Nicola Benz & Lukas Bühlmann: “Regulation should remain technology-neutral”
The co-heads of the ICT & Technology team at newly combined firm Meyerlustenberger Lachenal Froriep discuss their ambitions for the department, and advice for regulators.
Leaders League: You both will co-head the TMT department of the merged law firm. What are your ambitions for your department this upcoming year?
Nicola & Lukas: Our goal is to provide our clients with the best possible assistance to meet the fast-evolving challenges they face. With our newly combined teams we have an unrivalled depth of expertise to do this. For example, with the upcoming implementation of the revised Swiss Data Protection Act, Swiss businesses will have new compliance requirements to meet. We can provide industry specific data protection training, advice and compliance programs to suit clients whose business model involves processing significant amounts of data and clients who are affected only to a limited extent. Particularly in healthcare, hospitality and e-commerce platform industries, we bring together a tremendous amount of practical experience.
With our Cybersecurity Incident Response Hub, we aim to deliver a holistic response to the growing cybersecurity threats facing our clients. In partnership with firms providing technical and PR expertise, we can cover all aspects of a cyber incident.
Both Froriep and Meyerlustenberger Lachenal are noted for their expertise in innovative sectors such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and fintech. In which particular areas of innovation will the new firm build or focus its strengths, given how rapidly the landscape is changing?
Nicola & Lukas: Blockchain, artificial intelligence and fintech all remain central focus areas for the new firm. In addition, cybersecurity will continue to be a key area for us.
With a dedicated member of the firm’s management board responsible for innovation and legal tech, we are well set-up to respond to the evolving landscape. We have a pipeline of legal tech projects, the first of which, the provision of automated MLL documents, is already up and running.
Lukas, you have extensive knowledge in the world of luxury goods and retail. How have you helped your clients in this sector navigate an unprecedentedly difficult time for retail, and what new trends will we see in this market?
Lukas: The growing importance of digitization has been a driver for the growing customer expectations of online sales channels in retail in general, and especially for more exclusive consumer products such as luxury goods or cars. Customers expect such products to be offered online under similar conditions to those offline. For us as lawyers, this means that there are numerous functionalities of personalization, cross-channel relationships with customers, and loyalty programs, often brand-specific, which need to be legally checked. Brand ambassadors, influencers and social-media marketing also play an important role for the retail of luxury goods and bring their own legal challenges.
The pandemic and its impact on e-commerce has on the one hand increased the importance of online sales for many retail branches which have not yet been very “digital”, leading to demand for legal counsel in often very urgent projects. In addition, high consumer demand, restricted logistics and capacities on the part of logistic partners, and shortages in supply channels have provoked increased focus on related contractual issues.
Nicola, being a leading woman in law with a focus on innovative technology, what are the main roadblocks to gender parity in this sector? And what is your advice to women who want to work in this sector but also recognize their lack of representation?
Nicola: The roadblocks in this field are no greater than in other areas of the law. As more and more women take leading roles within technology industries, there is increasing openness to women advisers too. We are some way off from a situation where there is gender parity, but the number of people (men and women) working in that direction is growing all the time.
If you are interested in the sector and have an openness and enthusiasm to learn, you should not feel held back by a lack of representation. My advice to women who want to work with technology is, “go for it!”.
A question for both of you: what advice would you give regulators trying to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation while also trying to safeguard consumers’ interests?
Nicola & Lukas: Regulation should wherever possible remain technology-neutral. It is the interests behind the technology, be it consumer interests, investor interests, technology developer interests or others, that should be addressed by regulation.
The challenge for regulators is to understand the technology and how it affects these differing interests. That requires a great degree of agility and openness to new developments. If regulators can achieve that, and move quickly to create legal certainty in new areas, they will make a very important contribution to Switzerland’s attractiveness as a market for cutting-edge technologies.
Another question for both of you: what are the most important lessons you have learned since you began your career?
Lukas: A legal career is a personal journey which gives you the great freedom, but also the responsibility, to develop your professional and personal experience through your own interests. If you want to be a successful lawyer, whatever the perspective, you need to always stay interested in what you do and the questions you work on, be it for a client’s case, an academic research project or your own specialization and focus. It is mostly not the following of trends or apparently successful career paths that will lead you to success and – even more important – satisfaction.
Nicola: I have learnt that the legal profession is one of the most varied and interesting professions there is. The variety of the work involved is second-to-none. I have also learned to set myself goals and work towards them with determination, not to be put off by what might seem to be setbacks but to keep looking forward. Even if you end up in a different place to the one you originally intended, you will have learned a great deal, which will help you move towards your next goals.
My initial goal having studied Scots law was to become a judge in the House of Lords. Now here I am as Co-Head of the ICT and Technology Group at the newly merged firm of Meyerlustenberger Lachenal Froriep, and I could not be happier with the way my career has developed so far.
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