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Solicitors' practice areas

Technology, media & telecommunications

Katie Simmonds

Womble Bond Dickinson

University: University of Surrey
Degree: Law

Technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) is one of the fastest-developing sectors of the legal market, particularly with the continuing advancement of AI. The constant evolution of technology pushes legal boundaries and begs for the provision of innovative legal advice. In advising their clients, TMT lawyers are required not only to apply black letter law, but also to consider market developments, regulatory considerations and commercial and technical issues. 

Her friends might describe it as being nosy, but Katie Simmonds calls it a “natural curiosity”, citing it as one of three core strengths she believes you need to be a successful solicitor in the digital commercial sphere.

With the world of technology in a constant state of change and advancement, being curious and asking questions is key to “truly understanding how a solution or tool works”. Having favoured her litigation seat as a trainee and with an interest in technology, Katie had a genuine urge to explore this further. “After qualifying, I worked at IBM as a business consultant to get more technical experience and understand what it’s really like to work in the tech space as a non-lawyer. This really helped to solidify that all I wanted to do was technology and data.”

Following her intrigue, Katie decided to return to law as a tech and data litigator at Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD).

After rejoining the legal profession, it quickly became apparent that balancing litigation and court work with advisory work was difficult. Katie explains: “After various discussions with partners at WBD, we agreed that I’d pivot my focus to solely non-contentious commercial technology and data work. This has been a game changer.”

Now a digital commercial solicitor in WBD’s digital team, Katie finds herself channelling her natural curiosity daily.

 “a lot of work has some sort of US or international angle, which is interesting and leads to really complex cases”

Tech and data work – in training and practice

Katie’s work is still split between these two areas – tech and data. “The technology work includes advising clients in relation to big outsourcing contracts and new technology solutions,” Katie says. Meanwhile, “the data work includes looking at how clients are using personal data and advising in relation to data protection compliance, including drafting policies and privacy notices”.

In terms of the scope to get involved in this work on an international level, Katie highlights the firm’s “transatlantic” nature, pointing out that “a lot of work has some sort of US or international angle, which is interesting and leads to really complex cases”. However, this isn’t always the case – she notes the difference in clients and nature of the work she’s involved with at WBD compared to her training contract, which she completed at a regional law firm.

Trainees at WBD are “encouraged to prepare first drafts of everything where possible, whether that’s emails to clients or big outsourcing contracts” to support their development and understanding. Rather than the work being the element that differs as trainees progress at WBD, Katie indicates that, rather, it’s the level of supervision: “As you progress from trainee through to a newly qualified solicitor, to associate and beyond, you start to take the lead on being a key contact for a client. This level of supervision gradually decreases. Although this change does happen at different stages for each person and depends on the project itself.”

In the headlines

As well as the changes to supervision, aspiring solicitors looking to practise in this area of law can expect to be kept on their toes by the fast-paced nature and advancements in technology. It’s unlikely that anyone reading this is a stranger to AI, whether you’ve read about it in the news, attempted to use it at university or have received training on using it in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what’s on the mind of digital commercial solicitor Katie as she looks ahead to the next five years. Despite promises to improve efficiency, there are an array of practicalities and concerns surrounding emerging technologies like AI that need to be addressed – including how to be adopted by lawyers in practice and, on an even bigger scale, the way in which such technologies are regulated.

"as a firm, we're trialling lots of AI tools and even have a UK AI steering group, which shows the level of focus and prioritisation we're taking in this area"

Much like the general public, “there are lots of lawyers who have concerns about generative AI tools that are based on models like ChatGPT”. Katie highlights two key themes from her perspective that seem to make up these concerns. “The first concern is around security of data and IP risks. As a firm, we’re overcoming this by using tools like Workflow GPT – a commercial and secure tool, which stays within our environment. The second issue comes down to the way lawyers use these tools and the skills required to use them.”

Katie considers WBD’s approach and explains that “as a firm, we're trialling lots of AI tools and even have a UK AI steering group, which shows the level of focus and prioritisation we're taking in this area”.

For trainees, Katie predicts that in five years, “the way we research and review documents will be unrecognisable from the days of my training contract”. She adds: “It wasn't unheard of to be on a client's site in their storage room for days and sometimes weeks at a time during my training, manually reviewing hard copy documents.”

Playdough and cutting-edge work

There’s no doubt that Katie’s career in this area of law has seen drastic changes – and will continue to do so. But it’s not just the commercial element at play here. Katie’s move out of litigation to a solely non-contentious role changed the focus of her job and making that switch is a real highlight of her career to date. “I loved being a litigator and feel like it provided me with so many skills from a commercial drafting perspective in terms of how to better future proof contracts. However, pivoting to work as a non-contentious commercial lawyer has really allowed me to focus on the development of emerging technologies, which has led to me working on interesting and cutting-edge projects. I feel like I’m genuinely part of the advancement of these products and solutions.”

As well as getting stuck into her work, Katie also enjoys the more pastoral element of her role and is grateful for the support she’s received from the firm. “I love mentoring and playing a part in developing juniors in the team. WBD is brilliant in empowering you to go ahead with your own initiatives. So, a few years ago, I set up the firm’s digital mentoring scheme, which aims to pair people, who wouldn’t normally work together, as mentor and mentee.”

She adds: “It’s this kind of work that’s really rewarding to see play out.” 

With the rewarding parts come challenges. Katie explains: “Every week, and sometimes daily, I’m challenged with a new issue – whether it’s negotiating with a big tech company, helping a client with a failing IT project or advising in relation to a potential data breach. In some ways, this can be quite tiring and is undoubtedly what I find the hardest part of my job.”

Being able to mould herself, “like playdough”, to the next task at hand is crucial for dealing with the ever-present hurdles that the job brings.

You’ll get much further as a team

As well as the need to adapt quickly, there are three other core strengths that Katie calls attention to for aspiring lawyers. “The first is focussing on the detail.” She explains that this skill is essential “to ensure you’re not including any inconsistent wording or typos in your drafting that could later lead to the contract being misunderstood”. Plus, organisation is on Katie’s list, as well as the aforementioned “natural curiosity”.

On top of these competencies, it’s clear that teamwork has played an important role in Katie’s career progression. In such a competitive industry, it can be easy for candidates to pitch themselves against each other right from the start. However, speaking from experience, Katie explains how supporting and championing each other’s success is much more beneficial: “You’ll get much further as a team than as an individual.”