Career Notes 1.22.23
Ep 133 | 1.22.23

Miriam Wugmeister: Technology's not as complicated as you think. [Data Security]


Miriam Wugmeister: Hello, my name is Miriam Wugmeister. I am the co-chair of Morrison and Forrester's Privacy and Data Security practice.

Miriam Wugmeister: I was one of those kids who really had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. Um, I was a philosophy major in college after starting out doing, um, chemical engineering. So I really had no idea what I wanted to do. The good news is because I started his chemistry, I actually took a lot of science before I switched. So, obviously I took a lot of physics and a lot of math and a lot of chemistry. So that's actually served me remarkably well, even though I ended up studying philosophy.

Miriam Wugmeister: I started doing management consulting because seriously, I had no idea what I wanted to do, . And so what do you do when you graduate and you don't know what you wanna do? You go into consulting? Um, I did that for two years and then I actually worked for a company that, that made, um, software, uh, for personal computers. I ran the marketing department of this small, um, computer software company. I realized that the thing that I liked the most between those two jobs was all the problems that people thought about at work. So, the, the commonalities, the part that I found the most interesting in my two jobs was organizational structure and how did problems get solved and who worked with who. And I decided the thing to do, of course, is to go to law school. I really went to law school to, to think about those kinds of like employment law issues and really with a focus on, on issues facing women in the workplace. And actually when I graduated, I became an employment lawyer. That actually was, you know, made sense, right. That was actually, I went to law school with that intention and that's actually what I did when I got out of law school.

Miriam Wugmeister: After doing employment law for about oh, 10 years doing employment litigation, um, I got asked to work on a project where, uh, companies, a company was trying to figure out how to centralize all of its, personal information about employees in, in a, you know, in, in one, in one data center. And the, the person who was working on it needed somebody who could talk the talk about, to employment lawyers and to HR people. And I'm like, I can do that. I didn't know anything about privacy, but I knew a lot about employment law. So she and I started working together and I thought it was such a fun area. Um, then I started doing consumer privacy, then I started doing cybersecurity, now I do ethical AI. We're thinking about what are the issues that are coming up next for quantum computing. So, um, really it's just that my practice has just evolved from, thinking about privacy really into doing cyber and thinking about more ethical technology. Um, and that's really, uh, how I spend my time now.

Miriam Wugmeister: A big part of my practice is, is actually helping companies prepare for and respond to significant cyber events. So, Thinking about what are the kinds of threats that are out there? What do you do if bad guys get into your system? So I do a lot of counseling all around cybersecurity, both preemptive and after there's an incident. The other part of my practice is really thinking about cutting edge technology and what are the right way to use it in terms of complying with the law. So so much of what we do is looking at what the law is likely to be and what is the right thing to be doing. I talk about ethics, going back to my philosophy major, right? It actually comes full circle. I spend a good portion of my day every day talking to people about what's the right thing to do If you are collecting, you know, a a million data points a minute, and you can aggregate that information, and how do you use that to make the world a better place.

Miriam Wugmeister: So many of the areas where I work are gray. Um, so for example, if you collect lots and lots of information of what people search on the internet, that can be used for really creepy purposes, but it can also be used to predict where there's gonna be an outbreak of, of flu. Um you can collect information off an airplane and or off a, a train and aggregate all that information and then predict when a particular, uh, component of the airplane or the train is gonna break down and use that to appropriately, uh, maintain the plane or the train before, before there is a a problem. So, you know, you use it for preventative maintenance, but in order to do that, you have to gather all that information. Collecting information isn't a bad thing, it's how you use it. And there are lots of companies that are motivated by all different kinds of things, but if they're motivated to do the right thing, I'm happy to help them.

Miriam Wugmeister: Technology is not nearly as complicated or scary as the technology people tell you is, but it, and particularly for women, for young women, a lot of young women and young men too, but a lot of people say, oh, I can't do data security cuz I don't know how to code. And, and the answer is, you don't have to. You have to be smart, you have to be willing to ask questions, you have to be willing to admit what you don't know. But this area is a fantastic area for young people because the law is just developing. We're all learning it together literally at the same time. And so I think privacy, cyber, technology, it's just, it is a great place for certainly young lawyers and also just young people in general because I think the, it's such an exciting time.

Miriam Wugmeister: How do I pick myself up? You know, uh, that's a great question. I talk, um, I call my husband. I call one of my sons. I call my a friend. Like I, I deal with, I process through talking, there are some people who they, they have a problem and they just need to go and be quiet and think about it and cogitate on it, that would not be me. I'm the opposite. So when I have a bad day, I have to talk about it, process it verbally, and then I'm good. Then I just get over it. I don't ruminate on bad things for very long. Once I kind of deal with it and talk it through, I'm, I'm done. 

Miriam Wugmeister: I do hope that people will, um, will think that I made my patch of the garden a little bit greener. I have worked very hard to encourage women and diverse lawyers to, uh, come into this area to thrive. A lot of people think, oh, law firms are terrible places for women and for diverse lawyers. And I, I don't think that's true, I think there are really effective ways to make it work. I hope that that will be viewed as a helpful guide in trying to help people think through those issues and deal with those issues and protect their privacy. I hope that that people will, will have learned cuz it is really core to our practice that those issues, the ethical issues, the doing the right thing that is essential to being a good lawyer. Um, that we've, that we take that seriously and that the clients with whom we have worked, um, also take it seriously. So I think that's another way that I, you know, I hope that I've added to the world.