Opinion | 03-06-15

Data Privacy – what’s so hot?

One of the hottest legal topics is the management of data.  It affects everyone and has been continually addressed by the media and law makers alike. In this article, Lucinda Youtan explores why demand for data privacy advice has increased so much and what opportunities are available for data privacy and commercial lawyers working within this area of the law. 


Individuals everywhere are increasingly aware of data privacy and cybersecurity. Recent research conducted by YouGov has found that 72% of British adults are concerned about the availability of their personal information online.  It is a quickly evolving area of the law which transcends a wide variety of legal issues including technology, intellectual property and commercial agreements.  


It’s a high profile topic which has recurred in recent headlines in various forms, with instantly recognisable brands such as Sony Pictures, Facebook, Uber and British Airways all featuring in the press. Several high profile celebrities have fallen victim too.  In the recent UK general election both the Labour and Conservative parties spoke of extending the powers of the security agencies as part of their manifestos.  The new European Data Protection Regulation is on target to be finalised this year and it is anticipated it will be implemented in 2017.  Its impact will be far-reaching and every organisation that holds or has access to data on EU citizens and residents will need to be compliant in order to avoid significant fines and claims, including collective redress, and, less quantifiable but equally important, reputational damage.  All this in the context of the law attempting to maintain pace with the capabilities of technology and businesses’ enthusiasm to commercialise data has caused a predictable impact upon the demand for individuals with specific data privacy expertise.   


At SSQ, over the last five years we have experienced an increase of over 500% in the number of new instructions from clients seeking data privacy lawyers across private practice, financial services and commerce and industry and we expect the trend to continue.  


Law firms, particularly those with a significant client base in the technology and media sectors, are confident in the knowledge that data privacy expertise can be monetised, and are making strategic decisions in boosting their offering in anticipation that demand will only continue to increase.  They are regularly seeking to retain and attract lawyers looking to specialise in, or who already specialise in, this niche area.  


However, there is a limited appetite amongst associates for a career in privacy law, with many finding it too narrow in focus and instead, many are eager to undertake the more traditional and varied workload of commercial contracts, intellectual property and technology related matters. Meanwhile, the reputational and commercial impact of not dealing with data correctly, in combination with the increasing volume of related work, has made hiring a dedicated data privacy specialist a priority for many General Counsel.  This means that in-house teams and private practice firms are competing for talent. Both need to be receptive to what might make them the most attractive proposition for relevant individuals.


Dependent on the business, in-house data privacy related work may be apportioned to the legal team as part of their wider remit, apportioned to the regulatory & compliance team as part of their wider remit, undertaken by a dedicated privacy specialist or, in larger businesses or those with significant volumes of data, by a dedicated privacy team.  Privacy specialists are either qualified through experience (benefiting for example from the ISEB qualification) or are legally qualified.  


Current opportunities 


Historically General Counsel were open minded about the career background of privacy professionals, but increasingly only individuals with a legal qualification are being considered for opportunities. This is because it is perceived that trained lawyers are better able to quickly assimilate and interpret complex information and are often less procedural than individuals who are not qualified; they are more comfortable in providing solution orientated and useable advice.  Many General Counsel see the benefit of hiring a lawyer with a broader commercial skill-set and an appetite to develop niche expertise.  Commercial lawyers benefit from a solid understanding of the context of the data privacy advice they provide to both the business and to the wider legal team and are confident in their assessment of commercial risk.  


We are currently working on roles in a variety of sectors and at all levels of seniority, including a Head of Privacy at a leading Management Consultancy, a Data Privacy Officer at a media conglomerate and a Head of Regulatory Compliance and Privacy role at a financial services institution.   If you are a candidate and eager to explore the market or a General Counsel considering hiring into this area, please contact Lucinda Youtan on +44 (0) 207 187 7414 or via email [email protected]