Inherently dynamic areas of legal practice are perfect proving grounds for any professional eager to build a reputation based on adaptability, digital fluency, and cross-disciplinary agility. No one would have sought out the kind of ever-changing environment we are living through right now, but the need for leading-edge legal expertise is stronger than ever. Among the most dynamic arenas—both of the recent past and also in our pandemic-affected world—is privacy and data security.
Privacy brings into play intersecting legal and regulatory regimes that can pile on compliance requirements or even conflict with each other. The ebb and flow of global dialogues about how far individual data protection should reach is a constant hum as privacy practitioners navigate complex deals, advise corporate leaders as trusted business partners, and stay up-to-date on technology and emerging risks.
Knowing What You Already Know
You know how much information all of your apps collect. You’ve explained to older relatives and maybe even a boss or two that, yes, phones, television remotes, cars, and even some refrigerators are listening to us all the time. You’ve seen innumerable shares on social media of stories about how the tools we’re using as a largely remote, white-collar workforce are exacerbating or introducing data security gaps.
No one who pays attention will take for granted the convenience, efficiency, and access to knowledge and solutions that are available in a connected world. But that surface-level awareness won’t translate into real-world success without exploring the nuances of data collection, data use, data storage, consumer rights, notice and consent, customer service, marketing, platform engineering and design, state surveillance, employment law, enforcers’ priorities, and development of response processes before there is a potential problem.
Rattle off that list to someone who’s not in the thick of data privacy, and it might sound to them like you’re talking about data breaches or tech start-ups. However, for the expert, it’s an ecosystem of strategic business decisions, legal exposure, and risk management.
Law school classes and senior mentors have laid a strong foundation for the practice of law—but mostly the law as it has been practiced. Moving forward means recognizing that even the most traditional practice areas have overlapping points of inflection with privacy and data security. Practitioners at the leading edge of transforming the legal industry integrate these issues into the advice they give every day.
Keeping Up with the Challenges
- Europe, Brazil, California
- An at-home workforce
- Due diligence, fines, class action suits
- Doing the right thing
No matter where your practice is based or where it takes you, you will need to track developments in data privacy. Are you in-house at a company that has customers, runs a website that manages user accounts, buys advertising, or collects information to refine marketing strategies? Does your firm represent corporate clients who specialize in those occupations? How about clients who acquire companies that do?
Most corporate leaders are aware of regimes like the California Consumer Privacy Act and other similar proposed state legislation. But even in Europe, where the General Data Protection Regulation has had time to settle into enforcement patterns, it isn’t clear what the consequences are for a company’s failure to adhere to the rules—especially rules that are changing to meet unexpected public health needs.
We also don’t know how many consumers might exercise new rights to find how their personal data is being collected, used, stored, and sold by entities. Similarly, we don’t know how many employees might be concerned with what their employers are doing with their health information. The biggest questions right now are “What ifs?” and “How can we navigate these incompatible frameworks?” The best advisor—to a C-suite, a board of directors, a law firm partner, or a prospective business partner of your own—is the one who can clarify those queries and strategize a response.
Launching Version You2.0
Individual pieces of personal information comprise the picture of you that goes out to retailers, data brokers, financial institutions, and your alma mater, among many others. The image that you project to your coworkers, clients, bosses, and competition in the industry defines the trust they see in you as an advisor.
Law school, clinics, summers, clerkships, and the first few years of your career will leave you equipped with new-to-you knowledge and, hopefully, the enthusiasm to put it to use. When you’re going after a role on a big project, a promotion, or your next job, your experience in the law will matter, but don’t forget that your experience in the world will matter, too.
As you flip through your social media and news feeds, hash out the boundaries of conventional wisdom in group texts, and balance how much time to spend on monitoring app settings and access, don’t forget to apply those advanced lessons in the privacy landscape to your career path.