K Street jockeys for cyber supremacy
The race for cybersecurity business is on.
Washington’s law and lobby firms are rushing to establish their positions in the lucrative market for cybersecurity counsel, as businesses wake up to the threat posed by hackers worldwide.
“Data privacy” — the preferred K Street term for cybersecurity — has become the topic du jour in D.C.’s legal community, and firms are jockeying for any possible edge in hiring, client outreach and events.
Evidence of the race litters legal tabloids, lobbying disclosure forms and job boards, confirming that cyber threats are not only fodder for headlines — they present a major opportunity for D.C.’s lawyers and influencers.
“Everyone believes this is going to be the next hot thing,” said headhunter Ivan Adler, a principal at the Arlington-based McCormick Group.
“People that understand what’s in cyber legislation and what it means for the corporate sector are going to be valuable,” he said. “What I’m telling staffers is: If you have a chance to gain that kind of experience in cyber, you should do it.”
Nearly every major firm in D.C. is looking to get in on the action, from pursuing staffers and administration officials as hires to publishing cyber-related articles in legal journals.
High-profile cyberattacks on Target, Sony Entertainment and Anthem made the issue a priority for big legal brands over the last 15 months. Firms are keen to emphasize their lobbying capabilities, as well as their more conventional legal services.
“Cybersecurity is one of the key challenges of this century,” said David Turetsky, who recently left a senior post with the Federal Communications Commission to launch Akin Gump’s cybersecurity task force.
“There is always room for competition [in the legal market],” he continued. “It’s a complex environment in Washington, and clients should work to get ahead of the curve.”
The global rise in cyber crime translates to concrete business for D.C.’s law and lobby outfits.
With U.S. corporations poised to lose tens of billions of dollars to hacking each year, firms are eager to court new clients and increase billable work from their existing rosters.
In addition to potential revenue, the pursuit of cybersecurity business is also a bid for bona fides in D.C.’s hypercompetitive legal environment.
Using different strategies — from conferences at K&L Gates to new cyber-related subscription software at DLA Piper — firms are engaged in a wide-scale effort to burnish their legal and lobbying credentials on cybersecurity.
“The law is an incredibly important part of this, whether we’re talking about Capitol Hill moving legislation, liability issues, or compliance with competing regulations,” said Fred Cate, senior policy adviser to the Centre for Information Policy Leadership, a global think tank established by Hunton & Williams.
“Lawyers can serve a little bit like the canary in the coal mine,” Cate said. “The thing that is changing now is that we’re seeing lawyers more involved in the security process — not just when disaster strikes but actually trying to make clients think proactively.”
Part of law firms’ task is stepping in when in-house corporate legal departments find themselves outpaced by both hackers and federal regulators. Adopting the norm in other areas of law, major companies are retaining outside counsel to work with their internal teams on cyber defense.
Outside firms provide a myriad of services, including tasks as simple as evaluating a client’s insurance coverage and developing a response plan in case a data breach takes place. Lawyers also help prepare companies to cope with scrutiny from federal regulators.
These efforts typically combine several practices from within one law firm, challenging leaders to organize and better leverage their skills.
David Fagan, a partner with Covington & Burling, said clients’ needs have evolved over the past five years when it comes to cybersecurity.
“[The] Target and Sony [hacks] captured the minds and also the fears of a lot of boards of directors and executives,” Fagan said. “As a result, in-house lawyers are starting to pursue more targeted engagement. You have people saying, ‘OK, this is no longer just a curiosity; it is something I’ve got to get my arms around.’ ”
The competition for clients in D.C. is expected to heat up, as the 114th Congress gets fully underway. Debates over cyber threat information sharing, data breach notification and general privacy standards are looming, as lawmakers begin to weigh hacking issues more carefully.
Shops like Fierce Government Relations and the new bipartisan boutique West Front Strategies are quickly distinguishing themselves this year as they pick up clients on cyber issues.
The challenge for companies seeking representation will now be weeding through firms to identify which have a genuine a grasp on the issue and which do not, experts said.
“When you sense this is a moving issue, suddenly everyone wants to claim to do cybersecurity,” said Cate.
“At the same time,” he added, “these are savvy firms that work in Washington. They know how to build expertise.”
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