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Close-Up: Andy Serwin

Foley & Lardner attorney defines interplay of law, technology

As business technologies continue to evolve at a feverish pace, there exists a corresponding need for lawyers to serve as intermediaries between businesses and the ever-changing laws that protect them. Enter Andy Serwin, partner in the San Diego office of Foley & Lardner LLP.

Serwin specializes in Web-based intellectual property, software licensing and the implementation of privacy and security policies for businesses, in an age when Internet commerce serves as the backbone of many businesses.

A 1995 graduate of USD Law School, Serwin practiced law for five years before starting his own online political magazine during the 2000 presidential campaign -- an experience he said proved invaluable in his understanding of business realities.

Andy Serwin

"When I did my own business, it (gave) me an appreciation for the fact that the law end of it has to serve what the business objectives are," Serwin said. "You have to understand as a lawyer what those are, and it's tough if you haven't run your own business or done it yourself."

Since then, Serwin has witnessed the transformation of a legal industry that seeks to protect businesses when new technology can leave them vulnerable. The biggest challenge to law is acting quickly to keep pace with technology, he said, so that crucial information is not compromised in the public forum of the Internet.

"Law has trouble keeping up," he said. "I think the struggle you have is that law is always reactive. It tries to address a problem that is already happening, and this is true more so with intellectual property."

He added, in the cases of intellectual property theft: "It's great to win a huge judgment for your client, but if the judgment is against a defunct company or the cost of it is that (the client's) technology is now exposed and everyone is copying it, that doesn't help them. What helps them is getting it off the Internet and out of the public's domain."

To facilitate this process, Serwin said the law should also accelerate the legal process by issuing more temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions against alleged violators.

In today's business world, Serwin said the vast majority of perpetrators in security breaches and information leaks are company employees -- both former and current -- who have too much access to critical information or face too few barriers to accessing it. What, then, should companies do to prevent such events, which cost an average of $30,000 per breach?

"You try to have controls on removable media," Serwin said. "Those thumb drives are great, but have been the cause of any number of security breaches." In addition, more and more companies are choosing to encrypt laptops after weighing the costs of doing so, he noted.

In Serwin's practice, which he describes as a rare combination of 50 percent litigation and 50 percent transactional law, he has done everything from defending automobile dealers to drafting privacy policies and Web agreements for online music organizations. The breadth of his client base speaks to the overwhelming need for businesses to understand their rights and risks in disseminating information via the Internet.

"No one would have thought back in 1995 that privacy would have been something that you could do full time, and the Internet wasn't then what it is now," he said. "Most people didn't see the commercial aspect being as big as it is."

Another facet Serwin touched upon was the ongoing challenge businesses face in outsourcing international intellectual property. He emphasized the need for companies to understand the data they send, the controls that are in place to protect it and the intellectual property enforcement policies of foreign countries that receive the information. All of this works together to help businesses define and structure their relationships with vendors and consumers, he said.

His understanding of legal business realities has led Serwin to publish several books on the legal aspects of Web-based intellectual property. His book "Information Security and Privacy: A Comprehensive Guide to Federal, State, and International Law," published by West Legalworks, spans several thousand pages in examining privacy and security law.

Throughout his experience in San Diego, Serwin has perceived a growing technological market accentuated by wireless telecommunications firms, biotechnology companies and defense contractors. In what he considers a "growing and diversifying" local economy, "the technology market is very strong and it's going to continue to be," he said. And as this growth becomes more marked in years to come, the impetus for legal advice that incorporates technology and existing law will become increasingly important.

Above all, Serwin maintained that for the legal industry to meet the demands of all businesses, it will need lawyers who adopt "creative solutions" to new challenges.

"We're becoming more and more reliant on technology," he said. "And I think law will continue to follow where the technology goes and try to provide the protections needed for companies to continue to innovate."

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For more information, visit Foley & Lardner LLP online or learn more about its San Diego and San Diego/Del Mar offices.


McRoskey is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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