In our latest 60-second interview, the DMA’s head of legal Asli Yildiz talks to The Lawyer about the evolving role of the GC, the importance of collaborating both internally and externally and not forgetting the lessons learned during the pandemic.

What legal/business issues have taken up your time over the last six months?

Like most organisations, we have faced a number of coronavirus-related challenges at the DMA and across our 1000+ membership over the past few months. As a legal team, we have received a wide range of enquiries, from the frustration of contract negotiations and furlough applications, to marketing budget restrictions and data privacy issues.

Asli Yildiz

We have received a lot of feedback from both members and non-members highlighting how useful our online corporate and individual learning platforms have been, hosted by the DMA’s learning arm, the Institute of Data and Marketing (IDM). Fortunately, many companies and individuals were able to continue their marketing and legal training while working from home using our online resources.

We also worked collaboratively with other industry bodies across our sector to make sure that organisations received effective and timely support. I can proudly say that we were a valued and trusted legal/commercial advisor for the data and marketing community throughout this challenging time.

What role does your legal team play in advancing the strategic goals of the business?

The DMA’s vision is to be the UK’s most customer-focused business community and the driving force of intelligent marketing, empowering brands to deliver value responsibly and sustainably to their customers. Through our legal support services, we help to navigate the data and marketing industry through the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Our world-renowned training and legal courses, such as our GDPR Award, have been designed and reviewed by our legal team to support the DMA’s values. They have helped hundreds of members and their employees.

We are in the process of creating a GDPR Industry Code. It is a code of conduct created by and specifically for the data and marketing sector. It will allow the Information Commissioner’s Office to delegate complaints investigations to the DMA and the Data & Marketing Commission.

Have you implemented any new solutions in the last year to help combat challenges in the department?

We have indeed. At the beginning of 2020, we partnered with one of our members, Lee & Thompson, on a non-exclusive basis to support the DMA’s legal team with member enquiries. When I last spoke with The Lawyer back in May 2019, I mentioned that one of my aims is to create a hub of legal experts and providers who are DMA members. Over the next few months, we hope to further expand our legal hub to help support the needs of our growing membership.

How is the role of the GC evolving and what will it look like in five years’ time?

GCs have long been acknowledged as important partners of the business, providing advice on many business-critical decisions, from both a commercial and legal perspective, by utilising their experience as fellow business leaders. This trend will likely continue as it is becoming increasingly difficult for GCs to deliver key legal advice or run risk analyses if they are not informed about key issues impacting the business.

Remote working throughout the pandemic has shown that we can remain connected and work equally efficiently while physically not in the same office/environment. This may make more organisations more willing to use both in-house and external legal advisors. It has also shown that legal assessment skills are not just needed for commercial contracts, but are also required for situations currently impacting many of our lives such as loss of a loved one, being furloughed/made redundant, or even losing multiple clients in a short space of time.

If we do not forget the lessons learned during the pandemic, I believe in five years’ time we will likely increase the prevalence of remote working, further recognise the importance of human values and, most importantly, appreciate the benefits of a diverse and inclusive working environment on productivity.

Which future development, internal or external, do you consider will have the biggest impact on your in-house legal team over the next year? 

If organisations continue to be under significant financial constraints, due to the pandemic, I believe the biggest impact will be the need to do more with less.

Among our 1000+ membership base, we have members both large and small in size and stature. Many of those will not have an in-house legal representative and so we often are relied upon to be their primary legal resource. However, if the number of companies that need this level of support increases, we may need to adjust in order to continue providing the same quality advice. Although I am hopeful that once the new industry code has been developed and approved this impact should be felt less, as members will have in-depth guidance as an initial reference point.

What key business advice do you need to know to make a great in-house lawyer?

The key advice that I tend to offer is the importance of developing soft skills and putting people first. A great in-house lawyer for me is a person who is interested in the business as well as the people and stakeholders who are a part of that business. Therefore, having an ability to communicate with all levels of seniority in a business is a must.

Being inclusive, supportive and a diversity advocate is also essential. At a basic level, this involves showing a general willingness to listen, learn and show compassion, without prejudice.

Who has been the most influential person in your career? 

I am very lucky to have met many incredible people throughout my career. They have all deeply influenced me by their honesty, integrity and ability to bring the best out of themselves and others.

One person in particular who exemplified this was Hon. Sir Simon Picken (Mr. Justice Picken). He was my neighbour when I first moved to London and I became close with him and his family. I once explained to him my dream about becoming a successful international lawyer. I was not even a LLM student back then but he gave me some great advice and assured me that I had the tools to become a successful one. He would go on to help me gain invaluable experience working on his High Court and Appeal Court cases where he was acting as a QC. But the most important lesson that he taught me with his approach was the importance of treating everyone kindly, fairly and equally – no matter how junior or senior a person is. I will always be grateful to him for that.