Phil Beckett
Office:
One Finsbury Circus
EC2M 7EB
City:
London
Country:
England
Tel:
+44 207 663 0778

Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders Global Elite

Phil Beckett is a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s (A&M) global disputes and investigations practice in London and leads the pan-European forensic technology team. He brings more than 19 years of experience in forensic technology engagements, advising clients on forensic investigations of digital evidence, the interrogation of complex data sets, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. He was recently named Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year for the second year running.

Describe your career to date.

I am a career consultant, having worked for major accountancy firms, US consultancies and small boutique technology firms. I started life within the IT risk team at Arthur Andersen but quickly found my way to forensics and have focused my career in that field ever since. Even though that has been my area of focus I am also a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), winning the ACCA Gold Medal when I qualified in 2001. I have continued to enhance my knowledge with a master’s degree in forensic computing from Cranfield University and in computer and communications law from Queen Mary University. I am currently a partner/managing director within Alvarez & Marsal’s European disputes and investigations practice where I regularly work with my colleagues across the forensic accounting and economic spectrum, not just technology – although that is and will always remain my area of expertise.

What steps do you take, both individually and as a firm, to ensure you provide clients with a high level of service?

To ensure a high level of client service we have built robust procedures and methodologies. This means melding the following key traits: being responsive to clients; having a passion for quality; having full and transparent communication; and always providing independent and expert advice – even when that may be what they do not want to hear. Our team are experienced and qualified in their fields – they are not “button-pushers” or trained in one isolated element. Their training within the firm and the structure of our teams gives them all full grasp of the entire project from end-to-end and where they fit within that. But it is also really about the people, and I work with a very dedicated and talented team who provide clients with excellent service.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

A combination of the people I work with (both clients and colleagues) and the actual work that we do. I love the challenging nature of my job – hunting down the key snippets of information to help see the overall picture and generating solutions that solve clients’ problems or requirements.

What effect has the GDPR had on the field so far? What impact will it have in the coming years?

GDPR is certainly a hot topic, and this will only increase as time passes. This manifests itself in a number of ways. First, an increased number of incidents being reported, thus needing a thorough investigation; second, providing advice and training on responding to data subject access requests; third, increased scrutiny over cyber controls and GDPR preparedness around mergers, acquisitions and other corporate/private equity deals; and fourth, more regulatory, and therefore rigour, around incidents where there are potential GDPR breaches, turning them not just into a technical problem, but a regulatory and senior management one. All of these are driving both proactive and responsive work and will keep us busy for a number of years.

There has been an uptick in the number of data breaches reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office this year. What can be done to combat this?

I think GDPR has, without doubt, increased the number of data breach reports to the ICO – you only have to look at the latest statistics to see this. I think, though, there are two factors that may impact the true situation: first, there are still many breaches that are not detected or identified – the time it takes to discover a breach can often be months or years; and second, there is probably an over-cautious reaction meaning that many breaches or suspected breaches may be reported when they don’t necessarily need to be. Data breaches, unfortunately, are something executives need to get familiar with as it is impossible to build a system that is 100 per cent secure and still functional. Therefore the focus needs to be on: ensuring appropriate controls and implemented and monitored – especially patching vulnerable systems promptly; developing robust and tested detection controls so that issues are identified as soon as possible; and knowing what to do when the worst happens.

Where, in your opinion, does the future of the practice area lie?

The future of the practice is one that will continue to evolve to meet client requirements. There are a number of key areas where we are actively driving our practice forward. First, ensuring that we are up to speed with the latest developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning so that we can help clients take advantage of them as soon as they are beneficial. I do not foresee that these will ever make our lives redundant, but they will change the way we work and allow us to focus on ensuring clients continue to receive an excellent service. Second, ensuring the team is well-balanced and made up of more than just technical experts – we need to be able to understand the aims and objectives of clients, and to help them address their requirements without them necessarily knowing what they are looking for. Having a broader skill set, more experience and knowledge from across the forensic spectrum can help achieve this. These two aspects, combined, will help ensure innovative solutions and processes continue to be developed and implemented to help us provide an excellent service to our clients.

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Data

Phil Beckett is a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s global disputes and investigations practice in London and leads the pan-European forensic technology team. He brings more than 19 years of experience in forensic technology engagements, advising clients on forensic investigations of digital evidence, the interrogation of complex data sets, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. He was recently named Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year.

DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.

I originally started my career within an IT risk and assurance services team at a large accounting firm and quickly experienced a forensic engagement. The combination of technical and investigative skills drew me into forensic technology, as I especially enjoyed unravelling technical conundrums. I have now been working in this field for over 19 years.

HOW HAS INCREASED REGULATORY ACTIVITY AROUND THE WORLD IMPACTED YOUR PRACTICE?

It has had a double impact, with more regulatory activity creating more projects, compounded by the fact that regulators are getting more and more interested in data and what can be derived from it. Therefore, there are more projects and each project tends to have a more substantial data element. This is also driving more proactive consultancy.

TO WHAT EXTENT ARE COMPANIES NOW TAKING A PROACTIVE RATHER THAN A REACTIVE APPROACH TO CYBER SECURITY? HOW HAS THIS CHANGED IN THE PAST FEW YEARS?

Cyber security is still a hot topic for many Alvarez & Marsal clients, whether they need help to assess and improve their controls and infrastructure, or with incident response, should the worst happen. We are seeing more companies taking a proactive stance in respect of cyber, but there is still a surprising number who do not take it seriously enough or simply think it is an “IT issue”.

AS BUSINESS BECOMES MORE GLOBAL AND INTERCONNECTED, HOW MUST BUSINESSES AND LAWYERS ADAPT TO ENSURE DATA IS KEPT SECURE?

It never fails to surprise me how technology and data within an organisation seems to live a life of its own. It has been easier to buy new/more storage rather than get the house in order. However, cyber risk and regulatory action, specifically GDPR, are changing this dynamic. Businesses need to fundamentally understand what data they have, how they use it and the legal basis for doing so, as well as ensuring that it is sufficiently protected. However, there is an upside to this in that it can help drive competitive advantage and gain new insights.

WHAT IMPACT HAVE TECHNIQUES SUCH AS PREDICTIVE CODING AND ARTIFICIAL LEARNING HAD ON INVESTIGATIVE PRACTICE?

We are regularly using these technologies for virtually every project that we work on, regardless of whether it is investigative or not. However, they are not a silver bullet that instantly finds the answer, but rather another tool in the toolbox to be appropriately deployed. We are finding the greatest impact in two distinct areas: getting to the key documents quicker and ensuring a more robust quality control process. Specifically, in respect to the first, the application of continuous active learning is making a huge impact as it allows an investigator to quickly get into the documents and for the system to adapt to what they are doing, rather than having to go around iterative learning cycles. However, what matters most is not whether these technologies are deployed but rather how they are deployed – regularly ensuring that the results and impact are consistent with the objectives.

WHAT SKILLS DO CLIENTS LOOK FOR WHEN SELECTING DIGITAL FORENSIC EXPERTS?

Technical competence obviously goes without saying, but beyond that, the most important skill is communication, both in terms of written reports and oral discussions. The ability to articulate very technical details into plain English is something that is essential in an expert. Experts also need to be able to thoroughly, independently and methodically consider the issues that they are dealing with, fully considering the different options and consequences before presenting a considered view. Finally, responsiveness and availability are key requisites for an expert to be able to deliver the service clients demand. 

TO WHAT EXTENT HAVE THE SKILLS REQUIRED OF INDIVIDUAL EXPERTS AND INVESTIGATING TEAMS DIVERSIFIED OVER THE COURSE OF YOUR CAREER?

In some ways, the core skills required have not changed over my career. What I think has changed is the way that these are delivered to clients. Standard reports and processes are being replaced with agile and tailored solutions to ensure that clients receive the service they need rather than the service the expert can provide. In addition, the investigation team has become much more integrated with the lawyers and clients working more collaboratively with the economists, accountants and technologists and being seen as “one” team rather than distinct separate teams. This is essential to successfully meet the challenges of intense investigations.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO BE THE GREATEST CHALLENGES FACING THE PROFESSION OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?

There is the perennial challenge of handling more and more data in different formats in shorter time frames. However, this has always been there and will continue to be addressed through improvements in process and technology. Beyond these, I think one of the most significant challenges will be to maintain a level of quality and consistency given the above – especially when one document/email/chat message/transaction, etc, can totally change the case. The other challenge I foresee will be in dealing with the range of devices (including the Internet of Things) that hold data and the amorphous nature of them. There can be challenges now identifying where all the data is, but generally speaking at least a computer looks like a computer; a server like a server; and a phone like a phone. As devices in general get “smarter”, merely identifying those that could hold relevant data will become more challenging – a taster of which is being seen with potential evidence being stored on Amazon Echo devices.

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Investigations

Phil Beckett is a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s global disputes and investigations practice in London and leads the pan-European forensic technology team. He brings more than 19 years of experience in forensic technology engagements, advising clients on forensic investigations of digital evidence, the interrogation of complex data sets, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. He was recently named Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year.

YOU ARE ENGAGED AS A FORENSIC EXPERT ACROSS A WIDE VARIETY OF INDUSTRIES. WHAT CHALLENGES ARISE WHEN WORKING FOR SUCH A BROAD ARRAY OF CLIENTS?

It is interesting to see how alike businesses are from a technical perspective – the backbone of what technology they use is often very similar. What you do have to be conscious of are the subtle nuances within different industries: those that are regulated should have more archives or back-ups; financial services often have audio recordings and use instant messaging or chat rather than email; in some industries virtual machines are prevalent. It is also important to go into projects with an open mind to make sure in each case you get a complete and detailed picture of where data is stored... otherwise you may miss something crucial!

WHAT MAKES A GOOD FORENSIC INVESTIGATOR?

It is the ability to really understand what a client wants and how to put that into action on a case that makes the difference. It is not per se about which tool to use, but how those tools are applied and used in different scenarios. You also need to appreciate the difference between how computer systems should be used (according to IT) and how they are used to make sure all the relevant data sources are incorporated into the process – especially when they are not technically sanctioned. Above all else, it is about following your nose and not just going through a standard set of motions to ensure the client gets the service they need.

HOW HAS THE ROLE OF AN INVESTIGATOR EVOLVED OVER THE COURSE OF YOUR CAREER?

When I first started, we would print everything out! We devised programmes to print – with header sheets, all “documents” – and also to identify, extract and print all textual content from system areas of computers. This is simply not feasible now. The use of advanced technical techniques – such as predictive coding, machine learning and artificial intelligence – means there is much more “science” to the role nowadays. Having said that, the underlying aim of producing reliable findings has not changed.

TO WHAT EXTENT HAVE VARIOUS FORENSIC DISCIPLINES BECOME MORE INTEGRATED?

The investigation team has become much more integrated with the lawyers and clients working more collaboratively with the various forensic disciplines such as economists, accountants and technologists. The most successful cases are ones where these are seen as being one team rather than distinct separate teams. Another crucial element that can often be interwoven into this mix is true industry subject matter experts, who can provide insight into how businesses and industries operate – both formally and informally. This is essential to successfully meet the challenges of intense investigations.

HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY ENABLED INVESTIGATORS TO HANDLE CROSS-BORDER MATTERS MORE EFFECTIVELY?

Many of the matters that we work on are cross-border, which means we regularly have to deal with the complexities and issues with moving data – be it for data privacy/protection, industry regulations, jurisdictional reasons or local legislation/regulation. What is critical to recognise is that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Technology should not stop any solution being implemented and there is a myriad of different solutions that can be applied in different situations. Therefore, it is more important to understand the inherent challenges and risks so that they can be mitigated from a process perspective; before determining the technical solution to deliver that process.

TO WHAT EXTENT IS IT IMPORTANT FOR CONSULTANCY FIRMS TO HAVE A GLOBAL PRESENCE?

A global presence provides many advantages when conducting investigations, from basic operational ones (eg, language skills, power systems) and financial ones (eg, lower travel costs), to those that should never be overlooked in an investigation: cultural and technical norms. This is especially relevant when dealing with investigations outside of the “Western world” as individuals there tend to approach data and technology very differently. For example, you won’t get far looking for WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter data as part of a Chinese investigation: you’d need to turn to Weibo, WeChat or QQ – and need to appreciate how these are much more than chat or social media channels in China!

HOW DO YOU EXPECT TECHNOLOGY TO SHAPE THE PRACTICE AREA IN THE NEAR FUTURE?

Technology has already shaped the way investigations are carried out significantly and will continue to do so. One of the developments that have very recently come online is Continuous Active Learning – whereby an investigator can take advantage of the benefits of predictive coding without having to go through training cycles. From a more fundamental perspective merely understanding where potentially relevant data is stored is becoming a more complicated question to answer as more businesses move towards cloud solutions and smart devices – a trend that will only continue.

WHAT STEPS ARE ALVAREZ & MARSAL TAKING TO STAY AHEAD OF THE CURVE OF THESE CHANGES? 

There are two aspects to this: firstly, investment in people through training and research to ensure that from a technical perspective we know what technologies our clients are and will be using, as well as knowing how to best take advantage of technological advancements in how we carry out investigations. This means not blindly jumping on the “latest thing” but thoroughly analysing it to determine how and where it can be deployed effectively. Secondly, it is about ensuring that technology is interwoven into everything that we do from a dispute and investigation perspective, as opposed to being seen as a completely foreign topic. This is one reason our disputes and investigations practice is one single team with integrated economic, accounting and technology skill sets.

Biographies:

Who's Who Legal Consulting Experts: Experts - Digital & Data - Digital Forensic Experts

Phil Beckett, a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s disputes and investigations practice in London, brings more than 19 years of experience in forensic technology engagements, advising clients on forensic investigations of digital evidence, the interrogation of complex data sets, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. Mr Beckett leads the forensic technology team across Europe and was recently named Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year.

Mr Beckett has led anti-bribery/Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations, incident-response engagements, kickback investigations, intellectual property (IP) theft cases, employment disputes, cartel/antitrust investigations, and compliance review exercises. He has also supported commercial litigation and international arbitrations.

Mr Beckett has regularly been appointed as an information technology forensics expert and managed the execution of multi-site civil search orders whereby he has provided expert testimony. Mr Beckett also served as an expert witness in Imerman vs Tchenguiz ([2010] EWCA Civ 908).

Mr Beckett has worked on a large number of high-profile e-disclosure cases, including litigation between Russian entities in the High Court, where data had to be managed in an extremely secure environment across the UK and Russia. Mr Beckett also managed a regulatory review of a global bank trader performed by multiple regulators involving data from multiple systems and jurisdictions, including instant message chat and voice data.

Mr Beckett earned a bachelor's degree in computing and management from Loughborough University, a master’s degree in forensic computing from Cranfield University and a master’s degree in computer and communications law from Queen Mary, University of London. He is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and won the ACCA Gold Medal in 2001. He is also a certified fraud examiner and lectures regularly on information governance and forensic technology.

WWL says: Phil Beckett is an investigations Thought Leader and praised as "one of the top figures" in forensic data investigations by peers. He has experience of global investigations across a multitude of sectors.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Consulting Experts which can be purchased from our Shop.

Who's Who Legal Consulting Experts: Experts - Digital & Data - Data and E-Discovery Experts

Phil Beckett, a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s disputes and investigations practice in London, brings more than 19 years of experience in forensic technology engagements, advising clients on forensic investigations of digital evidence, the interrogation of complex data sets, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. Mr Beckett leads the forensic technology team across Europe and was recently named Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year for the second time running.

Mr Beckett has led anti-bribery/Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations, incident-response engagements, kickback investigations, intellectual property (IP) theft cases, employment disputes, cartel/antitrust investigations, and compliance review exercises. He has also supported commercial litigation and international arbitrations.

Mr Beckett has regularly been appointed as an information technology forensics expert and managed the execution of multi-site civil search orders whereby he has provided expert testimony. Mr Beckett also served as an expert witness in Imerman vs Tchenguiz ([2010] EWCA Civ 908).

Mr Beckett has worked on a large number of high-profile e-disclosure cases, including litigation between Russian entities in the High Court, where data had to be managed in an extremely secure environment across the UK and Russia. Mr Beckett also managed a regulatory review of a global bank trader performed by multiple regulators involving data from multiple systems and jurisdictions, including instant message chat and voice data.

Mr Beckett earned a bachelor's degree in computing and management from Loughborough University, a master’s degree in forensic computing from Cranfield University and a master’s degree in computer and communications law from Queen Mary, University of London. He is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and won the ACCA Gold Medal in 2001. He is also a certified fraud examiner and lectures regularly on information governance and forensic technology.

WWL says: Phil Beckett garners respect from sources for his considerable experience in litigation support, particularly regarding e-disclosure and multi-jurisdictional investigations.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Consulting Experts which can be purchased from our Shop.

Who's Who Legal Data: Data Experts

Phil Beckett, a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s disputes and investigations practice in London, brings more than 19 years of experience in forensic technology engagements, advising clients on forensic investigations of digital evidence, the interrogation of complex data sets, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. Mr Beckett leads the forensic technology team across Europe and was recently named Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year.

Mr Beckett has led anti-bribery/Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations, incident-response engagements, kickback investigations, intellectual property (IP) theft cases, employment disputes, cartel/antitrust investigations, and compliance review exercises. He has also supported commercial litigation and international arbitrations.

Mr Beckett has regularly been appointed as an information technology forensics expert and managed the execution of multi-site civil search orders whereby he has provided expert testimony. Mr Beckett also served as an expert witness in Imerman vs Tchenguiz ([2010] EWCA Civ 908).

Mr Beckett has worked on a large number of high-profile e-disclosure cases, including litigation between Russian entities in the High Court, where data had to be managed in an extremely secure environment across the UK and Russia. Mr Beckett also managed a regulatory review of a global bank trader performed by multiple regulators involving data from multiple systems and jurisdictions, including instant message chat and voice data.

Mr Beckett earned a bachelor's degree in computing and management from Loughborough University, a master’s degree in forensic computing from Cranfield University and a master’s degree in computer and communications law from Queen Mary, University of London. He is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and won the ACCA Gold Medal in 2001. He is also a certified fraud examiner and lectures regularly on information governance and forensic technology.

WWL says: Standout practitioner Phil Beckett is “well regarded in the marketplace” thanks to his 19 years of experience in the forensic technology arena.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Data which can be purchased from our Shop.

Who's Who Legal Investigations: Digital Forensic Experts

Phil Beckett, a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s disputes and investigations practice in London, brings more than 18 years of experience in forensic technology engagements, advising clients on forensic investigations of digital evidence, the interrogation of complex data sets, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents.

Mr Beckett has led anti-bribery/Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations, incident-response engagements, kickback investigations, intellectual property (IP) theft cases, employment disputes, cartel/antitrust investigations, and compliance review exercises. He has also supported commercial litigation and international arbitrations.

Mr Beckett has regularly been appointed as an information technology forensics expert and managed the execution of multi-site civil search orders whereby he has provided expert testimony. Mr Beckett also served as an expert witness in Imerman v Tchenguiz ([2010] EWCA Civ 908).

Mr Beckett has worked on a large number of high-profile e-disclosure cases, including litigation between Russian entities in the High Court, where data had to be managed in an extremely secure environment across the UK and Russia. Mr Beckett also managed a regulatory review of a global bank trader performed by multiple regulators involving data from multiple systems and jurisdictions, including instant message chat and voice data.

Mr Beckett earned a bachelors degree in computing and management from Loughborough University, a master’s degree in forensic computing from Cranfield University and a master’s degree in computer and communications law from Queen Mary, University of London. He is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and won the ACCA Gold Medal in 2001. He is also a certified fraud examiner and lectures regularly on information governance and forensic technology.

WWL says: Phil Beckett is "one of the best experts in the country" and boasts a superb practice covering a wide range of matters including e-disclosure, data analytics and management and forensic investigations.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Investigations which can be purchased from our Shop.

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