Gordon Wade CIPP/E, CIPM, FIP is Regulatory Privacy Counsel at TikTok/ByteDance and is admitted to practice law in Ireland and England & Wales and the State of New York. Gordon spent 2 years as the Data Protection Lead in the Office of TikTok’s EU/UK DPO in Dublin before taking up his current role. Gordon was elected Young Privacy Professional for the Dublin Chapter of the IAPP for 2021 and teaches EU Data Protection Law on the Technology Risk and Data Incident Management program at Chartered Accountant’s Ireland. He has guest lectured at the Law Society of Ireland and Dublin City University’s MA in Data Protection and Privacy. He has also published articles on a variety of topics including privacy and data protection, arbitration, company and commercial law.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Gordon shared his most favorite part of working at TikTok, insights on the impact of AI on the legal profession, his biggest stress relievers, future plans, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
*This interview was attended by the interviewee in his personal capacity. Any views or opinions expressed herein are strictly the interviewee’s own and do not reflect the views or opinions of TikTok.*
Gordon, you are a dual Irish and England & Wales qualified solicitor and New York qualified attorney. Did you always dream of becoming a lawyer or, did it happen by chance?
This is actually a long, winding story which I will try to reign in as much as possible.
At the outset, I certainly never thought about being a lawyer when I was a kid, but it also wasn’t just by chance either. I come from a family of pilots and cabin crew so for a long time I figured I would follow that lead and join the Irish airline, Aer Lingus. However, I was never really massively interested in that career path, it was just sort of the obvious choice and all I really knew. So, when the time came for me to apply for university courses at the end of secondary school (i.e., high school in Ireland) – having discovered I was no good at math and had no interest in science – I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I liked business studies in school and found the contract law section of the schoolbook quite interesting so I figured I would look at studying something business orientated. It was actually my mother who suggested I think about studying law (likely due to my ability to craft a persuasive argument against anything she could throw at me at home!) so I studied both through a combined law and business degree at University College Dublin and knew by my penultimate year that I wanted to qualify as a lawyer.
I followed my undergrad degree with a master’s in international law at Trinity College Dublin which I pursued for several reasons including because I didn’t walk into a job after my undergraduate – it was 2008, the global recession had hit Ireland incredibly hard and the competition for trainee lawyer positions in Ireland was fierce. I had always wanted to study and live abroad but, despite being accepted into LL.M courses in the US and UK, the costs were just too high, so I stayed in Ireland to study. But I always wanted that opportunity to work internationally and it was for this reason that I sat the New York Bar exam (to open up global work opportunities) and following a short but really intense internship in London with a US law firm, I started my traineeship with a law firm in Dublin (I firmly believe in qualifying in your home jurisdiction, no matter where you go to ensure you always have options) and, thanks to the reciprocity rules between Ireland and the UK, I qualified as solicitor and Ireland and England & Wales more or less at the same time.
What is your most favorite part of working at TikTok?
There are many reasons why I enjoy working at TikTok. The platform is at the forefront of advancements in privacy and technology globally which means I have the opportunity to support the business on incredible initiatives including children’s privacy and the launch of exciting new products and features. I find the work incredibly rewarding and it provides me the chance to work on things that really do make a positive difference in the world. Social media has changed the evolutionary journey – how we engage with the world around us – of a massive portion of mankind (for better or worse, you decide that for yourself) and working for TikTok makes me part of the teams helping to positively influence that journey for billions of people. As we say at TikTok, we are here to inspire people to be creative and bring them joy.
In my current role as Privacy Counsel, I cover a multitude of regions including APAC, SEA, ANUZ, METAP and Africa which means no two days are ever the same and everyday is a school day. Having this jurisdictional reach also means I have the chance to work alongside incredible cross functional teams from other offices all around the globe including product, tech, security, government relations, infrastructure and policy.
You are also a Lecturer (part-time) at Chartered Accountants Ireland. Can you tell us about the subject taught by you and its relevance in today’s digital age?
I deliver the Data Protection Module on Chartered Accountants Ireland’s Certificate in Technology Risk and Data Incident Management course. This is a course that two former work colleagues and I created a number of years ago and have continued running since with the support of CAI.
The course and is aimed at empowering students with a strong foundational knowledge in technology risk and equipping them with the tools to enable them to make informed decisions, mitigate cyber risk, facilitate a cyber investigation and, from my perspective in particular, guide their organisations on its obligations and responsibilities under data protection law. In this latter module I take students through various topics such EU data protection law, the core principles of data protection, conducting risk assessments, contracting with processors and, most importantly for the purposes of this course, data breach notifications. The course culminates with a live-fire exercise so to speak – a real world data breach scenario where students are broken out into teams and have to respond to a data breach in real time.
The relevance for this course is that such data breach scenarios are an everyday occurrence in an increasingly digitally connected world. This course has been designed teach students the importance of ensuring that the information held on a company’s IT systems is kept secure, particularly where its confidentiality, integrity and availability may be critical for the continued success of the business.
How far do you agree that legal tech and AI will create more opportunities for lawyers in the coming years?
I do agree that advancements in legal tech and AI will lead to a different landscape for lawyers in the future, including creating new opportunities. If we want to draw a comparison, look back to the creation of the internet and email and how they hugely impacted the legal profession – gone are the days of posting letters to clients and opposing counsel; equally the same can be said for the development of document review software. Sure, these types of technological developments have and may lead to the elimination of roles usually occupied by humans but, at the same time, they will create opportunities too. Perhaps one of the biggest impacts AI will have on the legal profession is that it will force lawyers to invest more time in their core legal skills in order to keep pace with, and stay ahead of, emerging AI technology – hard skills like developing cross-industry expertise, exercising sound, professional judgment in complex legal matters, and power skills like being able to provide strategic guidance to clients. And perhaps most importantly of all, building a relationship of trust and confidence with clients – something even the most advanced of AI’s may struggle with today.
Do you feel it is necessary to have a mentor/ guide to handhold a young lawyer in the beginning years of their career?
I’ve been lucky to have worked under several lawyers who I can truly say mentored me as a young lawyer – one in particular from my trainee days and who I would now consider a friend as well as mentor. However, I would be lying if I said I was closely mentored by anyone when it came to establishing a career as a privacy professional a few years later. Certainly, I had great support from my senior lawyer at the time who encouraged me to pursue the topic but as he was a non-privacy lawyer, I figured it out on my own for the most part and put in the work. So, for that reason I can’t say it’s truly necessary for young lawyers to have a mentor/ guide, but it certainly is valuable, and I would encourage all young lawyers to seek out colleagues who they feel could be a positive mentor for them. At the same time, however, knowing what I know now and with the experiences I have had, I do think that there is a duty and responsibility to all experienced lawyers to make time for our younger colleagues and support them where possible. For example, ever since joining TikTok, I have volunteered on our Legal Mentorship Program which pairs senior and junior lawyers from all across the business globally and creates a safe space where the mentee can ask questions, seek guidance and advice on any matter from career progression, substantive law, conflict handling or negotiation techniques. The way I see it, I have learned many things through interesting experiences (working in the Middle East, Asia and Europe, in-house and client facing and for different types of businesses) and if any of that can be used to help a younger colleague, I will.
Is there anything you wish you knew when you first went into this career?
That there would be a global recession right when I was trying to get my career started! But in all seriousness, if I could go back and the then me anything it would be that exam results are not the be all and end all, that there are so many different routes into the legal profession and you don’t need to choose your subject matter expertise for the rest of your career when you are a trainee just so you can land yourself a newly qualified role. My career has meandered, that’s for sure, but I do feel I am the better lawyer for it.
What is your biggest stress reliever?
Whilst the job can be stressful at times, I am lucky enough to have an amazing family around me to escape to. At the time of this interview, I am still living in Ireland so a typical weekend for us would include my wife and I taking our 1-year-old daughter across to the park with our three dogs and doing WaterBabies at our local pool. Mid-week, my time to walk the dogs over lunchtime is practically sacrosanct and I would usually listen to an audiobook at the same time (invariably something Stephen King). We are about to embark on our next family adventure by moving to Dubai shortly which will bring its own stresses on top of work.
I’m also passionate about training and would be in the gym 4-5 times a week, a huge part of my stress relief routine. I qualified as a Personal Trainer a few years ago after having done some (very) amateur competitive weightlifting and up until recently, ran my own PT gym part-time in the evenings and at weekends. I love my work, but I am a firm believer in not living to work. I do what I do so my family and I can have great a life together.
What is your biggest goal? Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
Professionally, I hope to be working a job that I really enjoy, in a company that I respect and doing work that I find rewarding and fulfilling. I hope to be in a position where I bring value to my role and the teams that rely on that role. If my career path has shown me anything it’s that trying to map out your journey in the long term can often be a futile exercise because you just do not know what will come next. 5 years ago, TikTok was only at the very beginning of its life so there was no way that I would have said that back then that in 2023 I wanted to be working for TikTok. But the world changed, TikTok grew exponentially and here I am.
Personally, 5 years from now I want to be holding my daughter’s hand as I walk her to her amazing junior school that my wife and I worked so very hard to make possible for her.