I've practiced in this space for over two decades. During that time, I've had the opportunity to work with a terrific group of clients and colleagues on a diverse and challenging range of matters. Naming just a few highlights is difficult. But my top moments would certainly include leading the team that appeared before the European Court of Justice on behalf of our longstanding client BSA/the Software Alliance in the Schrems II case – among the most important data protection cases ever decided by the ECJ. Another highlight would include being part of Covington's pro bono team – in a wider representation led by Amal Clooney, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and others – representing the Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa, the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner. She is an inspiration. And last year, I was appointed to the firm's management committee, which has challenged me in new ways.
Data differs from other practice areas in that I can't think of another area of law that is evolving as quickly as the rules applicable to data. Until only a few years ago, the use of data was relatively unregulated and the rules that did apply had been in place for some time and weren't aggressively enforced. That's not the case today – and in a few years' time, the data regulation landscape will be transformed even further. Data is also interdisciplinary – it crosses industries and practices. Data is relevant to clients across virtually all sectors; it's the subject of many commercial transactions today; multiple authorities, including data protection authorities, but also consumer and competition authorities, are focused on its use; and we're also seeing increasing commercial and consumer litigation over data.
Among the key challenges is the interdisciplinary nature of data law. But I'm fortunate to be part of a firm where lawyers are encouraged to collaborate rather than to compete with one another. Indeed this is part of the firm's fabric: unlike many law firms that apply origination credits, at Covington clients benefit from the opposite approach. It is the best lawyer for the job who gets to work on a mandate, not the person who got the matter through the door. This filters through in all sorts of ways, and for clients, it means that we are able to offer the best fit in terms of skillsets and expertise, regardless of their formal practice area or industry group.
Another challenge is staying on top of the fast-paced legal landscape, where we are getting guidance, court decisions and new laws almost daily. It has helped to be surrounded by colleagues who are equally passionate about the field, and also to work daily on cutting edge client matters that force us to stay on top of the latest developments. Covington has a long-standing tradition of excelling across highly-regulated industries; it is part of our DNA. As a result, there is an incredible body of institutional knowledge that underpins all that we do for clients.
The list of emerging trends I'm following is long. One at the top of my list is the emerging regulation that will govern the use of non-personal data. Organisations are accustomed to needing to apply special protections to personal data they handle – but new regulatory frameworks, in particular in Europe, will mean that they also need to do more to manage other types of data they hold. That's going to be a fundamental change in mindset. I'm also closely focused on how European regulators are investigating, and enforcing against, alleged infringements of the GDPR. The pace of enforcement is quickening, but it's still a relatively new phenomenon and there are many open issues around how regulators should do their jobs.
Ten years ago, I could name the number of women data protection professionals in Europe on one hand. Today, there are so many experienced women professionals in the field it's difficult to count. Women are leading law firm data protection practices, working in senior privacy roles in-house, and heading key public authorities. Indeed, the majority of our data team in Europe are women. Unfortunately we've seen less progress in diversifying the field in other ways. For example, over the many years I've been in the data protection field, I've met only a very small number of women of colour in private practice data protection teams – I'm very fortunate that two of those women are on my team.
Among the best advice I received when I was starting out was don't be afraid to say yes to new opportunities. Those opportunities help you grow as a lawyer, and keep you stimulated and engaged professionally. That advice has served me well – I started out as an IP lawyer, and if I hadn't said yes to new challenges, I would not have moved into the data field. Being open to new opportunities remains important today for aspiring data lawyers and professionals — given the pace of change in the field, there will be many chances to advise in cutting-edge areas in different sectors and under new regulatory frameworks.