I came to the data field because during my LLM at King’s College London I attended courses on privacy and tech regulation which I really enjoyed. As someone who started writing code and designing websites at the age of 13, it seemed like a natural step for me to apply for roles in technology law after graduating. In the midst of the financial crisis, I was lucky to find a role as a junior associate at Belgian firm Stibbe where privacy was very much part of our daily work and I stayed in the field ever since.
As a privacy practitioner who’s been in the field for more than 10 years I’ve worked on interesting matters and met many inspiring people. However, for me the two highlights of my career that stand out are when I ventured out of my native Belgium to establish a career as a lawyer in London and six years later when I left a secure position at Latham & Watkins to join Dan Glazer in setting up the London office of Wilson Sonsini. Both of these steps, which took a lot of courage at the time, are serving me well in my current project: being part of a team that is building a world-class privacy team at Goodwin.
For my clients, keeping track of, and adapting their solutions to the ever-changing and evolving legal data landscape, is currently a real challenge. Many tech companies are focused on launching technology that is cross-border, but don’t have the resources to monitor every new privacy law that could affect their solution.
The main advice I give clients is not to panic. Contrary to expectations, most emerging tech companies believe privacy is a cornerstone of building trust so they want to get it right. However, a fully compliant privacy and cyber programme takes time and resources to build so it takes patience. For me, what is most important is that companies are aware of data requirements when starting out their business, and that they build on compliance when growing, making sure they adopt a pragmatic and risk-based approach at every stage.
In terms of emerging trends – I do a lot of work in the adtech sector, so naturally I closely follow the ramp-up in enforcement against cookies and ad tech from the French and Belgian privacy regulators in particular, as well as the way big players like Google are rolling out alternative solutions to the traditional tracking cookie. The continuing uncertainty around international data transfers following the landmark Schrems II ruling is also something which occupies my mind.
Women have traditionally been well represented in data protection law, so I perhaps haven’t felt as outnumbered as women in other areas of law. Having said that, being a mother has made me especially aware of the issues around how kids’ data is treated and how kids are profiled and targeted, but I imagine this is something that can be said of dads working in privacy too!
The field has changed in that I’ve noticed a particular uptick in the number of female role models emerging in privacy, especially at companies. The likes of Cecilia Álvarez at Facebook – now Meta – Caroline Louveaux at Mastercard, Julie Brill at Mastercard, Amanda Weare at Collibra and Stephanie Margulies at Olo come to mind.
A piece of advice I would give aspiring data lawyers and professionals is that data is a fascinating area to get involved in. Some of the most powerful companies in the world today are essentially data companies. Working in the field, you’ll find yourself dealing with some of the most pertinent issues of the day.