Cryptocurrency continues to grow in acceptance, but most lawyers have paid little attention to its growth. And really, do they need to bother taking it seriously? You better believe they should! With slow but steady consumer movement toward using cryptocurrency, lawyers who understand and utilize it will be afforded a big advantage over those who don’t. Jared Correia and Felix Shipkevich give listeners a primer on this topic and discuss the latest developments in the cryptocurrency space.
Felix Shipkevich is a principal of Shipkevich PLLC and CEO and founder of Hotspot Law.
Special thanks to our sponsors Scorpion, Nexa, TimeSolv, and Abby Connect.
The Legal Toolkit
Decrypting Cryptocurrency for Lawyers
Intro: Welcome to Legal Toolkit, bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm, with your host Jared Correia. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Hey everybody, faithful listeners, welcome to another episode of the award-winning Legal Toolkit Podcast right here on the Legal Talk Network. If you are looking for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie now streaming, don’t tell me about it. I haven’t seen it yet.
If you are a returning listener, welcome back. If you are a first-time listener, hopefully you will become a longtime listener. And if you are a 1975 Boston Red Sox Fred Lynn throwback jersey, you are in my closet right now.
As always, I am your show host Jared Correia and in addition to casting this pod, I am the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law practice management consulting services for law firms, bar associations and legal vendors. Check us out at redcavelegal.com.
I am also the COO of Gideon Software, Inc., which offers chatbots, a first to market chatbot builder and predictive analytics created specifically for law firms. Find out more at www.gideon.legal.
You can listen to my other other podcast, that’s right, I have a second podcast, it’s called The Lobby List, and it’s a family travel show I host with my dear wife Jessica. That’s on iTunes. So subscribe, rate and comment.
But right here on The Legal Toolkit Show, we provide you a new tool each episode to add to your own legal toolkit so your practices will become more and more like best practices.
In this episode we are going to tread where we have never trod before, trod, trodden, I am not sure, but we are going there. We are going to talk about cryptocurrency and how it relates to small law firms.
But before I introduce today’s guest, let’s take a moment to thank our sponsors.
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My guest today is Felix Shipkevich, Principal of Shipkevich, PLLC and the Founder and CEO of Hotspot Law, a new platform providing consumers free consultations with local attorneys. In his New York-based law practice, Felix is focused on FinTech, so he is a natural to talk about cryptocurrency with us.
So Felix, welcome to the big show my friend.
Felix Shipkevich: Oh, thanks for having me Jared. I am excited.
Jared Correia: As you should be. So you are a Hofstra guy I noticed.
Felix Shipkevich: I am. I teach at Hofstra.
Jared Correia: Graduating from there, you are teaching from there, so I don’t know if you can talk about this without getting in trouble, but like one of the things I was most disappointed about was when Hofstra became the Pride, because it used to be called The Flying Dutchman, which is like, that’s like the dopest sports team nickname ever, like there are so many logo possibilities running through my mind.
Were you upset about this as well? Can you talk about that without getting in trouble?
Felix Shipkevich: I really actually couldn’t care less about it, if I could be candid.
Jared Correia: All right, I am going to carry this flag on my own then I guess.
Felix Shipkevich: Yeah. I think The Flying Dutchman worked really well. I actually don’t know when they switched from The Flying Dutchman to the Hofstra Pride, but hey, I went to law school there, I teach, I think it’s a good institution, great faculty, and love the student body, great student body.
Jared Correia: So profs to Hofstra, but I am just going to add, Flying Dutchman forever.
All right, shall we talk about cryptocurrency? I think we should.
Felix Shipkevich: Let’s do it.
Jared Correia: This is a topic, as I said, like we had never covered it in the history of this show, which is like 12 years. I have been podcasting for maybe too long, but it’s always nice to cover new grounds. So let’s start slow. Can you give everybody a brief description of what cryptocurrency actually is?
Felix Shipkevich: Sure. Well, let’s actually start with the word itself, cryptocurrency. It sounds a little intimidating, right, the word crypto, I mean obviously rises from cryptography as part of the security process for cryptocurrencies. But I never liked the word, to be honest with you. I have been in the space for nine years and I never understood why we don’t call it digital cash.
Jared Correia: I like that.
Felix Shipkevich: Yeah, it’s just such a softer, better and more credible word. I never understood why the crypto got before currency.
But look, in a nutshell, cryptocurrencies are hey, look, digital cash. They obviously could take different forms. They could be in the form of an asset; they could be in terms of a reward or bonus points. But I am a traditionalist in that space, what we call a crypto geek, if that’s the right word to say, I look at cryptocurrencies just going back to bitcoin, which is a medium of exchange, it’s a way to make payments easy, fast and cheap.
Jared Correia: Yes, I think this is a lot like when people refer to the cloud, which is like a horrible way to talk about terminal servers. It sounds like it’s the same issue. If everybody just called it digital cash, we would probably have a better understanding of what this is.
Felix Shipkevich: Do you remember when the term cloud became mainstream, how many people did you run into that would — like they couldn’t understand why — what do you mean hosted in the cloud and they literally would look up at the cloud.
I spoke at one conference about a decade ago where like I had a few individuals look up in the sky.
Jared Correia: Full disclosure, I still run into those people. So now that we have a better idea of what cryptocurrency is, let’s call it digital cash, why should lawyers, like specifically small firm lawyers, care about cryptocurrency because I don’t necessarily think a lot of them do?
Felix Shipkevich: Sure. And I think that there is a pretty big part of our legal community that still doesn’t take it seriously and they think it’s sort of a fad. Kind of think back to mid to late 90s when e-commerce came about and people were a little skeptical about shopping online and they said nah, I am going to still buy my clothes online, or hey, if I need to buy office furniture for my law practice, why would I do anything other than go to a brick and mortar store and pick it up.
So why do they need to care? I mean there really are two reasons. One is there has obviously been an incredible amount of demand for legal services in this space, whether on the payments legal side, on the security side, anti-money laundering side, so there is certainly a demand and if you are in the financial services space and you are ignoring the evolvement of digital cash or cryptocurrency law, I think you are making a huge mistake. You don’t need to become an expert, but you certainly should at least be familiar with the products and services.
The second reason is look, we are becoming more and more a cashless society, right, and I think that if I had a crystal ball in front of me and I had to guess, then in about 10-20 years cash might become obsolete.
I probably have a few podcast listeners that are scratching their head or shaking their head and saying, no, no, that’s not going to happen. But hey, when credit cards came about 40-50 years ago, people didn’t think credit cards would be widely used. When mobile payments came about, people didn’t think that would take off. So we are moving in that direction and my prediction in the next decade or two cash is going to be almost obsolete.
Jared Correia: That makes sense. Like I feel like the only people who care about cash are little kids, like if I give my kids like a quarter, they are like oh my God, it’s a quarter.
Felix Shipkevich: How excited are they.
Jared Correia: Yeah, but I almost never have cash like anymore. I mean it’s like I carry around like debit cards and stuff like that, but it’s not like actually a physical currency. And I think like my grandkids are probably going to be like yo dad, like where is my bitcoin or whatever it’s going to be at that point.
Felix Shipkevich: How much they hate change, carrying that change in the pocket?
Jared Correia: That’s the worst. I just like — I was in the airport the other day and I left probably like $1.80 worth of change on the seat because I just didn’t feel like bringing it on an airplane. So I made some kid’s day.
So let’s turn this around a little bit and talk about why consumers care about cryptocurrency, because part of this is like, if this starts to gain more widespread acceptance and it’s probably gaining acceptance more quickly than lawyers anticipate, like this is going to be a method by which people are going to want to pay lawyers and lawyers are going to need to become more accepting of it. So why do consumers value cryptocurrency and why is that value going to increase over time?
Felix Shipkevich: I think that consumers are just beginning, some consumers, I think if you are looking at — if we look at a specific age group, the Millennials, I think they have accepted cryptocurrency and certainly bitcoin as that medium of exchange, they are excited about it.
Every year when I teach my class at Hofstra Law on the subject, I ask students how many of them own bitcoin and I am always surprised that about 25-30% of the class actually owns bitcoin. I don’t, which — not for any specific reason, I just am not a speculator, but people, consumers love it because it’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s at the fingertips where you could have your digital wallet on your phone, and it’s encrypted, it’s cool.
I mean I am not saying that consumers should particularly care or like a product because it’s innovative and cool, but the reality is it provides them with just easier way to make payments to each other.
And look, something that you basically said just a minute ago, I would not be surprised that if over the next decade, as the space is evolving, as it’s becoming more accepted and more stabilized, because there is also a little bit of like this cryptomania chaos, which is kind of absurd in a way that people overinflate the relevance of cryptocurrency. Sure, it’s relevant, but it’s not that relevant where people are running around and saying it’s the greatest big thing, it’s next to God.
So consumers will probably end up paying their attorneys in crypto. I get asked that question probably 25-30% of all the calls that I receive from potential clients is, can we pay in crypto?
Jared Correia: That’s really interesting. I think that’s a good thing ultimately, and for a lot of lawyers that probably creates a competitive advantage. Like, I have this theory that like if a lawyer is like 1% more innovative than his competitors, like it’s just such a massive competitive advantage. So if you are the lawyer who starts accepting cryptocurrency earlier than your competitors, that’s got to be a competitive advantage when it comes down to it.
Felix Shipkevich: Absolutely, absolutely.
Jared Correia: You know who doesn’t care about cryptocurrency at all, The Flying Dutchman, but I digress.
Felix Shipkevich: Here we go, going back to The Flying Dutchman.
Jared Correia: I know, we brought it full circle. So we are going to take our first break on the show, but we will be back. For now let’s talk about some law firm products you cannot purchase with cryptocurrency as yet. To that end here are some of the things that a reasonable lawyer might consider purchasing, along with a classic Snoopy SNO Cone Maker, that I know you had when you were a kid too.
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Jared Correia: All right, Felix is back with his Snoopy SNO Cone Maker and thank you for sticking with us. We are a quality hang, are we not?
Now that I have located my school arts teacher, let’s get back to our conversation with Felix Shipkevich of Shipkevich PLLC and Hotspot Law. We are talking about how cryptocurrency affects law firms.
So let’s dive right back into it. We are going to continue this conversation about consumers in cryptocurrency. So I don’t know if a lot of folks know this term, but there is this notion that there is a whole class of people in the world, especially globally, and I think the percentage is surprisingly high, who are unbanked, and what that means is these are folks who don’t have a bank account.
So why is it important for lawyers Felix, specifically with global practices, to address cryptocurrency, to meet the needs of consumers who may not have a bank account by which to pay them, which is traditionally how lawyers have relied on getting paid?
Felix Shipkevich: It’s quite amazing that at this point, we are on the verge of 2020, and if you run an international consumer practice, obviously this is more geared towards attorneys who — immigration attorneys and they have clients from countries where it’s just difficult to move money out of that country. If those clients had easy and reliable way to transfer money through the use of cryptocurrency, it would make the clients’ life easier and make the attorneys’ lives easier.
Look what’s going on right now with Venezuela, with the ridiculous depreciation of their currency, and if you have the ability to actually store your assets, your money in the form of cryptocurrency, that doesn’t depreciate at the alarming rate that it does, it would make things a lot easier, right?
So I think one of the — if you look from just a purely public perspective and helping people get out of that unbanked situation outside of the US, boy, that could make things quite a lot simpler.
But listen, we don’t have to travel internationally. I mean post Dodd-Frank we have had over 10,000 banks and credit unions that have closed their doors because of the very high compliance or regulatory cost and we have a tremendous amount of people. And I think you and I are old enough to remember when opening up a bank account required $0 and at this point it’s very hard to find a bank that requires anything other than at least a couple of hundred bucks to open a bank account.
Jared Correia: Speak for yourself my friend, I don’t know what you are talking about.
Felix Shipkevich: Really?
Jared Correia: No, no, I am just kidding. I am old enough to have had like the passbook, right? I had like the little paper that they would give me and I would track everything.
Felix Shipkevich: Yeah, I remember those days and trying to balance a checkbook, yeah.
Jared Correia: If I am old enough to know about the Snoopy SNO Cone Maker, I am definitely old enough to know about like passbooks and savings accounts and that kind of stuff.
So yeah, it’s a totally different world and I think like one of the problems that attorneys have specifically is adjusting to consumer needs. Like so many studies show that like the consumer perceptions about attorneys and what they want from attorneys don’t accurately match what attorneys want to deliver to clients. So there is always that push and pull and this is just another space where it exists I think.
Felix Shipkevich: Yeah, absolutely. Look, I am married to a dentist, so I imagine when my wife and I go to public outings, a lawyer and a dentist, it’s like two devils. Please tell me about a single person that says, I love dentists, I love to sit on the dental chair and have my teeth pulled.
Jared Correia: Interesting. My four-year-old daughter was like waxing poetic about how much she loved going to the dentist one day, which I thought was really weird. So there is at least one person.
Felix Shipkevich: Okay. We will have to have your daughter write a review for my wife’s practice, because nobody likes dentists.
Jared Correia: She will do it. I will set it up for the Google account.
Felix Shipkevich: We will get a few emojis going.
Jared Correia: Right. All right, so this has been a good discussion about cryptocurrency generally, but like let’s turn to one of the hot topics in crypto right now, which is this Facebook-backed cryptocurrency called Libra. What is that and why does it matter?
Felix Shipkevich: Oh, where do we start? I think we are going to need a day for a podcast to talk about Libra.
Libra has been one of the most interesting yet controversial I think product that has come out in 2019. I think that there has been so much excitement on one side of the pond, where everybody is just super excited about this ability to potentially use this coin to transfer funds between individuals of different countries and ultimately helping them bank, right?
Then there is the other side of the coin — the other side of the pond, not the coin, that people are saying, wait a second, hold your horses, Facebook hasn’t really been in a great light since their last election, are we comfortable for Facebook to put together cryptocurrency and potentially become essentially this de facto digital bank for consumers without probably even being regulated as a bank.
And it reminds me, I don’t know if you remember Jared, remember that movie ‘Idiocracy’ from about 12, 13 years ago?
Jared Correia: I just referenced that on my last podcast. It’s a great movie.
Felix Shipkevich: It’s one of my favorite movies. I don’t think that movie got enough credit. Remember that Gatorade story? I don’t think they called it Gatorade, but they eventually ended up buying the FDA.
Jared Correia: Yes, watch ‘Idiocracy’ everybody, please, do yourself this favor.
Felix Shipkevich: There you go. You want to know more about cryptocurrency, watch ‘Idiocracy’ and you will be a pro.
But when you think of something like that, and obviously look, I am a huge supporter of FinTech innovation and creating easier access for individuals to transfer money and to pay their bills and to make it seamlessly, I am all for that. But when I am thinking of a social media platform being the front-runner of that project, I have a few reservations, and with Visa, Mastercard, eBay, PayPal and a couple of others that have pulled out of this consortium, I think that there are some issues.
Jared Correia: I think Mike Judge could totally have written a movie about a Facebook-backed crypto. He was just born at the wrong time. I have my doubts as well.
So let’s dive into Libra a little further.
Felix Shipkevich: Sure.
Jared Correia: I think most — so I am going to ask you a two-part question. So one is, I think most people know this, they may not understand it, but a lot of cryptocurrency is blockchain. So could you briefly describe what blockchain is and how it relates to cryptocurrency and then I will have a follow-up question on that.
Felix Shipkevich: Sure. So I think the biggest misconception is when people think about blockchain, they immediately think about cryptocurrency, or when they think about cryptocurrency, they immediately think of blockchain, and I want to be clear, these are two completely different things. I mean the term blockchain arose out of digital ledger technology, distributed ledger technology, that creation of bitcoin.
But you don’t need to have cryptocurrency be issued on blockchain. There’s absolutely no necessity for that. You could have that, and then you have to think about blockchain technology as one that’s completely decentralized and the one that is actually centralized, and there’s a huge debate between lawyers — come on, how many lawyers will it take to have a debate, it’s really just need two to start butting their heads.
Jared Correia: Maybe one.
Felix Shipkevich: Maybe one, right? But, look, there’s obviously blockchain itself is just a way to record data, and then there’s a question and essentially create these blocks that think of it like, I look at it as like a Christmas tree, you have star at the top, that’s your Genesis block and then you got all your branches, and then it goes down to the small parts of your Christmas tree.
It all essentially gets recorded up the chain and you could trace it and then there’s a question of whether or not somebody actually has authority to control over that blockchain, if they do to centralize blockchain application or if they don’t then it’s decentralized, that’s really what the bitcoin — and how bitcoin is operating today.
But you don’t need to have a cryptocurrency we developed on blockchain technology and blockchain technology doesn’t — it’s not always the best technology out there, it’s also been over-hyped in my opinion over the past few years, just like what we’ve seen in the late 90s with the e-commerce business where there are e-commerce businesses they had no revenue and went public and essentially went bust a few years later merely because your company decides to do a press release that they use blockchain technology to store files, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best technology for you and it’s you have to think really hard whether it really is the right application for you and whether you actually have the right people to support that application.
Jared Correia: Right.
Felix Shipkevich: I mean, not too many developers know how to actually code and maintain blockchain technology. So, two different things, they’re not synonymous necessarily with each other.
Jared Correia: All right, now hold that thought. We’re going to take a quick break and then we’re going to come back and talk a little bit more about blockchain.
Okay everybody, break number two. While I finally try to figure out how to program a VCR, seriously, it’s been like 30 years. Listen to these words from our sponsors.
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Jared Correia: All right, thanks for sticking around. We’re still talking with Felix Shipkevich of Shipkevich PLLC and Hotspot Law, who has been educating us on cryptocurrency. So let’s find out more.
So before the break, Felix, you told us about blockchain and what it is and means, is Libra on blockchain; and if not, does that matter?
Felix Shipkevich: There’s no actual blockchain data structure for Libra, and the short answer is null. I mean, not to the best of my knowledge the blockchain technology necessarily be used to store data for the Libra coin, but again be mindful that Libra and all the crazy news that we hear on daily basis about Libra, we still don’t have a lot of that fine detail of how Libra in fact function, settle the risk and technology associated with it.
I mean it’s so high level at this point that look — I’m sure that many people asking whether or not the Libra should be on blockchain, should the data be stored on it, and right now to the best of my knowledge it’s not, but they might stand corrected.
Jared Correia: And we’ll see when the podcast comes out maybe there will be new information at that point. So, tell me why — we’ve talked about the Facebook issue, like how viable is it, how appropriate is it to have like a massive social media conglomerate like Facebook backing a cryptocurrency like Libra. Are there other reasons to have misgivings about Libra as a cryptocurrency outside of the Facebook issue?
Felix Shipkevich: To answer that question we need to ask ourselves if we allow for a social media platform, and let’s be honest, Facebook is a social media platform.
I understand they obviously have other affiliates and subsidiaries that – yeah, Facebook payments, for instance, obviously it’s where it could be, they have licenses to the best of my knowledge in all 50 states, what would stop someone like Amazon or Google to do this, right, and to what point will we begin to ask ourselves is, do we trust private companies or do we trust the government for the purposes of managing our money, right, because look cryptocurrencies are mediums of exchange, they are money, they’re worth something. If it’s not worth anything then you shouldn’t be buying that cryptocurrency.
So I assume that Libra being a stable coin and being formed by back by Facebook obviously, the catalyst behind this entire process, has some credibility because to the best of my knowledge it’s a well-capitalized company, it’s a public company.
But ultimately I think that these type of products need to be really explored further by the banks. I think the banks, and we’ve seen JPMorgan coin announcement earlier this year, Wells Fargo in recent weeks, I think this is what the consumers need. I think that’s what lawyers need, right?
I get asked lot of questions, well, you work with crypto exchanges, with crypto brokers and the technology companies, so how come you don’t take bitcoin?
Two reasons; one, I don’t have the time to think about where bitcoin is trading today. Today, it could be trading at 8,000, tomorrow it could be trading at 3,000. So I can’t worry about my services being completely deflated by 50%, it’s just — I don’t have the time for it.
The second reason is, well, we have fantastic crypto exchanges, like Coinbase for instance, which have done a pretty good job in mass marketing their services to the consumers, it’s also not really linked with my firm’s checking account. If I was able to accept crypto and not worry about its fluctuation if it was a stable coin, and my bank where I do business with TD Bank, I could easily just move money in and out of accounts and this digital wallet if that one was given to me and that Wallet was secure and hopefully it would have some kind of protection by the regulatory framework; yeah, I probably would take crypto, but at this point it’s just way too risky. And I think a lot of lawyers are also in the same boat with me, where it’s just like that, do I want to worry where bitcoin is tomorrow?
Jared Correia: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I understand the argument against the Facebook backed cryptocurrency, like it’s a Pandora’s Box. If Facebook can do it, any other global smashing company can do it. Are there arguments that Libra is a good thing? Like I could also see the converse of that argument, which is that, it’s the best way to promote cryptocurrency to the masses, because how many “regular people” are going to see Wells Fargo doing something like this, whereas Facebook has just a ton of users?
Felix Shipkevich: Well, there were two-and-a-half billion subscribers, right?
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Felix Shipkevich: So, I mean, right off the bat if they had 250 million subscribers buying Libra, I mean that’s – that’s, that essentially would —
Jared Correia: Yeah, you are doing all right.
Felix Shipkevich: Yeah. I mean, yes, that should become the world’s largest financial services company overnight.
Jared Correia: Wow. Now you’re scaring everyone. But I guess the question is, is that good or bad? Like I could see spending it is good. Like can you make the argument, this is a good thing?
Felix Shipkevich: I think there’s definitely a lot of good thing. I think that going back to the question that you asked earlier about the underbanked, I think that providing easier, faster and cheaper way to make payments from a person between peer to peer or paying a vendor’s has not been solved yet, and I think that’s what Libra type of product is looking to do.
So, only in the past 10 years have we started paying our invoices using a bank, but I come to your platform and then you select your vendor or the electric bill, but even like if you think about this like paying your landlord, by paying — I don’t know your car dealership, your payment, car payments, every month you’ve got to write out a check or you obviously put it them auto-debit or throwing it, use ACH but it’s just — it’s kind of a pain in the butt. There should be easier and faster ways and cheaper ways, because the cost of doing business and payments is not — it’s pretty high, it’s not cheap.
So the biggest benefit of it is that is that now you’re giving people who are underbanked, who are not comfortable holding their money in cash to hold it within what I assume would be a safe environment.
Jared Correia: Democratizing payments, dare I say?
Felix Shipkevich: Probably, that’s a good way to say.
Jared Correia: I just came up with that on top of my head. And on that note, I think we’re going to end this puppy.
Felix, you did it, you made it through the podcast. Congratulations.
Felix Shipkevich: Thank you. I enjoyed it.
Jared Correia: And so as I just referenced we’ve reached the end of yet another episode of the fantastic, dare I say, Legal Toolkit Podcast.
This was a podcast about cryptocurrency and law firms and we’ve been talking with Felix Shipkevich of Shipkevich, PLLC and Hotspot Law.
Now, I will be back on further shows, future shows with more insights into my soul, the soul of America and the legal market. If you are feeling nostalgic from my dulcet tones however, you can check out anytime you want, that is our entire show archive at legaltalknetwork.com.
So, thanks again to Felix Shipkevich of Shipkevich, PLLC and Hotspot Law, for making an appearance as my guest today.
All right, Felix, can you tell everybody how they can find out more about you and about Shipkevich, PLLC as well as Hotspot Law.
Felix Shipkevich: Absolutely, my firm’s website is shipkevich.com. I know I don’t have the easiest last name, but if you caught that.
Jared Correia: Yeah, during the call, my friend.
Felix Shipkevich: Yeah, and Hotspot Law, that’s pretty simple, hotspotlaw.com.
Jared Correia: Thanks Felix. So check him out at his law firm website and at the Hotspot Law website. So, thanks again to Felix Shipkevich of Shipkevich, PLLC and Hotspot Law.
Finally, thanks to all of you out there for listening. This has been the Legal Toolkit Podcast where it takes at least seven licks to get to the center of our Tootsie Pop.
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