By Patrick Connelly, originally published in Buffalo Law Journal, Buffalo Business First on Jan 21, 2019, 6:00am EST Updated Jan 24, 2019, 6:24am EST.
Women Make Headway in Technology Law
SPECIAL REPORT: Cyber Law
Veteran attorneys such as Anne Downey recall when technology was hardly a blip on the radar in the legal profession, let alone a practice area.
“Back then, we didn’t have fax machines or desktop computers or cell phones. What isn’t touched by technology and cyber space today?”
Downey is partner at Harter Secrest & Emery LLP who started her legal career in general corporate law. She is now focused on several niches that fall under the broad classification of technology law.
Most recently, Downey dove into e-sports, a new arena where attorneys are getting up to speed to meet client demands.
“It’s fun to constantly be learning and see (new) developments in the law,” she said.
Downey and other women attorneys took varying paths to technology and cyber security law.
Jennifer Beckage, managing partner at Beckage PLLC, ran a startup business and later transitioned to a career in law.
“(That’s where I) learned a lot about technology and growing a business,” said Beckage, who opened a firm last year.
“We focus on data security and privacy, so we’re counseling clients right now on both of those topics along with business growth,” Beckage said. “Anytime you’re dealing with data security and privacy and technology, hopefully it’s also hand in hand with business growth and innovation.”
Other attorneys also see technology as a means to grow other practices.
“You’re kind of working on the forefront and working with the people making the decisions. It’s very rewarding,” said Kulsoom Hasan, an associate at Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC.
Hasan was led to technology and intellectual property law from a science background. That’s been beneficial for her in navigating complicated patents. She relishes working on the inside of an invention that may be cutting edge.
“Some days I feel like the world isn’t leaving me behind. It’s a nice feeling,” she said.
Sarah Delaney and Laura Colca, both partners at Goldberg Segalla, entered the technology field after work in other legal sectors.
“When I first started practicing, there was no such thing as technology law,” Delaney said
“What’s different about (this) part of the law is it’s very intellectually challenging,” Colca said. “It’s something different every day.”
Being in the field requires a desire to constantly learn and stay abreast on new technology, the attorneys said.
“A lot of the things that I learned I learned while doing,” said Phillips Lytle LLP partner Anna Mercado Clark. “I made an effort to go out there and make sure I know what the most recent developments are on technology and the law.”
Focus on technology
Beckage saw data security and privacy as a market rife with opportunity for a firm solely devoted it.
She took the leap midway through 2018, left Phillips Lytle and recruited colleague Myriah Jaworski to join her.
A few months in, business is booming.
“We are already expanding and bringing more people on,” Beckage said. “We’re growing at a great pace and we’re excited about growing with our companies (who are clients) because it’s really consultative with the legal advice and thinking about how data and technology works within their organization and how we can help protect them along the way.”
The law firm has six attorneys and is headquartered in the Liberty Building in Buffalo.
“We all bring a different note to the team and we’re all different in disciplines and experience,” Beckage said. “It’s been great to collaborate and propel the firm forward in that way.”
“I think that we complement each other,” she said. “A lot of us come from sectors or industry-specific experience that allows us to speak cross sector when it comes to some of the privacy issues that are top of mind for our clients these days.”
“Fork in the road”
Early on in college as a science major, Hasan realized she had other interests. Someone suggested technology law and she said she’s been hooked since.
“For me, the decision was a big fork in the road,” Hasan said. “We work closely with scientists. … I enjoy working with our clients patenting their ideas.”
Colca was led to technology law from her work in intellectual property law, construction law, corporate services, commercial litigation and other sectors, she said.
“As I began to have some experience in those cases, it became more and more interesting,” Colca said.
Technology crosses over often to her other practice areas, she said.
Recently, in an article for a construction trade magazine, she examined the impact of drones on the industry and how they can enhance business practices. She discussed the importance of companies in spelling out if or how drones will be used in contracts for jobs.
“There’s definitely a synergy between the (different) practices,” Colca said.
As a breach coach, Delaney helps businesses determine what to do when sensitive data is infiltrated and how to protect it from poachers.
“There’s a whole new field in cybersecurity technology in (data) protection,” Delaney said. “It’s evolved into a whole industry now.”
This type of work is “just a nice add on” to many of the other areas where she counsels clients such as insurance and liability, she said.
For Clark, working in the sector is quite a change of pace from where she began her career: Clark was a prosecutor in New York City before she transitioned to commercial litigation and e-discovery.
For a large case she worked on, she had to examine terabytes of data digitally.
“With that experience, I became the go-to person at my firm in handling large amounts of data and data-related questions from clients,” she said. “The transition for me sort of became natural.”
She now works in Buffalo, Rochester and New York City as leader of the firm’s data security team.
Future of tech law
There’s plenty of room for growth in the sector here in Buffalo and beyond, attorneys said.
“Our clients are very interested in our collaborations with a lot of the different organizations in Western New York that are really helping to promote and foster innovation,” Beckage said.
Blockchain, artificial intelligence and predictive coding are emerging facets of the industry.
“So much of it is still the next frontier in law,” Delaney said.
A trendy realm that’s piqued Hasan’s interest is the Internet of Things – the idea that things we use every day can connect and communicate from one product to the next to make daily life more efficient and modern.
“The internet is changing how things are done … in innovative new ways,” she said.
“Every aspect of life is impacted by the digital revolution,” said Downey. “It’s changing every day.”