The law doesn’t concern itself with trifles—or does it?
Many years ago, when I was a young prosecutor, I asked the court to hold a defendant for a crime that the judge thought was insufficiently grave.
In response, the judge challenged me: I’d get the relief I sought if I could translate a Latin phrase in court, on the spot—no peeking.
“De minimis non curat lex.”
Leaving aside the judge’s capriciousness, I blew it. My Latin failed me. The defendant went home.
But I never forgot the phrase, or its translation: the law doesn’t concern itself with trifles. And recently it got me thinking: Is this old truism true anymore? Was it ever?
In any case, this Substack is where I’ll explore some topics, many of which have to do with the role of lex in business and society, that I enjoy thinking about:
inevitable collisions between old laws and new technology;
how involved the law is—or should be—in the relatively small corners of people’s lives and businesses;
how the law’s proper concern with big things (like national security) should be balanced with the important, essential American value of liberty;
…and other things. Probably many trifles, in fact.
Thanks for taking a peek. If you read anything here, please let me know what you think. In addition to helping me to clarify my thoughts, De Minimis allows me to learn from others’ views, emendations, reactions, screams of horror, etc.—all of which move our mutual truthseeking project in the right direction.
A bit about me
I’m a partner at True Ventures—the very early stage tech venture capital fund. I help our portfolio companies think through the thorniest regulatory issues, which (you won’t be surprised to hear) include crypto regulation in the U.S., or the lack thereof.
Before True, I was general counsel at crypto investment fund Paradigm, chief legal officer at USDC innovator Circle, and a securities litigator and government investigations partner at law firm Goodwin Procter.
As the vignette above reveals, I was also a criminal prosecutor early in my career. I went into government service again in 2005, when I was the deputy general counsel, then the acting general counsel, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
That job was gratifying, enormously difficult, wide-ranging, and intense. It made me realize two things: first, while I love arguing in court, I also love advising an organization before a problem becomes a problem—essentially preventing a dispute from arising in the first place, or minimizing its impact if it does.
Second, law and technology collide all the time, and one of the trickiest tasks in government is encouraging technological advancement while protecting a nation’s other interests: national security, anti-terrorism, consumer protection, law enforcement, job creation, and more. In this endeavor, industry and the government need all the help they can get.
Those two realizations are why I’m doing what I’m doing.