What Does It Really Mean to Be a Technology Lawyer?
The ability to keep up with technological innovation in an evolving industry is often the difference between winners and losers. If being a tech lawyer in the early 2000s meant that you were a cutting-edge professional in a big blue ocean of opportunities, in 2019 you are probably another wolf in the pack dealing with fierce competition and an increasing pressure to conduct business faster and more effectively.
This trend was predictable. If technology courses were nonexistent in law schools ten years ago, almost all top law schools now have undergraduate and graduate courses on media, technology, innovation and data protection. Five years after the Marco Civil da Internet, Brazilian legislation on Internet matters is solid. Precedents are maturing and new, complex and detailed statutes such as Brazil’s General Data Protection Law (LGPD) have not lagged behind some of the most advanced international regulations. However, many tech-focused legal professionals still suffer from an identity crisis which prevents teams and practices to be as sophisticated as the sector needs.
Certain factors support this diagnostic. First, information is widespread across different practices, such as Tax, Corporate, M&A, Labor, Capital Markets. All require an upstanding expertise of technology, since innovation is at the core of each and every modern industry. Secondly, a millennial shift in the workforce is inevitable and younger generations have such a deep-rooted acquaintance of tech matters that being a computer geek will soon no longer be a distinction. Finally, as in any practice, standardization, price competition and network effects are making the pretentious wisdom of the law commonplace, which, by the way, is a necessary and welcome development for society as a whole.
Thus, if one is still defining its “digital law” practice as something unique and detached from other practices, this is the right time for a great leap forward. Very few issues in 2019 can be seen as purely tech law issues. The truly modern practice must combine elements of intellectual property, commercial transactions, data protection and M&A to meet the demands of a fast-paced, increasingly globalized environment, with an aggressive integration with other practices in a full-service-approach law firm. Experience and track-record will still leverage competition, but a deep understanding of technological and business issues will be decisive for clients, especially for emerging techy fields such as fintechs, digital media, VoD, gig economy, healthtechs, Internet infrastructure and urban mobility.
Some attributes will still keep technology attorneys one step ahead. Professionals raised in this field are usually more adaptable to the pragmatic approach required by anxious, time-savvy industry executives who are enthusiastic to engage business lawyers with a strong knowledge of their sector. Also, scalability is not only a trendy word for practitioners in this area, who are used to intangible, global and high-scale challenges that require adaptable and broad solutions rather than aged, specific and tailor-made legalese. Most importantly, tech counsel must be acquainted with distinctive reasoning and communication skills, able to go outside the box and unzip the most challenging confrontations between regulation and innovation.
Practicing at the top of our game requires courage and creativity. Lawyers need to be both business executives and razor-sharp legal professionals, balancing deal making with risk prevention. To be a tech lawyer at the sexiest moment in this industry also means to get rid of any definitions, nouns and categories, at the risk of making the same mistakes which excessive practice division led traditional lawyers to make. Clients demand an integrated, business-oriented and solution-based lawyer, and the state of the industry in Brazil provides a unique opportunity for professionals to be, once again, innovative in our field.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pedro H. Ramos: Partner at Baptista Luz Advogados, Pedro graduated from Universidade de São Paulo (USP), holds a Master’s of Laws from Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) and is a former Stanford Law School researcher. He has been representing clients from the technology sector since 2009 and is recognized for his leading expertise in media, data protection legislation and tech transactions. He is the co-author of “Regulatory Environment: Public Policy Best Practices to Support Startups”.
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