Thiago Luís Sombra is celebrating, and with reason. April 2 marks the one-year anniversary of his firm, Odon Sombra Advogados, in Brazil. It’s a considerable accomplishment in its own right; Brazil — and to a larger extent, Latin America — doesn’t have a uniform privacy law, nor does it have many law firms specializing in privacy. So, maybe on his home turf he’s sort of a professional anomaly. But he brushes past this distinction in discussing Odon Sombra Advogados and its work defending clients in the headline-making WhatsApp blocking decision, now before Brazil's Supreme Court.
Sombra’s early career began with a 10-year stint as a state attorney before the Brazilian Supreme Court, and a clerkship at the Superior Court of Justice. It was there that he was first exposed to privacy and data security cases, and that kind of work stimulated him right away.
Sombra was so enraptured, in fact, that he threw himself into a new career trajectory. That included working as a privacy law professor at the Universidade de Brasília beginning in 2014, joining the IAPP and the Digital Economy Committee of International Chamber of Commerce, and pursuing a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics.
There, he honed his privacy knowledge, studying cyberlaw under storied professors Andrew Murray, Orla Lynskey, Eric King and others, who functioned as a sort of flint for his flame.
“I was so inspired,” he says of the experience. It was upon returning to Brazil after his time in London that he decided to move forward with Odon Sombra Advogados, along with partner Carlos Odon and four other associates.
“It’s a very big responsibility,” he says of running the firm and representing clients in what are proving to be precedent-setting Brazilian cases. “Blocking decision between WhatsApp and the Brazilian Supreme Court? We have never dealt with something like this,” he adds.
Those aren't the only privacy issues his firm handles. There are questions surrounding criminal regulation, Brazilian data storage, and cloud computing placed in his lap, on top of advising clients how to grasp privacy principles in a country that still lacks a unifying data regulation.
“Convincing the client on [the importance of privacy] is an important issue,” Sombra says. “They have to be aware of their risks, and so we’re working a lot with risk assessments in order to avoid breaches of data, torts and lawsuits.”
Baseline privacy regulation or not, having companies understand these potential pitfalls is fundamental.
“We are more focused on the fact that data protection is an important issue and are not waiting until an enforcement comes into force,” he said. Besides, there are U.S. and EU regulations that Brazilian organizations must comply with if they want its data to flow internationally, Sombra adds.
As cases continue to come in, Sombra says it’s an opportunity for both his firm to grow in preeminence and for Sombra himself to learn more and more about an industry with seemingly inexhaustible issues and considerations. In fact, he and his partner prefer to have one or the other actively working on every case for just that purpose. It provides a personal touch for their clients, further sets them apart from competitors and allows them to come into contact with as many scenarios as possible.
Ultimately, “we want to be considered a reference in this field,” Sombra adds. While he said the firm has a score of plans for the future, they all take a back seat to establishing Odon Sombra Advogados as the go-to firm for privacy issues in the country.
"We want to be one of the most respected law firms in data protection in Brazil and in Latin America," he says.
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