Everyone's busy during the holidays. But this past year, Rainer Knyrim, CIPM, and Gerald Trieb were very busy.
On Dec. 29, they packed up their offices at their former firm, Preslmayr, and started a new practice. Appropriately dubbed Knyrim-Trieb Attorneys at Law, Austria’s first boutique data protection firm was born Jan. 2.
It’s been just over a month, and the duo hasn't looked back. They haven’t had time to.
“The past month has been the busiest of my life,” Trieb said.
However, the two were calm in describing their “fully booked” schedules; not a hint of freneticism. Perhaps that calm is the result of the preparedness born from years in the industry. Or, maybe it’s just their 20/20 foresight speaking; they'd seen the explosion of privacy and companies' subsequent needs for counsel for a long time.
Knyrim has the distinction of being the first data privacy lawyer in Austria. He caught the privacy bug after landing a post-bar exam job in the U.K. It was then that he began wondering if Austria had a cadre of similarly bent lawyers. He quickly found: It didn’t.
“There was nobody saying, ‘come to my office and do privacy work,’” he said. So, Knyrim made a resolution to be that person.
“People thought I was crazy,” he said. Others would warn him, “’You’re starting as a young lawyer and you’ll go bankrupt!’” He ignored them, instead writing to the Austrian Bar Association to include “privacy” as an official area of legal study when registering on its website. At the time, he would be the only lawyer in the country to need it.
But not for long.
It was when Knyrim joined Preslmayr that he met the newly hired Trieb, graduate of the University of Vienna and the University of San Diego School of Law. There, Trieb started the firm's data protection practice and collaborated often with Knyrim as the firm increasingly handled privacy issues. Meanwhile, their personal notoriety as professionals in the industry continued to grow. It wasn’t long before they decided it was time for a change — especially when surveying the privacy landscape. “I thought about: why shouldn’t I start up my own law firm?” Knyrim said. Trieb was immediately on board.
“We’re a really great team,” Knyrim continued. “Last year, we just decided to do it. We thought with the General Data Protection Regulation coming, we’d be stupid not to do it.”
And the rest is history. They performed what they called a “heart transplant,” taking a good chunk of their clients (and some of their colleagues) with them to their new firm. Business is bustling, they say, mainly fueled by companies' GDPR concerns desires to become compliant. “Now all these colleagues who said, ‘let’s pick another subject’ are saying, ‘ok, now you really had the right feeling, you’re creating business,’” Knyrim said.
Trieb credited the duo’s vast, combined experience as what sets their practice apart.
“There is no other law firm that has this kind of long and high expertise in privacy law and data protection,” he said. “What distinguishes us is that we really try to advise the client in person, and have our people work in the background.”
Clients notice, he continued.
Clients range from Austrian companies of all stripes to multinationals. Many such Austrian businesses are coming to the firm with absolutely no concept of what they have to do to gear up. In those cases, “they’re starting completely from scratch, with no data protection ever,” Knyrim said. That leaves Knyrim and Trieb with 15 months to get those companies ready to comply.
“It’s like launching a rocket," Knyrim said.
But in many cases, it’s like launching a rocket when the astronauts have no idea how to pilot — and just found out they were going to space.
Trieb emphasized the sheer amount of information the firm's teams have to educate clients about. Knyrim said the issue with the fundamental lack of GDPR and privacy-knowledge in general stems from a missing sense of good privacy management.
“We need to get the clients to understand it’s really more about building up a structure,” he said, not just waving a magic wand and hoping against breaches. Most companies just don’t have this necessary infrastructure, he added.
The firm hopes to change that, working with clients to not only get GDPR-ready, but also stay GDPR ready as time passes. Then there’s also the team’s other projects, like establishing whistleblowing hotlines and drafting work council agreements, to keep them busy.
Despite being busy, Knyrim and Trieb are happy to manage the influx of clients clamoring for their wisdom. One thing's for sure about this regulatory shift: it's good for business.
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