Q&A with Olivier Proust, Partner, at Fieldfisher
Q: What is your legal background (including education, early career etc.)?
OP: I graduated from the Université Panthéon Assas in Paris and spent a year in Toronto studying for an LLM (a Masters in the Anglo-Saxon law system). I returned to France and completed an additional year at the University of Strasbourg for another Masters law degree. After qualifying at the bar school in Strasbourg I started working in a boutique law firm in Paris specialized in IP/IT law. For two years I worked mainly on information technology law issues and that's how I got into data protection. Data protection used to be such a niche area. The first law firm I worked for in Paris was one of the few firms in France that specialised in privacy and there I gained valuable experience in data protection. There were already issues with electronic marketing and clients were starting to identify data protection as an area of importance for them. I spent 2 years at working for that firm and then moved to Brussels.
Q: Did you always intend on moving to Brussels?
OP: My original plan was to build a career in Paris but my professional and personal motivations changed and the idea of working in Brussels became more appealing. I could see that data protection was becoming an international area of law and at a professional level I wanted to progress. As a child I attended an international school in the western suburbs of Paris and was exposed to an international environment so moving to a cosmopolitan city like Brussels seemed like a logical choice.
I first joined a US law firm in Brussels - they were looking for a French lawyer with experience in data protection and I joined as a junior associate. They had a good privacy team that was led by a renowned data protection specialist, and I was very lucky to be able to work with him in his team. I dealt with international (mainly US) clients and started to practise law in the Anglo-Saxon way as opposed to how the law is practised in civil law countries. I worked on more complex data protection projects involving international data transfers, with larger international clients, US companies and transborder issues. My time there was invaluable as I increased my skills and I learnt to advise US companies and international organisations.
Q: Could you say a little about your role at Fieldfisher - is there any such thing as 'typical day'?
OP: I’m an early riser so a typical day for me usually starts around 6am and I take time to walk my son to the school bus stop every morning. When I get to the office my first task is to review my emails as I have clients in different time zones. Every day is different but as a partner my day is split between legal chargeable work and administrative management of the team. I’ll review work the associates have prepared, manage projects and supervise. I’ll also review monthly invoices and work on general business development where I will be responding to proposals and networking. I also handle all the requests coming from my clients and allocate the work to the members in my team. As a partner you are responsible for everything running smoothly.
Q: What are the positive and negative aspects of your job?
OP: Data protection is a fast-developing area of the law so there are challenges to keep up with legal developments - it’s never boring. As a partner you have much more interaction with the client and I really value that. I don’t always spend time behind my desk as I travel a lot which I like. The negative aspect can be that as a lawyer, you spend your whole life working. At the moment it’s quite busy so I leave the office at 7pm as I like to have dinner at home with my family but my day doesn’t really end. I’ll check emails on my phone until I go to bed and I never really switch off completely.
Q: What’s the future for online security and GDPR?
OP: Over the last 15 years I’ve seen privacy law develop from being a niche area at member state level to becoming a pan-European legislation that applies across the EU. There’s virtually no business activity that can be run without processing personal data at some level.
We are going to see more legislation, more regulation and more case law - it’s developing at all levels. In the last 2 years we have seen significant developments with GDPR, however, we are starting to identify areas where the law is not working or needs to be improved and it’s going to take years before the market gets to grips with the new legislation. Privacy law is evolving extremely fast and it’s complex. Looking to the future we have to understand the technological developments and the fundamental societal changes of our time - it’s a high priority of the market and companies in general. It’s clear that privacy will continue to be
the number one area of the law in years to come.
Q: What do you see for your future career?
OP: I don’t like to dwell on the past and I find it difficult to project in the future so being in
the present is the best place. I see myself continuing my work in this field as I find it an
exciting area of the law and I want to continue what I am doing. I’m very happy at