Charmian Aw specializes in helping clients navigate complex legal and compliance risks associated with their use of technology and data. Based in Singapore, she explains in this interview with Asia Law Portal the most important current data and technology considerations for companies doing business in the APAC region, the importance of strategy in her counseling of clients, what inspired her to specialize in “tech and data” law, and how publishing has helped her achieve her client development objectives.
Your practice focuses on advising clients on data and technology matters. Tell us more about this.
I work with clients to navigate the increasingly complex legal and compliance risks associated with their use of technology as well as data. Tech and data are seen as important drivers of the business, and have the potential to unlock strategic value and commercial advantages, but equally, can trip a company up if there is insufficient understanding as to their impact and implications from a legal and regulatory standpoint.
As my practice is sector-agnostic, I’ve had the pleasure of taking on some very interesting work for big name clients from different industries. A couple of recent highlights include acting for a beauty conglomerate in its launch of e-commerce websites across multiple markets in APAC, conducting a comprehensive data protection and security risk assessment for a well-loved fast food chain, and advising a popular social media platform on age appropriate requirements across 82 jurisdictions worldwide.
What are the most important current data and technology considerations (both challenges and opportunities) for companies doing business in the APAC region?
Tech adoption is still patchy in some parts of APAC. Generally speaking, the legal frameworks in this arena are also relatively greenfield compared to those in the United States and Europe. That said, a myriad of data laws has mushroomed in Asia of late, with significant markets such as China, India and Indonesia passing or looking to enact imminently comprehensive laws on data privacy and cybersecurity, as well as rules pertaining to cross border data transfers. These laws will affect any company whose operational reach or business spans more than one country. As enforcement of these rules is expected to continue to ramp up, it is important for businesses to keep abreast of developments to avoid hefty sanctions, fines, and reputational damage arising from any non-compliance.
Your practice focuses both on technical legal advisement – as well as strategic advisement. Tell us more about this and why it is important for lawyers to be focused on the strategy as well as the law.
Ultimately, tech and data are enablers for a business. When harnessed well, their use can generate substantial benefit from an operational and commercial standpoint. A key objective of the growing body of law which governs tech and data use is to ensure that businesses which deploy such technology and/or process such data do so in a fair and reasonable way. Against this backdrop, it is very easy to lose sight of the bigger picture – as legal requirements and jurisdiction-specific nuances that underpin these rules become more and more complex, intricate and fragmented.
What was your inspiration for pursuing a career as a data and technology focused lawyer?
I started out primarily as a telecoms, media and technology (TMT) lawyer. This offered me a chance to build a strong foundation as a commercial and regulatory lawyer advising on a broad spectrum of tech and data related issues. With the tectonic shifts and rapid evolution of the business and legal landscape accelerated by digitalisation and emerging technologies especially in the last decade, however, I have found that “tech and data” is a more accurate description of my practice, and of greater direct relevance to my clients as well.
What have been the most effective marketing and business development initiatives you have undertaken to build a practice?
I have found client publications to be particularly well received. In my experience, these publications are the most helpful when they not only outline emerging legal developments but also explain clearly how these relevant changes might affect a business, and what a client must, should or can do in response to them.
How can clients and referral sources contact you?
Please follow and connect with me on LinkedIn. You can also drop me a message there or on email at firstname.lastname@example.org.