Data protection consultancy launches ABS to offer legal advice

Beak: First specialist firm to have large companies as clients

A specialist data protection consultancy is now offering its clients legal advice after launching an alternative business structure (ABS) to compete with large law firms.

Privacy Partnership Law (PPL) is part of the Privacy Partnership Group, whose two non-lawyer founders – Nicola McKilligan and Jacqueline Gazey – each own 30% of the ABS.

The rest is owned by solicitor Jonathan Beak, PPL’s head of legal practice, who said it has already recruited three consultants, including two solicitors, since its launch last month.

Ms McKilligan said PPL was a response to the needs of clients “complaining about the price and availability of experts in data protection law”.

She went on: “It’s very difficult to find lawyers with experience outside the large firms. Niche law firms are the future. We’ve been inundated with requests for work.”

She said PPL aimed to build up a team of 10-15 consultants, the average size of a City law firm data protection team, to service its multi-national clients.

“Data protection is part of the DNA of every business and everybody should have access to specialist advice.”

Ms McKilligan added that there would always be a place for the big law firms, but “the mid-level generalist law firms are struggling a bit”.

Mr Beak is joined as senior privacy counsel at PPL by top data protection solicitor Robert Bond, who is working as a consultant.

The other lawyer consultants are solicitor Hazar Batman and non-practising barrister David Chamberlain. Ms McKilligan and Ms Gazey also work for PPL as consultants.

Mr Beak, HOLP and HOFA of the firm, also works as a consultant legal counsel at in-house lawyer outsourcing firm Legal Edge.

Having qualified as a solicitor at what was then Speechly Bircham, Mr Beak went in-house at a number of large businesses, including as chief counsel for European legal business at Thomson Reuters and general counsel at radio giant Global.

Mr Beak said the market for regulatory work was becoming more specialist.

“You have to look very hard for a team of specialist data protection lawyers. Very often you have experienced commercial lawyers with a bit of data protection. The real specialists are few and far between.

“Data protection lends itself to a firm like ours. For a lot of firms, it will be increasingly difficult for them to differentiate themselves and you end up being serviced by a more junior lawyer with more limited experience.”

Mr Beak said a “huge amount” of his workload at Legal Edge was related to data protection and he had known Ms McKilligan and Ms Gazey for a long time. They were both “absolutely focused” on data protection.

He said there were plenty of niche data protection law firms with one or two lawyers, but as far as he knew PPL was the first specialist firm to have large companies as clients.

Mr Beak said PPL had no targets for the number of consultants it would recruit by the end of the year or what its turnover would be.

It was possible that it would seek external funding in the future but it was “not necessary” at the moment.

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