Dr. Jörg Hladjk, Associate at Hunton & Williams

BL: What range of issues does a data protection / privacy lawyer typically cover in private practice?

JH: Today, a data protection practice covers a whole range of issues such as international data transfers, outsourcing, behavioral targeting, cloud computing, online shopping, or whistleblowing hotlines. For example, comprehensive data protection advice at the national and European level is required when companies want to transfer customer or HR data from different entities located in Europe to third countries such as the US in order to centralize their databases globally. Similarly, companies that consider outsourcing certain functions or services to providers within or outside Europe regularly seek advice on data protection issues.

Other examples are projects regarding behavioral targeting from a marketing perspective, or very specific questions that arise in the context of cloud computing and IT management. Implementing a whistleblowing hotline system across Europe also raises data protection issues that call for careful advice. The advice usually includes the development of a compliance strategy and an appropriate project management dimension that becomes increasingly important in these projects. The more global the projects are, the more important the strategic element becomes. The advice may also take the form of ad-hoc advice in the case of complaint procedures pending before data protection authorities. Other cases concern litigation and the urgency of complying with US e-discovery requests.

BL: How has the business world's increasing reliance on the internet affected the nature of your work?

JH: Nowadays, personal data can be transmitted very easily to various locations across the world via online networks. Therefore, data protection lawyers must have an excellent understanding of the underlying technology involved in the processing of personal data. Compliance projects are also often driven by companies’ IT departments, which are put under pressure by management to centralize databases, mainly for cost efficiency reasons. Finally, given that the Internet allows for transfers of large amounts of data, companies are now frequently moving data to all kinds of locations around the globe in order to address their business needs.

BL: How creative do you perceive your work to be?

JH: Very creative, for two reasons:

1) Since data protection law developed at a time when business was less online and less global, it is often subject to interpretation by national data protection authorities or courts today. Providing clear-cut advice can therefore be challenging.

2)  All clients are not alike. For instance, a client in the finance sector has a different focus and distinct needs when it comes to data protection compliance relative to a client in the retail sector. In addition, each client has a specific culture and internal procedures for compliance that need to be taken into account when conducting compliance projects. Therefore, compliance strategies, as well as the implementing work, must be tailored to a specific client's needs, and it is sometimes necessary to develop approaches to legal issues that have yet to be specifically addressed by the law.

BL: What are the positive and negative aspects of your job?

JH: The positive aspects are that it is very international, challenging and involves very inspiring teamwork. Keeping up, however, with the legal and technical developments by carrying out the appropriate reading can be quite demanding in addition to the daily client work.

BL: How do you see the future of the legal market for data protection and privacy issues?

JH: The legal market for data protection work is still growing. We see more and more legislative changes at both the national and European level. In addition, the national and European data protection authorities have become more active by issuing guidelines on specific issues, as well as in terms of enforcement. Technology is clearly a driver for companies, and data protection authorities (as well as data protection lawyers!) need to keep up with the emerging challenges presented by this field.

BL: Good luck.  Thank you for your time.

Other features dealing with related issues:

Rainer Wessely, Senior Associate at Hogan Lovells

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