Interestingly, I didn’t start my career knowing that I would become a data and technology lawyer. I was part of the first batch of my law school and after receiving a pre-placement offer from a tier 1 law firm, it was a no-brainer that I would full devote myself to whatever practice area I was initially assigned to. My first seat at the firm was in the telecom, media and technology practice. I began my first three months of that rotation and found that work from my first seat continued all year round, after which I was offered a place in the TMT team.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start as a technology and data lawyer, as I entered the space with no preconceived notions and an open mind. At the time I started off, the role of data and technology in businesses was slowly starting to gain importance. Over the years, I have walked the path with technology and data and truly seen the shift in the focus that data and technology have garnered today. The dynamic nature of data and technology and the constant battle of regulations having to catch up with the functionalities of data is something that has constantly kept me challenged, pushed me to think out of the box and most importantly ensured that I stay nimble. As a result, I have never looked back since I began to specialise in technology law.
One of the key highlights from my career so far is the way my role as a lawyer advising data and technology companies has shaped up. From initially having to provide basic legal advice on minimal regulation that applied to technology and data, I now find myself in the exciting place of ideating and analysing business models in an environment where every regulator is keen to regulate data.
Another key point in my career was the chance to participate in the public consultation process for the creation of a new data privacy law in India. I had the opportunity to work with and advise several clients on making submissions in response to the proposed framework, taking into consideration commercial and legal challenges that are particularly relevant in the global context.
I have also had the chance to provide legal advice to an organisation that has set up a knowledge-sharing platform and hospital for evidence-based birthing, which is one of the first of its kind in India. As a part of this project, we had to work through several data, intellectual property and medical liability related considerations given the library of data that was being created and the reliance on such data.
Another highlight in my career was when I was elevated to partnership at the firm.
As a practice that specialises in data and technology law, it is imperative for us to stay ahead of the learning curve and remain constantly updated of the various proposals and existing regimes to regulate data. The importance of data and the value of data driven businesses has resulted in data being the focus of several sector-specific regulation. The biggest challenge in this environment is to structure business models that stand the test of existing, and as well as constantly evolving regulation. To do this, it is important to understand the intent of the regulation and move beyond the bare text of the law. More often than not, laws are unable to keep up with the pace of technology and therefore it is important for us as data and technology lawyers to navigate through the regulatory vacuum and suggest viable options for our clients closely taking into account regulatory perception.
Another challenge in the context of cross-border or global businesses is to harmonise the regulations that apply to data in the various jurisdictions. Much like India, several other countries are also keen to regulate data and have extensive frameworks around data privacy, electronic communications and more recently proposals to regulate non-personal data. This requires a keen understanding of the developments across the globe as well as international market practice which must be considered in assisting clients build future proof and internationally compliant data models.
To adapt to these challenges as a law firm with a market-leading technology practice, each one of us needs to stay abreast of all the developments in data law and constantly add to our knowledge base by closely studying developments in this space. To this end, it is important for us as a practice to engage in frequent debate, ideate and improvise on the way we customise our advice for clients. Where regulation is outdated, it is important for us to interpret the law in a manner that does not cripple data-based business models by ensuring that the intent of the law is always honoured.
It is equally important for businesses to understand the importance of laws that govern data and the potential impact on their business. For example, the proposed Indian privacy law, which is broadly modelled on the GDPR, will bring with it significant compliance burdens that will apply to all organisations, regardless of the sector they operate in. Data management and handling practices of entities are closely reviewed and scrutinised by regulators, particularly in the insurance and financial services sector, and therefore it is important for companies in this space to adopt robust processes that meet the intent of the regulations governing data. Organisations must stay apprised of the developments in regulations as well as market practice to keep up with the various requirements under data laws.
Emerging trends I’m following include the proposed data privacy law which will be India’s first omnibus privacy legislation. It is bound to significantly change the way in which data is processed. I am also closely following the developments in the regulation of cryptocurrency, the proposal to regulate non-personal data, open data networks, and the jurisprudence on content liability pursuant to the revised regulations issued primarily to target social media and OTT [over-the-top] platforms. Another keen point of interest is the evolution of the metaverse and the host of legal questions it will raise, particularly in the context of privacy, data protection, user interaction and intellectual property.
We are often called upon to evaluate data models based on the requirements under law as well as suggest good practices. Personally, I believe that while evaluating technology and its compliance with law it is equally important to understand the potential impact that technology may have, and any harms that come with it. In some instances, as a consumer of some of the offerings that I am often called upon to review, I can identify some of the outcomes that may inadvertently be caused by the function that the technology is intended to carry out.
While this may not be specific to gender, a holistic approach to understanding technology helps clients consider outcomes that may not otherwise be apparent. I have found clients to be generally well receiving of this feedback and this also allows me to have different perspectives while assessing data related issues.
The field has changed in that it is heartening to see the number of women lawyers who are specialising in data and technology law – which was always understood to be a man’s world. Initially, when I started off my career a decade back, there were not too many women lawyers or professionals that I came across who worked on data-related matters. My interactions were largely with other male lawyers and male members of technology, product, and business teams. There has been a significant shift in this over the last few years, and I find women lawyers and professionals far more closely involved and often leading matters that involve data and technology. The data field by its nature encourages diversity in thought and participation; this has allowed women professionals to be as closely involved if not more than their male counterparts in shaping various processes and policies in the field of data.
A piece of advice I would give aspiring data lawyers: keeping an open mind and having a thirst for learning will always help you stay on top of your game. Take your time to find your passion and be open to change. The legal field, much like other professional services, is challenging and highly competitive. Therefore, it is important to stay true to yourself and your beliefs and build a healthy environment for yourself which will encourage you to do better each day.
Increasing your knowledge base is also key and your largest strength as a lawyer. It is important to find time to do this, particularly in the data field where there is constant change. As a data and technology lawyer, it is also important to understand the technology first and for those who want to practice in this field it is important to use and try out these technologies yourself.