A Day in the Life: Christopher Wolf
Chris Wolf is a staunch believer in privacy. And he's one man who does indeed practice what he preaches.
"Privacy is rapidly evolving, especially on the Internet," he says. "I have always been drawn to areas of law that are new and developing. My Y2K practice never really took off," he adds jokingly.
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Chris uses the Internet in his personal and professional life, and knows that the privacy issues for an individual can be challenging. He saw early on "the enormous potential that the Internet would have for education, communication, entertainment, and the betterment of society." But, he adds, "for the Internet to evolve, there has to be a level of trust. Technology has a great role to play in our society, but we need greater protection of personal information."
Chris, a fourth generation Washingtonian, has been practicing law for more than 30 years. For the last 20 of those years he has focused in the area of Internet privacy and data security law. "As a litigator earlier in my career, I may have had four large cases at a time, but today I switch gears many times daily. Keeping up is a challenge, and I am really lucky to have such a talented and supportive group of colleagues to help me shoulder the load."
He also advises that as a lawyer today, mastering multi-tasking is essential. "There is so much that goes on in a day, management is critical. But so, too, is reserving time to think and to focus on client problems uninterrupted. You also need time to reflect on developments in the field, which occur daily."
There are no "typical" days in a practice that sees new challenges daily. When Chris is working from his Washington, D.C. office he's an early riser ― in the office by 7:00 a.m., with a workout and three morning papers behind him. "Those two hours between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. are very productive for me, before the phone starts ringing and people start visiting." He sets lunch aside for business and client meetings. He's generally out of the office by about 7:00 p.m., often attending board meetings for charitable organizations or professionally related social events, as well as an occasional symphony concert, but logs back on from home later in the evening.
His "day job," as he jokingly refers to it, keeps him on the go. He travels frequently for business and will add meetings to his travel schedule to get the most out of his visits to various places. A recent four-day trip to Europe had him meeting with clients and prospective clients; attending a conference; and giving a speech in Frankfurt, Brussels, and London.
"When I'm out of the office, I like to stay connected. My three-hour ride on the Acela train from Washington, D.C. to New York in the 'quiet car' can also be enormously productive as I respond to a backlog of emails." And he says he's "efficient on the road," always maximizing his time. "I can spend a day in Boston and have four meetings scheduled and, providing my transportation works smoothly, be back home that night."
In addition to his "day job," Chris is deeply involved in an array of pro bono activities. He is a national leader for the Anti-Defamation League and also chairs an international Task Force on Internet Hate Speech that includes members of parliament from around the world, as well as leading scholars and NGO and corporate representatives.
Closer to home, he is a board member and past president of Food & Friends, a social services agency that prepares and delivers meals to people with life-challenging illnesses. He also sits on the George Washington University Hospital board. And as a former trumpet player (for 30 years), he is active in the arts, sitting on the boards of Young Concert Artists and WETA Public Broadcasting. Chris also served on the board of the National Symphony for nearly 30 years.
Chris was selected as the lead author and a founding editor of the "Practicing Law Institute's" first legal treatise on privacy and information security law, and he has taught law school courses on Internet and privacy. He is a frequent speaker on emerging privacy issues, and has been invited to the leading global privacy conference in Uruguay this fall, as well as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next winter. He is also the founder and co-chair of a think tank devoted to emerging privacy issues, the Future of Privacy Forum.
"I believe, to a significant degree, that lawyers today need a brand to distinguish themselves. As always, the key to success in the legal profession is great legal work. But, in addition, becoming known as an expert in a particular area of the law is one way to ensure repeat clients."
His pro bono work goes well beyond writing, lecturing, and board positions. In a pivotal 1998 case, on a pro bono basis, Chris represented a Navy Officer in the precedent setting McVeigh v. Cohen ― the first successful case that tackled the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule regarding gays in the military.
His client, a Naval Chief Petty Officer, had served honorably for 17 years, earning four Good Conduct Medals and a Navy commendation medal. But the U.S. Navy alleged that he had publicly declared his homosexuality on his personal AOL account. In agreement with Chris' argument, the federal court held that the government violated the Electronics Communication Privacy Act by improperly accessing the contents of his client's AOL account and that it had also violated its own "Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy."
"That case gave me an opportunity to correct an injustice and take the government to task for violating a law."
"There is a sea change right now regarding privacy laws," Chris explains, "with a move toward more stringent regulations regarding the collection and use of information." There are currently proposals for changes in laws in the United States, Europe, and Asia. "My Future of Privacy Forum work gives me the opportunity to provide input into the public policy discussions."
He admits to sometimes being spread thin, but says that he "thrives on it." Since the firm's combination, Chris says his practice has "increased geometrically" because of all of the international issues involved in privacy and their complexity and the availability of skilled colleagues around the world. "We get incredible support from firm management for what we together recognize is a growth area."
"Two weeks after the combination, we had a group from Hogan Lovells convene in Geneva to get to know each other, to learn each other's skill sets," he notes. "The firm has incredibly smart people, but people who have humility and a true sense of collegiality. The ethos here is one of sharing and collaboration. We all win if the firm wins."
In March of 2010 Chris was married to his partner of 12 years when same sex marriages were legalized in the nation's capital. He says he received enthusiastic personal calls to congratulate him from colleagues around the firm.
"That, in my opinion, is an example of the caring and consideration that characterizes the firm. We are a huge law firm, but one with a soul."