As in-house counsel, you have probably been asked the following question by a panicked (or at least pretty stressed-out) CEO or CFO: “What are we doing about data privacy? Are we okay?” You likely have a good answer, or at least the start of one. Still, your answer may be as open-ended as the question and you can feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on the topic. I know that you want to read another article about data privacy about as much as you’d like to have a safe dropped on your head. But, don’t stop reading. This will not be an overly-detailed discussion about all of the nuances of the issue or a list of regulations and laws of multiple countries (though those discussions are valuable). This edition of “Ten Things” will set out the essential things you need to know about data privacy — key points that you can focus on as you work through or oversee data issues for your company.
One of the most interesting questions you can get as in-house counsel is this: “Hey, I am going to a meeting with some competitors tomorrow, is there anything special I should do to make sure I don’t get in trouble?” A question like this is like a good law school exam – there is almost too much to talk about! As most in-house counsel know, meetings between competitors can be tricky stuff and fraught with risk, both for the company and the employee. Improper agreements between competitors (e.g., price fixing, bid rigging, dividing territory or customers) can lead to costly litigation, investigations, fines, damages (trebled), and even handcuffs and jail. The only 100% safe route is no communications with competitors ever. A restriction like this, however, is unlikely to win the legal department any friends at the company and is unnecessary as there are a number of situations where conversations between competitors are needed and completely appropriate. The key is making sure the employees at your company, from the CEO on down, have a basic understand of the rules of the road for interacting with competitors and know when to contact the legal department for guidance.
One of the most important internal relationships for an in-house Legal Department is with the Human Resources team. Much of the HR department’s day-to-day work directly involves legal issues and analysis. Likewise, some of the nastiest and “headline-grabbing” litigation involves employees and their claims alleging mistreatment, discrimination, malfeasance, etc. Regardless of whether there is any merit to such claims, these disputes tend to be very public and can negatively impact your company’s brand and reputation (along with economic consequences in the event the company pays a settlement or loses in court). That’s why it is very important that Legal and HR closely cooperate and align on how to best protect the company from employment-related issues. Working together, one plus one can add up to three.