So what’s the hot new legal area? The space that every fast-moving Silicon Valley market leader needs more than anything else?
Privacy lawyers – particularly data privacy attorneys.
Whether its Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Twilio . . the list of firms seeking data privacy specialists who can interpret and negotiate the treacherous waters of new laws affecting privacy is ongoing . . and growing.
The development of Europe’s data-privacy rules and the General Data Protection Regulation in the US which took effect in May has seen major online firms organise their legal defences, which means data and privacy lawyers.
And in California the strict data privacy bill that passed at the end of June came as a surprise to many but the bill came with the ‘perfect storm’ the comprised Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, the May enforcement of GDPR and a constantly growing list of massive data breaches across the US and around the world.
And so law firms and corporation information technology firms are achieving some big wins in the new data privacy stakes.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on one firm:
The issue of privacy “has virtually taken over my practice,” said Cynthia Cole, a special counsel with Baker Botts who is well-versed in Europe’s new GDPR regulations. For example, she said, some of the disclosure paperwork in mergers and acquisitions — specifically, the data privacy representation of a company being bought — has grown from a few lines a year or so ago to three pages, as companies list topics like the various laws they have complied with.
The Blockchain Phenomenon
The development of new technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence has further spurred interest in the area from law firms and their clients.
Brandyne Russell, a managing director at Major, Lindsey & Africa, a global legal recruiting firm was reported in the Chronicle explaining that compliance is costly, but the need for specialists is key:
“Where certain companies may have had a lawyer who wore a few hats including privacy, many companies are now creating dedicated roles for that (and) building small teams,” said Ray Everett, a longtime privacy expert who manages consulting projects for TrustArc, a San Francisco compliance and risk-management company.
Over the years, U.S. firms have dealt with discrete privacy rules, like the specific laws governing health care records or the identity data guidelines in financial services, but have not had to contend with any overarching regulations.
By contrast, European companies “have been dealing with data privacy since the ’80s … so this is not new for them,” Cole said. “To comply with GDPR, they didn’t have to go back and revisit their entire business model.”
Fining Google & Others
The $5 billion fine imposed by the EU on Google this week was a hefty slap, particularly when Apple’s $15 billion tax bill to Ireland is taken into account – not to mention Google’s $2.8 billion fine over its dominant practices with its shopping app.
But the heightened awareness of the online giants has yet to really see the EU, and their ‘top cop’ Margrethe Vestager (pictured, left), flex her muscle over the data privacy area.
As Forbes reported recently, the “bigger fight” yet to come is the way personal data is used by the likes of Google and Facebook. The Big Two dominate online advertising with 84 per cent of global spending on digital advertisements, excluding China.
The issues of competition, privacy and personal data have increasingly overlapped with one another as more of the global economy has become linked to the web. And as the EU’s new GDPR law defines our personal data more than ever there are troubled waters ahead for the digital monoliths.
When Vestager reprimanded Facebook for misleading regulators about its true intentions for WhatsApp’s data, following its $22 billion acquisition in 2014, the issue of personal data “didn’t come out as a strong competition concern,” Vestager told Forbes in an interview in December 2017. “We’ve not had a case yet where this was the prime concern in a merger,” she added.
Data Privacy Lawyers Ahoy!
All of which augers well for law firms and their burgeoning data privacy practices. And for lawyers who already specialise in privacy issues and the broader and much more economically significant data privacy legal juggernaught.