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The National Law Journal recently released its list of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.” The list includes such high-profile names as Barry Scheck of “The Innocence Project,” United States Attorney General Eric Holder and Google’s David Drummer. Also on the list this time around? Three prominent attorneys who work extensively in the field of privacy.

“It’s about the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me in my entire legal career,” said Lisa Sotto, CIPP/US, of making the list.

Sotto is managing partner at Hunton & Williams’ New York office, and her practice focuses on privacy, cybersecurity and records management. She also sits on the IAPP’s Board of Directors. She’s worked with clients extensively on issues spanning GLBA, HIPAA, COPPA, CAN-SPAM, security breach notification laws and global data protection laws. She started working in data protection and privacy in 2000, a time she calls the field’s “dark ages,” and she’s enjoyed watching the profession flourish since then, though she didn’t necessarily predict its current success.

“This was a serendipitous attraction to the field for me; we didn’t know where it was going at that time. We had very little competition,” she said. “Now, it would appear that virtually every large law firm has at least one or two people who dabble in privacy and data security. And there are many firms.”

Sotto says the reason for that is because businesses now understand, “in a fundamentally different way from a decade ago,” the importance of the data they collect and maintain. She says they now view data as a key business asset and understand the need to protect it from risk and manage it appropriately.

Also on the list is Cindy Cohn, legal director at The Electronic Frontier Foundation. She agrees with Sotto that it’s more important than ever to have privacy expertise in-house.

“We’ve seen a lot of companies get caught up and frankly embarrassed that they haven’t thought through the privacy implications of what they are doing,” she said, citing Google’s Street View controversy as an example.

Cohn has spent a significant portion of her career fighting government warrantless surveillance. She has worked on more than 40 cases against the government and national telecommunications carriers. She echoes Sotto’s excitement about making the list.

“Certainly the company…the other people on that list are really amazing,” Cohn said. “I’m honored to be even on the same list.”

She went on to say it’s essential to have “people who really are dedicated to thinking about the privacy implications of what particular technologies are doing and helping to educate folks,” adding the privacy professional shouldn’t be isolated but should instead “really create a culture across the organization. If we silo privacy in the privacy department, we’ll miss important things.”

Asked whether the presence of privacy professionals on the list indicates an arrival of the profession, Cohn said she believes privacy is increasingly on people’s minds, particularly when it comes to an uptick in surveillance measures.

“The government has been very audacious in its interest in using digital technologies to have better and more surveillance of people,” she said. “And that piggybacks on top of private companies who have really adopted a surveillance business model, where they are using their ability to track you and watch you online as a way to serve ads. And so these two things kind of boast the technological ability to surveill more people more of the time. And the ability to do better analysis in that have combined in a way that I think ordinary people are starting to realize.”

The list was last published in 2006 and is compiled based on recommendations by the journal’s editors and nominations from the legal community. That year, two attorneys working in privacy made the list, one of them being Cohn.

Also on this year’s list are California Attorney General Kamala Harris—who has spent part of her term leading a charge on consumer privacy protections, including calling out United Airlines in a Twitter post for not posting a privacy policy on its app and handing down guidelines for mobile app developers, a move that didn’t necessarily gain her votes in the proverbial popularity contest but indicated her commitment to the cause—and Steve Berman, managing partner at Seattle’s Hagens, Berman, Sobol & Shapiro, who argued the privacy litigation against CarrierIQ, which was accused of logging users’ keystrokes and other personal information.

Harris and Berman were not available for comment at the time this story was published.

Written By

Angelique Carson, CIPP/US

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