Gabriela Kennedy
  • Partner
  • Mayer Brown
Hong Kong
Gabriela Kennedy

Gabriela Kennedy

  • Partner
  • Mayer Brown
Hong Kong

What made you go into data law?

I started as a trainee in IP. Prior to law I was a theoretical linguist specialising in computational linguistics – something that now is back in demand what with the advent of AI. At the time, IT law was computer law and when I qualified as a lawyer, the firm said they needed someone to develop the computer law practice, and given my background, I was chosen to do it. The rest is history! I did an online LLM course in IT law at Strathclyde, which opened my eyes to the possibilities of data privacy law – which nobody was talking about at the time. It started to get more serious when a few data breaches like the Sony PlayStation hack started to make headlines. A data breach in Hong Kong highlighted the inadequacies of the law here, and led to an overhaul of the data privacy legislation. In the past five to six years my practice has changed dramatically and now half of my work is privacy- and cybersecurity-related.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a female lawyer?

Maggie Thatcher is supposed to have quipped once: “Women have to work twice as hard as men to be noticed half as much. Luckily, this is not difficult!” I am not sure if this is an apocryphal quote but it is true that women are still not inheriting client relationships in law firms. We focus a lot on gender quotas or targets at partnership level but there is still a lot of unconscious bias when it comes to passing on leadership of client accounts or simply bringing women into key client relationships. I am prepared to bet that every woman you have listed in your directory will have a similar story: no one gave them anything and they have had to work extremely hard to develop client relationships. We will get to true equality when we see 45% or more of key client relationships at major law firms, led by women lawyers.

What do you consider to be your greatest career accomplishments?

Spotting data privacy as an emerging area in the mid 1990s and sticking with it. Focusing on cyber issues in the last couple of years and working with clients to develop viable solutions for their business. Working on a global cyber breach back in 2012 and doing all the advocacy before the regulator and managing to persuade him not to impose a fine for the breach.

What advice do you have for aspiring female data/ privacy/cybersecurity professionals?

Build a network. Network. Network some more. Get involved in community projects and meet people. The more diverse they are the better. Find creative and inspiring people, no matter what their field of activity might be. They will help you find answers to the most difficult issues you have to solve as a lawyer.

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