Tweet shop: Melanie Hatton, ­Latitude

Latitude GC Melanie Hatton has gone from social media innocent to online aficionado since joining the digital marketing specialist, says Joanne Harris

Melanie Hatton
Melanie Hatton

 Melanie Hatton confesses that when she joined ­digital marketing ­specialist ­Latitude in August 2008 she was a novice in the world of social media.

“I remember that when I joined a couple of the directors took out their iPhones and started giggling at ­something,” Hatton recalls. That was her first experience of Twitter. Her curiosity piqued, she logged onto the social media website for the first time.

“I didn’t get it instantly,” she admits. “I really started getting into social media by using it as a tool for research. As a sole in-house lawyer you have very limited knowhow resources.”

Less than three years on and ­Hatton has become one of the most active ’Twegals’ (lawyers who use Twitter) as well as a regular blogger.

Hatton was hired to develop ­Latitude’s legal function following a ­private equity investment in the ­business in 2008. She says her job description is broad, covering ­”whatever legal projects come up”.

Those projects include contracts, IP and IT, company secretarial work and employment matters. Hatton also oversees the company’s HR function.

She sits on Latitude’s management board and sees her role as an integral part of the company’s commercial business. That is all about increasing the profile of its customers online. It helps them advertise on a variety of websites in several ways, including optimising search engine results and generating revenue through the number of clicks adverts get.

Hatton says the nature of the ­business means the company profile is skewed towards graduates. ­Latitude’s average employee age is just 24, making staff more likely to be conscious of social media and online networking.

“Using social media is their ­preferred choice of communication ­anyway,” Hatton says.

Being a lawyer in this environment requires Hatton to keep up-to-speed on developments with technology and laws relating to the use of ­personal information. A current issue is the use of cookies (software that can track an internet user and work out what sort of adverts might attract their attention).

However, some believe this sort of software breaches privacy laws. The digital marketing industry is awaiting the outcome of a European Court of Justice case against the UK ­Government. The European ­Commission claims the Government has failed to implement European laws relating to the confidentiality of electronic communication by ­allowing UK companies to use ­behavioural advertising software.

“The digital industry moves faster than the law, while new technology and different ways of doing things mean the law in this area becomes ­outdated quickly,” Hatton explains.

Separately, the Commission is investigating search engine giant Google for abuse of its dominant market position. Latitude is responding to an information request as the Commission gathers data on the industry.

Hatton handles the bulk of ­Latitude’s legal work – such as responding to the Commission’s data request – ­herself. For property and some corporate work she tends to go to Pinsent Masons, a firm she knows through prior connections. Dickson Minto advises on private equity and ­corporate finance work thanks to a relationship with Latitude’s private equity shareholders.

While she says she will go to Pinsents for “a second opinion” on issues, Hatton more often turns to social media to keep up with developments in the technology sector. Through syndicated news feeds she is able to get a constant stream of updates from the sources she chooses to follow.

Hatton’s use of Twitter and blogs began as a way to access this information, but has since expanded far beyond that. She says she likes being part of a community of lawyers, both in-house and private practice, with whom she can share ideas in real time.

She thinks the recent debate over the use of Twitter by lawyers is a good thing as it has raised the profile of social media in the legal community.

“I challenge and encourage them to embrace it more,” she says.

Hatton has been asked to speak to a number of large law firms about social media, but finds that many shy away from using it because they are worried about the potential pitfalls.

”This is one way that smaller firms are becoming more advantaged in the market,” Hatton says.

From her own perspective, Hatton says social media has benefited the way she works and her daily business.

“It’s a different dynamic from ­looking at contracts and all the small print I’ve got on one side of my desk,” she says. “It’s an enjoyable part of the day as well as a valuable one.”

Name: Melanie Hatton
Company: Latitude Digital ­Marketing
Title: General counsel and company ­secretary
Industry: New media
Reporting to: CEO Alex Hoye
Turnover: £22m
Employees: 85
Global legal capability: One lawyer, one administrative support
Main law firms: Dickson Minto, Pinsent Masons