When Amanda Branch started law school at Osgoode Hall in 2007, privacy law was in its infancy. It was a more innocent time, and most of us were too busy signing up for social media accounts to stop and consider the consequences of trusting corporations with our personal information.
But a series of high-profile data breaches have made privacy law a growing concern in every sector. As a result, the demand for lawyers well-versed in the area has skyrocketed. Here, Branch explains how to succeed in this fast-evolving field.
What does your work in privacy law involve?
“I represent start-ups, multinational corporations and companies that are established elsewhere and are now looking to come to Canada,” says Branch. “I help clients develop privacy policies, protect customer data and respond to security incidents.”
Branch also reviews product ideas and assesses their privacy risks. If a service inadequately protects personal information or an app casts too wide a net when collecting certain data, it’s her job to suggest changes that balance privacy and the client’s goals.
Drafting a consumer-facing policy takes Branch between several hours to a few weeks, and the process can involve back-and-forth with the client. The best policies are transparent about how a company uses personal information and offer users a genuine choice about what data to provide. Branch may also recommend changes to marketing copy to help manage users’ expectations.
One of the main challenges is making the policy succinct and understandable but still comprehensive from a legal perspective. “Studies have shown that many users don’t read privacy policies,” says Branch. “So it’s important to present the information in creative ways to make the policy accessible and easily understood by your target audience.”
One of Branch’s clients recently planned to send offers to customers based on their location. Her challenge was to ensure that users were aware of this practice so they weren’t surprised by alerts on their phone. “It involved striking a balance between ‘Nice! I can use this coupon right now’ and ‘Creepy! How does this retailer know I’m near their store?’” In cases like that, adding graphics or icons are a good way to break up an uninviting wall of text.
What is the employment landscape like for specialists in privacy law?
“Companies are becoming increasingly sensitive about their privacy obligations, so some are setting up their own privacy legal teams in-house,” says Branch. That is especially true for businesses that collect a lot of personal information, such as online stores and membership programs.
There are also many opportunities at law firms. “Many start-ups and smaller companies don’t have the resources to have a full-time in-house counsel, so outside experts are helpful for them.” In-house teams often retain external counsel to help respond to security incidents or to deal with complex privacy issues.
What do you like best about your work?
“I like the creativity involved and that it’s always different,” says Branch. “The law is constantly evolving to try to keep up with innovation. I like helping my clients navigate that tension.”