fried’s parents’ house was worth “$3 or $4 million” and that a couple of co-signers only put up “a few hundred thousand dollars.”
“It was simply a press release to mollify people who would be outraged to see that this white-collar criminal got out on bail and committed one of the largest frauds in the history of our country.”
He wrote a funny article about it, “Bankman-Fried’s Incredible Shrinking ‘$250 Million Bond,’” in December 2022, which got “millions of views.” Out of nowhere, Murphy’s inbox was flooded with requests for TV, radio and podcast appearances.
It was totally unplanned, given that Murphy was trying to ease into retirement at the time.
“This was not actually what I had in mind. I just wanted to be sort of anonymous,” he states.
If you’ve been following major crypto publications covering crypto’s various legal headaches in the past year, you’ve probably come across Murphy’s posts embedded in an article here and there.
Murphy first got into crypto when JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was trash-talking Bitcoin in 2017. Murphy says he started looking into it with a crypto-skeptic mindset.
“Jamie Dimon said that Bitcoin was a Ponzi scheme,” Murphy explains. But Murphy actually read Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin white paper and concluded that Bitcoin “is clearly not a Ponzi scheme.”
After more digging, he completely switched gears, switching his Wall Street bank-focused law firm (launched in 2010) to become solely crypto-focused.
He was soon working with many of the major crypto exchanges and blockchain gaming firms, although he is keen to clarify that he wasn’t representing some of the more trouble-plagued names.
“We did not, as far as I can recall, represent Binance or FTX, but we represented everyone else. All of the big players you can think of we represented,” he says.
Showing the moral flexibility the legal profession is known for, he spotted a loophole in his law firm’s rental agreement that allowed him to mine Bitcoin using free electricity.
“It had a provision that said the electricity cost is included in the rent,” he laughs, explaining that each lot was not separately metered nor charged for how much they used. As a result, his cost per kilowatt-hour “for mining Bitcoin was zero.”
“In that circumstance, I concluded it would be immoral not to mine Bitcoin when you’re paying nothing for the electricity,” Murphy says.
What led to X fame?
Compared to the big guys, Murphy has a more modest-sized social media following of 34,000 followers.
But for a lawyer, he’s punching well above average and has more influence in the media and crypto industry than the raw numbers suggest. He says he just stumbled into it.
“It’s a little bit by accident. My objective for getting on Twitter was not to get a big following or figure out some way to monetize it.”
Murphy only signed up for X in February 2022, just in time to start posting about the catastrophic mess at FTX.
It was his digging into the downfall of FTX and a warm welcome from the XRP community desperate for a legal interpreter that really helped boost his following to 34,000.
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And he’s officially considered a celebrity, according to the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority, which accords that status to anyone with over 30,000 followers.
His appearance on Bitcoin advocate Mark Moss’ radio show saw him pick up fans in the XRP community when he rejected Moss’ idea that Bitcoin is the one true coin and everything else is a shitcoin.
“His position is that all other coins are bad and fraudulent and shouldn’t exist. Whatever. I pushed back,” he explains, bringing up XRP.
“I told him I see all of these other countries using it for cross-border transactions and for exchange settlement, and things of that nature. So, it seems like there’s something there,” he explains.
Soon after, he was invited on XRP-themed shows left, right and center, which saw him get interested in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s case against Ripple.
What type of content do you do?
Murphy called himself MetaLawMan because he was aiming to be the go-to online legal expert for everything to do with the metaverse.
“There was stuff popping up about people committing crime in the metaverse and who’s gonna go investigate that crime and prosecute the avatar.”
However, that took a bit of a backseat when all the FTX drama unfolded. That said, he’s not aiming to be a legal newsbreaker.
He’s retired, so while he might cover important court filings eventually, don’t expect him to work with those crazy five-minute deadlines like other journalists.
“I like being retired. So, when I have something to say, I’ll just say it. But I’m not trying to create a big following and monetize this, which Is a big advantage.”
What type of content do you like?
Murphy is a fan of his fellow crypto law influencers, especially pro-XRP lawyers John Deaton and Jeremy Hogan.
In the industry more broadly, he likes Scott Melker, aka “The Wolf of All Streets,” and the Digital Asset Investor.
“I have tremendous respect for these big guys in the area,” he explains.
When things go down in the industry, you’ll often catch Murphy hopping onto The Wolf of All Streets podcast to break down all the legal jargon into everyday language.
We usually stick to predicting prices, but when you’ve got a lawyer on Hall of Flame, you might as well ask them to forecast how all the lawsuits in the crypto industry will play out.
Murphy was happy to answer, but he went full lawyer mode on me and demanded to say a disclaimer first:
“You must include this statement. I’ll answer your question, but this is not legal advice just because I’m a lawyer.”
Murphy’s pretty confident the SEC will fail in its lawsuit against crypto exchange Coinbase, which they slapped on them back in June 2023, around the same time they went after Binance.
“Coinbase is going to win their case. I believe the SEC is wrong. They’ve gone too far in trying to make the case that the tokens on the secondary market are investment contracts when that is not correct,” he says.
On Jan. 17, Coinbase requested that the court completely throw out the lawsuit brought forth by the SEC.
Murphy says that in his reading, there’s no investment contract between the investors and the exchange.
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“Investors are buying a token which aligns their interest with the interest of the promoters of the underlying project, but they are sure as heck not investing in that project,” he explains.
And he argues that, unlike shares, buying crypto tokens doesn’t give you any ownership in the company behind the tokens. FTT tokenholders, for example, don’t own part of FTX.
“They don’t gain any ownership in the project. They’re not going to share any profits from the project. They are not investing in the project.”
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Ciaran Lyons is an Australian crypto journalist. He’s also a standup comedian and has been a radio and TV presenter on Triple J, SBS and The Project.