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Data Privacy Lawyer Expands Her Skill Set Through Prestigious Axiom Clients

August 2022
By Axiom Law

Laura left one of the largest and most prestigious international law firms to join Axiom where she is able to fulfill her passions for family, data privacy law, and her non-profit running organization.

Spotlight Laura McNeill

Laura’s path from litigation with an Am Law 50 firm to data privacy with Axiom

After graduating from NYU School of Law, Laura joined Davis Polk & Wardwell as a litigator, which is what she planned to do for the rest of her career. She spent almost two decades practicing litigation, particularly white-collar defense, never imagining she’d practice in any other legal field. That all changed when by “random chance,” she took a Harvard professional development class in cybersecurity and found it very interesting. A few weeks later, while chatting about the course with one of her Davis Polk colleagues, who was working on a cybersecurity project, she was invited to join the project. Some months later, this spilled into her stepping out of litigation for a year to focus on a privacy compliance project for the firm to meet the mandates of the GDPR, which was just coming into effect. Her previous experience working for three years in London, where data protection and data privacy laws have long been in play, gave her a leg-up in the privacy arena at a time when the GDPR was imposing broad privacy compliance requirements on U.S. businesses for, in most cases, the first time.

“I decided to step out and do this one-year project for the firm and found I absolutely loved it. When it was done, I made a decision: I wanted to stay in privacy law rather than go back into litigation. Privacy lawyers were just beginning to be in high demand, so there were actually a number of opportunities open to me. After talking with Axiom, I felt the model just made tremendous sense. I thought Axiom would offer me a way to have diverse exposure to the practice area more quickly than going into a fixed position with one company.”

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Laura’s first Axiom engagement, for a Fortune 50 telecom provider, was slated to be for six months. Three years later, she remains in that same engagement. To Laura’s surprise, she found that her “broad and diverse exposure to privacy law issues since joining Axiom has actually come not through multiple engagements with different Axiom clients, as I’d have expected, but rather through the deep dive and breadth of exposure you can achieve from being at one place for a long time and working on a privacy compliance program that touches nearly every corner of the business. Working with an incredibly talented privacy legal team in an organization where privacy is handled at the highest level of competence has given me simply the best work a privacy lawyer could imagine.” Laura ended up with the best of both worlds: longevity with a top Axiom client, and still gaining the exposure to diverse aspects of data privacy legal compliance she initially sought.

Laura appreciates that her client understands the importance of data privacy and how it impacts and influences its customers: “This client has made its organization a place where privacy is a brand differentiator and a place where privacy initiatives and compliance are taken very seriously. The practice of privacy law here is top-notch. It’s been a great experience.”

Axiom offers her flexibility and stability

“I think Axiom affords a kind of flexibility that you do not see if you're practicing in a law firm. I’ve chosen to work full-time since I joined Axiom. But, I know that I could choose a different structure if I need to at some point in my life, to meet family or other demands.” While she now has older kids and hasn’t needed to take advantage of the option to work less than full-time, Laura understands why so many lawyers would embrace the opportunity to have this flexibility. “You’re not likely to be afforded that option in the law firm setting without it disadvantaging your career progression,” she adds.

Laura also enjoys the certainty to have the ability to take off time between engagements if needed, which is another flexibility benefit of the Axiom model. Last but not least, Laura values the way that Axiom matches lawyers with engagements: “When you are offered a possible engagement, not only does the client interview you for fit in the engagement but you also interview the client. It’s a mutual choice. I think that’s a neat aspect because it really enhances the likelihood that you're going to be happy with the work you're doing and that the engagement will match with your skill set or enhance your skill set.”

Laura’s wisdom gained from her current client could help guide growth businesses to be forward-thinking in their privacy practices

“When I was pitched this engagement by my Talent Partner, I was told it was a great client, and it truly has been. The roles I’ve been given have provided a wealth of experience.” At the end of this long-term engagement, Laura anticipates an engagement at another company with a fulsome set of privacy needs. Alternatively, she sees how valuable her experience could be to smaller companies that might not be approaching privacy at this level or with this amount of attention to the quickly expanding U.S. privacy landscape, noting that “a lot of companies could really benefit from seeing how it’s done in the big leagues.” Being with a very large company with such a robust approach to privacy compliance has afforded her experience with not just a large range of privacy issues but with the task of managing the nuanced legal landscape, U.S. companies are increasingly facing in the privacy sphere.

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“In addition to the client’s large consumer base and the privacy considerations for the consumer business, the company also has a B2B side to contend with, so that brings yet another set of considerations, particularly with California’s privacy law expanding in scope to cover both B2B and employee personal data as of January 1, 2023. The company is very foot-forward, so we are out there analyzing the new privacy laws and implementing compliance solutions to issues that some businesses haven’t even begun to grapple with yet. We are actively monitoring regulatory developments with respect to the new state privacy laws coming into effect, and we provide a voice where we can on how these laws impact businesses in the ‘real world application’ of them.”

“Since the laws are quite new, sometimes there are unforeseen effects that make it really tricky for businesses to be certain they will be compliant. We try to foresee these issues and, along with others in our industry who are grappling with the same concerns, make them known to the agencies and people writing and implementing regulations and overseeing enforcement. In addition to all this, the company goes above and beyond what the new state privacy laws require in some areas to demonstrate to our customers how important privacy is to us as a company. I’ve found this approach interesting and something that I can carry forward as a discussion to have with other clients.”

In this engagement, Laura has seen that when privacy matters to a company’s brand, privacy practices can actually help the business retain and attract customers. Her client has demonstrated how organizations can step out and say, “‘transparency and credibility about the way we handle your personal information are so important to us that our privacy practices go above and beyond what the law requires in some respects.” Although Laura’s engagement will come to a close at the end of the year, the company continues to engage new Axiom lawyers on projects across the business: “I think it’s really hats off to us at Axiom, establishing that amount of trust with them and retaining their business over the course of many years now.”

Laura urges more experienced and skilled lawyers to expand their careers through Axiom

Regarding a more seasoned lawyer’s potential hesitancy to start somewhere new, Laura says, “I think you don't have to worry that somehow your level of maturity in the cycle of being a lawyer is going to be lost on your client or that you’ll be put on engagements that don’t utilize your talents. That has certainly not been my experience. When you arrive at an engagement with a lot of experience in the practice area or with really deep experience as a lawyer, they are going to see and value that.” She believes that’s probably one of the reasons her current engagement became three years instead of the projected six months: “When you are an experienced lawyer, there may be places your client can utilize your skills that they didn't necessarily plan on originally.”

Additionally, Laura notes that some companies prefer to hire for their in-house legal team at lower seniority levels or at the lower end of the pay scale. Thus, for an experienced lawyer, going directly to work in-house might involve accepting a lower-level position in order to get in the door: “With Axiom, you don’t have to do that. You can be placed in these top-notch in-house legal groups and immediately function at a level commensurate with your experience.”

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Continuing her career through Axiom

Speaking candidly, Laura also appreciates that if she does ever decide to move to a permanent in-house role with one of Axiom’s clients, she knows she will have Axiom’s support: “Unlike some employers that try to prevent that kind of flow, Axiom doesn’t, and I think it’s mutually beneficial to Axiom and to its lawyers to allow for that.” She admits being approached by various companies, including Axiom clients, for different opportunities over the last three years, but after weighing each one, she’s decided Axiom is the better fit for her during this time in her life and career. In all of the cases where she was approached by other employers, Axiom pay was competitive, which, combined with flexibility and other considerations, made the decision easy: “I anticipate because I had a great experience thus far – which also increases my value to other clients – that I will continue to have engagements that challenge me and provide me with interesting work – so I plan to stay.”

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Posted by Axiom Law