Five minutes with Sarah Slevin
Sarah Slevin, solicitor in Ronan Daly Jermyn's Cyber and Data Protection Group, talks about what attracted her to a career in law, technology trends she is following and the future of the legal profession.
Why did you decide on a career in law?
The work of a solicitor seemed, to me, to combine a number of activities I enjoyed and thought I might be good at: problem-solving; research and analysis; using and interpreting language; understanding what your client needs and responding; and arguing my point (something to which those close to me will probably attest). It also offered the type of working life I wanted: variety; excitement (some might call it a 'thrill'); a degree of competitiveness; but, most importantly, engagement with people across all aspects of society – be it business, personal or otherwise.
Why are you interested in technology and data protection law specifically?
No other area of law offers more scope for constant change or is more relevant to the modern world and how it will be shaped into the future. Technology and data law didn't even exist as a sector within the legal profession 15 years ago – now, it is a subject which touches and affects every person, every business and nearly every product. That is something I want to be a part of!
When you think about it, all the great revolutions of the past created the legal system we have today. The Magna Carta prevented arbitrary use of power. It took the industrial revolution of the 19th century to create contract law and develop the idea of freedom of contract for all, without which the economy couldn't function. We are now at the digital revolution – until now, the law has been struggling to adapt, but this, I believe, and like the revolutions before now, will lead to major and defining changes in law as a concept and how it applies to all aspects of life.
How has your career as a solicitor (thus far) overlapped with your interest in technology?
Other than working in the field of technology, cyber and data protection law day-to-day, it has given me opportunities to move beyond law and see things from the client's perspective. Last year I participated in the American Chamber of Commerce's Future Leaders Hackathon, in which younger professionals from member companies came together to innovate and develop products and/or services which would make Ireland the best country in which to live and work (not meaning to brag, but my team were crowned victorious... for more information just ask!)
Hopefully these types of engagements show I know that being a good solicitor is 'more than law' and have helped to develop a level of commercial awareness and an understanding of key underlying concepts and technological developments necessary for me to offer clients a service that is second to none.
GDPR: much ado about nothing, or a defining moment for rights in the 21st century?
Honestly, both. Data is the new oil, but unlike oil, its value is built upon the property of every individual, being our personal information. GDPR is a necessary innovation; it is the first move towards giving data the true protection it needs. Having said all that, all GDPR really requires is a change of mindset combined with simple structural protections. With requisite initiative, and the right advice, every organisation can become 'GDPR-compliant', which will benefit not only real people but the organisations themselves.
Looking to the future, name the likely digital or technological innovation that excites you the most.
As nerdy as it may sound, I find the idea of 'smart contracts' to be fascinating. The underlying blockchain technology may be more famous for its use in cryptocurrencies, but the idea of a contract which could self-execute, without any likelihood of abuse or human error, is huge. As well as this, the fact that the drafter will need to be not only a legal expert but also a master of the underlying technology is exciting. It also shows the enormous potential of blockchain to be one of the 'revolutionary' technological developments of the next few years.
What will the practice of law look like 20 years from now?
The practice of law now looks nothing like it did 20 years ago, and even five years from now it will be completely different to today. The pace of change within the legal profession never ceases to amaze me, and the best lawyers will embrace this to their clients' advantage. Gone (hopefully) is the image of a grey-haired man in a suit rifling through dusty deeds. Within five years, I believe a solicitor's workday will be indistinguishable from someone working with an IT company or an online business.
Finally, name your favourite...
Band/artist; Anything falling within the genres of eighties power ballads or eighties rock. Can't narrow it further, I'm afraid.
Recent book; I recently read the original House of Cards novel, by British author Michael Dobbs. A proper political thriller.
Television show; A difficult one, but I'll name two – Doctor Foster and The Fall. Also, honorary mention must go to the Good Wife, and Diane Lockhart in particular. An icon to us all.