Survey: The best privacy advisers of 2010

This year's survey finds law firms still tops

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The survey also showed that firms may be looking for services beyond traditional advice from experts. New entrants to the list of top vote-getters include service providers, a certification firm and a professional association. Among them:

• San Francisco-based Truste is the provider of the popular Web-privacy seal and a number of other privacy-verification products and services.

• Portland, Ore.-based ID Experts and Austin-based Debix provide data-breach response services.

• Toronto-based Nymity provides an information portal for privacy content.

•Seattle-based MediaPro offers computer-based training for privacy and security.

The International Association of Privacy Professionals organizes the best-attended privacy conferences and offers the CIPP certification for the privacy profession.

Table 1: Top firms for privacy advice

Firm Voting Tier
† Hunton & Williams 1
† Morrison & Foerster 2
† Foley & Lardner 2
† Privacy & Information Management Services 2
‡ Samet Privacy 2
† Hogan Lovells 2
‡ PricewaterhouseCoopers 2
‡ Ernst & Young 2
† Covington & Burling 2
‡ Corporate Privacy Group 3
‡ Deloitte & Touche 3
‡ Rebecca Herold & Associates 3
† Wiley Rein 3
† Infolaw Group 3
Ponemon Institute 3
† Baker & Mckenzie 3
Truste 3
† Drinker Biddle & Reath 3
† Field Fisher Waterhouse 3
† Bird & Bird 3
Nymity 3
‡ Mitre 3
† Oldaker Belair & Wittie 3
Debix 3
† DLA Piper 3
ID Experts 3
MediaPro 3
† Venable 3
In the table below, law firms are marked with a dagger symbol (†), and consulting firms with a double dagger (‡). The firms are ranked in order of the number of votes received, but banded into three tiers to compensate for statistical margin of error. Tier 1 firms garnered more than 10% of total votes, Tier 2 firms received 3% to 10%, and Tier 3 firms achieved 1 to 2% of votes.

In the interest of full disclosure, Minnesota Privacy Consultants, the author's firm, finished behind Foley & Lardner.
Source: Minnesota Privacy Consultants

I asked Overbrook Research to carry out the survey again this year. Overbrook performs professional research for national political candidates, and The Wall Street Journal and other national media outlets have featured its work. The privacy professionals participating in the survey (there were 146 respondents this time - people in large corporations and government agencies who have data privacy responsibilities, based primarily in North America but also Europe) could choose up to three firms as their top picks, muting the effect of a bias that could result if a respondent was in the midst of communicating with one of the firms during the polling period. I weighted more heavily the responses of those survey participants who chose three firms compared to those who chose two or one.

Table 2: Best privacy adviser -- individual

Individual Firm Role
Lisa Sotto Hunton & Williams Attorney
Andrew Serwin Foley & Lardner Attorney
Rebecca Herold Rebecca Herold & Associates Consultant
Shai Samet Samet Privacy Consultant
Miriam Wugmeister Morrison & Foerster Attorney
Peggy Eisenhauer Privacy & Information Management Services Attorney
Daniel Solove George Washington University Professor
Martin Abrams Hunton & Williams Consultant
Christopher Kuner Hunton & Williams Attorney
Stuart Ingis Venable Attorney
Eduardo Ustaran Field Fisher Waterhouse Attorney
Ann Cavoukian Government of Ontario Regulator
Christopher Wolf Hogan Lovells Attorney
Richard Purcell Corporate Privacy Group Consultant
Jules Polotensky Privacy Futures Attorney
Kirk Nahra Wiley Rein Attorney
Jennifer Stoddart Government of Canada Regulator
Christopher Zoladz Navigate Consultant
KC Turan Dun & Bradstreet CPO
Richard Thomas Hunton & Williams Attorney
Robert Rothman Privacy Associates International Consultant
Stanley Crosley Privacy & Information Management Services Attorney
Alan Westin Columbia University Professor
Ariane Mole Bird & Bird Attorney
Christopher Millard University of London Professor
Francois Gilbert IT Law Group Attorney
Nuala O'Connor Kelly GE CPO
Robert Bond Speechlys Attorney
Respondents gave top billing to Lisa Sotto of Hunton & Williams when asked, Which person would you consider to be the top global expert on privacy? Respondents could choose only one person.

Note: The author ranked behind Andrew Serwin, but this result has to be discounted in light of likely influence, since he was known to be conducting the survey.
Source: Minnesota Privacy Consultants


What do these experts foresee in the privacy arena in 2011?

"Online behavioral advertising, cloud computing and smart grid were front-burner issues in 2010," said Lisa Sotto, head of the privacy practice at Hunton & Williams. "Those issues will continue to hold the spotlight in 2011."

Sotto added that new privacy laws around the world and innovative uses of data will "guarantee the need for experts who think about privacy issues 24/7."

Eduardo Ustaran, a partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse in London, points out that in Europe, for example, 2011 brings a new e-privacy regime across member states and firm proposals for a new EU data protection directive. Jonathan Armstrong of Duane Morris LLP sees a "repeat of the issues around whistleblowing, but magnified. The bounty provisions of Dodd-Frank legislation and the U.K.'s Bribery Act 2010 mean significant changes for any global business."

Kirk Nahra, a partner with Wiley Rein in Washington, D.C., said that where businesses need most help "is in managing the wide range of overlapping and often inconsistent laws, as well as understanding best practices across a variety of industries." He added, "It is the growing complexity and volume of these laws and regulations that's creating the compliance problems, rather than the substance of the privacy standards themselves."

Much of this in the U.S. will play out in state laws. Kevin Lyles, privacy practice leader at Jones Day, anticipates that many states will follow the lead of Massachusetts in requiring companies to document their data security programs. John Corelli, president of JMC Privacy Consulting Group, sees state attorneys general stepping up random auditing for all areas of privacy compliance, along with the FTC.

Table 3: What separates the leaders from the pack

Differentiator Rank 2008 Rank
Broad and deep expertise 1 1
Practical advice 2 2
Global staff and affiliates 3 4
Timely and thorough work 4 5
They understand my business 5 3
Interdisciplinary perspective 6 7
Government connections 7 6
Accessible staff 8 8
Good value for the rates charged 9 9
Respondents were asked to choose one reason from the following menu to explain why they voted for their best policy advisers.
Source: Minnesota Privacy Consultants

Why the best are the best

Some things never go out of style. Since I began the survey in 2006, respondents have cited "broad and deep expertise" and "practical advice" as the top two reasons they chose the firms they did. Those concerned with protecting data want the right answer, and they want it delivered in practical terms that make sense for their organization and industry.

Also, as globalization continues apace, respondents in the most recent survey gave higher priority than they have in the past to advisory firms having "global staff and affiliates." As the previous surveys showed, good advice does not usually come cheap. Of the nine possible choices offered, "good value for the rates charged" once again ranked dead last.

Jay Cline is president of Minnesota Privacy Consultants. You can reach him at


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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