Legal Has Key Role in Maintaining Company Relationships

June 10, 2019

A Conversation with Elizabeth O’Callahan, NetApp

In her position as Vice President, Legal at NetApp, Elizabeth O’Callahan has overseen a team of professionals addressing matters ranging from M&A through intellectual property and data privacy compliance. She shares her thoughts on how legal departments can most effectively support their company’s values.

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What are the main challenges for legal departments in the evolving environment of data privacy and related compliance issues?

I think the key word in the question — “evolving” — is one of the main challenges. The data privacy landscape is changing quickly and changing virtually everywhere, leading to the balkanization of laws and regulations globally, which makes compliance with all of those laws challenging for a global enterprise. Trying to institute comprehensive policies that treat employees and customers consistently around the globe is not easy.

And the legal department has a duty to the enterprise to think beyond the legal requirements and compliance. How can we help the company in the area of data privacy? How can we help the company with the challenge of earning and maintaining our customers’ trust every day? This is especially critical when other vendors, partners, and technology companies have fallen short in this regard. The legal department has an important role to play in how the company shows up in its relationships with its customers in the area of data privacy.

What’s the most effective strategy for keeping abreast of patent and intellectual property matters?

In my view, staying on top of patent and IP matters is similar to staying on top of any other area of law. It is critical to follow the case law — and in this area, especially the Federal Circuit and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. It is also very important to have access to high quality publications and analyses of legal developments — Bloomberg Law does a nice job in this area — and to stay connected with the legal and technology communities. Following developments in innovation, breakthroughs in technology, and thinking through how legal developments impact your ability to assert and defend your IP is essential to helping the company see around corners. Finally, I think being willing to consider cutting edge tools and technology is also important to staying current.

What’s the best way for a legal department to be prepared ahead of time for potential employment litigation issues?

It’s a cliché, but in this area in particular, the best defense is a good offense. What I mean by that is maintaining a healthy company culture where employees are free to speak out about their concerns, and demonstrating each and every day that the company values its employees and treats them with respect and dignity — while they are employed at the company and when they leave the company — which helps mitigate the risk of employee litigation. Being a world class employer is the best preparation of all.