Coinbase Hires Morgan Stanley Lawyer as it Plans to Go Public

Coinbase Global Inc., the largest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange that expects to go public in April, has brought on veteran Morgan Stanley lawyer Ian Rooney as its new head of enterprise compliance.

The San Francisco-based company also hired Molly Abraham this month as an associate general counsel for commercial. She was most recently general counsel at general counsel for flying car startup Kitty Hawk Inc.

The latest batch of legal hires, confirmed by Coinbase spokesman Elliott Suthers, comes a month after the company added a new compliance chief and a half-dozen other lawyers, including associate general counsel Lindsay Danas Cohen and product counsel Alexander Zozos and Kenneth Hwang.

Coinbase plans to go public through a direct listing, an alternative to an initial public offering, Bloomberg News recently reported. Shares trading in private auctions potentially value Coinbase at up to $100 billion. Company co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong could reap a $3 billion windfall from the listing.

As part of its going-public process, Coinbase disclosed some potential legal liabilities it faces from state and federal probes of its operations. The company also this week announced its addition of a new non-lawyer head of capital markets in Brett Redfearn.

Rooney, a former Davis Polk & Wardwell associate, has spent the past decade at Morgan Stanley, where he was most recently a managing director and head of global financial crimes infrastructure compliance in New York. Abraham, a former associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, joins Coinbase after four years at Mountain View, Calif.-based Kitty Hawk, which is backed by Alphabet Inc. co-founder Larry Page.

Abraham, in a message she wrote this month on LinkedIn, said she was excited to be making the switch “from flying cars to crypto.” She didn’t respond to a request for comment about her decision to leave Kitty Hawk, which has promoted her former deputy, Angela Gandhi, to be its head of legal.

Danas Cohen was previously general counsel at Orchard Platform Markets LLC, a lending data and services startup sold in 2018 to Kabbage Inc. She then spent more than two years as legal chief for Velocity Markets Inc., a digital asset startup sold this past November to San Francisco-based Securitize Inc.

Legal Needs

A trio of other in-house additions joined Abraham and Rooney at the company this month. Grant Rabenn, who spent the past decade as a federal prosecutor in Sacramento and Fresno, Calif., was hired as an associate general counsel for Treasury Department and Justice Department matters.

Armstrong Teasdale corporate services partner Thor Mathison in St. Louis also came aboard as an associate general counsel. Arya Sadeghi, a principal corporate counsel at data analytics company CoreLogic Inc. in Irvine, Calif., was hired as senior counsel.

Isabelle Young, a senior litigation counsel at Google LLC, where the former Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton associate spent a dozen years at the Alphabet affiliate, was hired by Coinbase in February as a director and associate general counsel for litigation.

The company for the past year has been expanding its legal staff under chief legal officer Paul Grewal, who joined the company last summer. Coinbase disclosed in securities filings last month that Grewal received more than $18 million in total compensation after being hired from Facebook Inc.

Coinbase has tapped Fenwick & West to advise on its direct listing. The company said in recent securities filings that it expects to incur more than $2.7 million in legal fees and expenses in going public.

Fenwick, in a practice common among its Silicon Valley brethren, noted in the same filings that “individuals and entities associated” with the firm “beneficially own an aggregate of less than 0.01%” of Coinbase’s capital stock, which will convert to Class B common stock when the company eventually goes public.

Latham & Watkins is representing financial advisers on Coinbase’s direct listing.