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The Privacy Advisor | Debevoise & Plimpton's Kelly leading on AI advisory work Related reading: Privacy doesn’t just exist for Parker Dupree, ‘it lives’

Editor's Note:

The IAPP’s “Profiles in Privacy” series features a monthly conversation with a notable privacy professional to discuss their journey in privacy, challenges and lessons learned along the way, and more.

Matthew Kelly, CIPP/US, may be among one of the last generations of lawyers who will be able to say they sorted through boxes and hard-copy documents of discovery while seeing a case through to the end.

Kelly said he was "lucky" to launch and grow his legal career in the mid-late 2000s, at a time when "tech advances were dramatically changing the practice." There's been a "massive rate of change" since, he said, with advancements like eDiscovery and tech-assisted tools impacting the "size, volume and speed of what we can do."

Now, he's helping to lead advisory work for Debevoise & Plimpton's Data Strategy & Security Group in one of the hottest, and quickly advancing, areas in the technology space today — artificial intelligence. Kelly joined the firm as counsel in late April, having previously represented financial services firms and public companies on data privacy, data governance and cybersecurity matters as a member of Davis Polk & Wardwell's cybersecurity and data privacy practice.

"There are a whole range of needs that are coming up now related to generative AI," Kelly said. "So, it's helping clients develop and build governance structures around their use of generative AI tools, helping them build similar structures while thinking about risks and opportunities, helping them manage those risks effectively and also looking down the road. We're looking to support that full range of needs. How do we help our clients take advantage of, and make the most of, these tools while also managing the many, many, many aspects of what this technology is going to look like."

AI technologies and capabilities are advancing at a rapid and unparalleled rate, while regulators around the world are looking at how to rein it in, leaving companies facing more legal and compliance risks than ever before. Managing so much uncertainty around technological advancements, the competitive landscape and the regulatory environment — and doing so within the context of the corporate lifecycle — is challenging, Kelly said.

"Firms have budgets, they have resources and limitations, they have plans and they don't usually plan on a week-to-week basis. So, when there are changes and challenges occurring on a week-to-week basis, it is very hard, particularly the larger the company and the more constituencies they are trying to be accountable to, to be able to turn the ship in response to every development along the way," he said.

"The kinds of topics we work on in general, including AI, are ones that are really hard. There are no easy answers. And, in my experience, our clients are really trying to do the right thing. So, trying to think through these challenges with that in mind, and understanding what the client's goals are, to come up with a longer term, more durable plan, as opposed to responding to every shift in trade winds, drives what we do."

Kelly said the Data Strategy & Security Group includes subject matter experts working to keep on top of the technology, advancements and emerging issues as they evolve, then working to determine how to meet clients' needs in efficient and effective ways.

"We have a really extraordinary team of Debevoise associates who have incredible technical backgrounds, many of them, and are really able to synthesize, process and ingest this flow of data as it comes out every day and to make sure the things that are most important are on our radar, and we can work together to sort of chip away at that mountain every day," he said. "We have enough of a critical mass of clients across industries on some of these topics that we're really able to get a sense of what's happening, what issues our clients are facing, and use that context to help others navigate similar challenges. It really is a collective effort across the board."

The legal field is demanding and challenging, Kelly said, but working to meet clients' needs in ever-evolving areas like AI and cybersecurity is exciting.

"The fun part of the job is that I'm always learning," he said. "This cannot be a solo practice. It has to be one where you have a team that covers the depth and breadth of your client's needs.  I get to be humbled every day by just how much I don't know. And I'm really grateful to be working with a team here at Debevoise that is able to cover those many gaps that I have."

As he embarks on the Data Strategy & Security Group's AI advisory work, Kelly said he enjoys working to digest technical, complex topics and then convey information in a simple and understandable way — in what can often be high-stakes cases.

"It's rewarding when you're working with a client and they've invested their blood, sweat and tears into their business or product, and they're counting on you to tell their story and do it justice," he said. "When they feel you've done that, it's a pretty great feeling."

Kelly said he's been lucky to have "incredible mentors" along the way and has built "hugely important relationships." He said his "advice for anybody who will listen" is to build relationships.

"Find people who believe in you, who are going to challenge you, who will back you and help you grow and develop. There's really no substitute for it," he said. "Build relationships with everyone — with clients, with colleagues, with co-counsel or even with opposing counsel in cases when you have them — because the profession is small, and the career is long."

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