Rolf Auf der Maur has 25 years of experience in the areas of IT, media and communications law. He was one of the first lawyers in Switzerland who focused on internet-related legal matters. In 2000, he co-founded VISCHER and built up a sizeable TMT practice. In recent years, Rolf Auf der Maur has leveraged his experience in IT and communications to advise clients on data-driven business models in different industries (including energy, finance and health).
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.
While studying law at Zurich University, I co-founded my first IT business in the portable computer business and I also worked as a journalist. When I graduated and passed the bar exam in 1992, the internet started to take off and I advised clients who wanted to start online businesses. I never had a boring day in office ever since. At the height of the first internet bubble (in 2000), I had so much client work that I decided to co-found a bigger firm: VISCHER, which now counts around 100 lawyers in the major Swiss business hubs of Zurich and Basel.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING IN THE FIELD OF DATA?
Data (and algorithms, of course) are at the core of the digital transformation. I find it very satisfying to help clients develop new business models and to find solutions for new challenges every day.
ON WHAT SORTS OF MATTERS DO CLIENTS COME TO YOU MOST FREQUENTLY AT PRESENT?
Each matter is really very different. A common challenge in digital business models is how to comply with regulatory requirements in the cloud. How hospitals, providers of critical infrastructure (such as energy suppliers) or even auditors and lawyers can make use of the benefits of software-as-a-service solutions without jeopardising data privacy and security.
HOW CAN PRACTITIONERS BEST APPLY THEIR CORE KNOW-HOW ON DATA ISSUES TO DIFFERENT INDUSTRY SECTORS?
You have to form a team of people with different skills: those who know about IT and communication technology, and those who are familiar with the challenges in the specific industry. Customs and risk profile (and regulatory requirements) are completely different when it comes to digital advertising or to digital health, to name just two examples.
TO WHAT EXTENT HAS AWARENESS OF THE IMPORTANCE OF CYBERSECURITY AT THE TOP LEVEL OF MANAGEMENT AMONG CLIENTS CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED PRACTISING?
In the beginning (and until quite recently), IT security was seen as part of the everyday job in the IT department. But these days are over, in the wake of data breaches of unimaginable scale. Nowadays, CEOs and board members understand that cybersecurity is not just a matter of buying the right firewall or software. It is a matter of organisational culture, which has to go from the board of a business down to employees at all levels.
YOU ARE SOON TO COMPETE IN A YACHTING COMPETITION IN WHICH YOU WILL COLLECT INTRICATE DATA ON THE VESSEL’S STATUS. HOW DOES THIS PRACTICAL UNDERSTANDING OF DATA ASSIST YOU IN YOUR DAY-TO-DAY WORK?
We do already have all types of sensors on the boat, including a 3D movement sensor, but we did not know how to make use of all the data up to now. In 2019, I will have a data scientist among the 13 crew members whose job it is to collect and analyse all data to help better understand which sail and rig configuration works best in what conditions. I hope we will learn a lot – as I do with every client project.
WHERE, IN YOUR VIEW, DOES THE FUTURE OF THE PRACTICE AREA LIE?
As every business in all industries (including our own industry) is just at the beginning of digitisation, I see a great future for our practice area. However, practising in this area also comes along with a big responsibility. I want to help make productive use of data and limit misuse, particularly when it comes to self-learning algorithms. I am worried about the level of control that certain companies and governments can exercise through the collection and analysis of data and how data can be misused to manipulate decision making (also on the political level). My aim is to be part of the solution and to mitigate the negative consequences of digitisation.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE?
Bringing all crew safe back to harbour in the 2014 Rolex Middle Sea Race from Malta around Sicily in a storm with winds up to 58 knots. Of 122 boats that started, only 59 made it to the finish after the 600-mile race. We finished third in our category.