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The banking jobs: Director and Legal Counsel
Since joining BNP Paribas America in 2015, Samantha Himelman has led a growing team in the legal department that advises on emerging topics like cyber security, data privacy, artificial intelligence, and much more. Read on to learn about the journey that brought her to BNP Paribas and how her department is preparing for an increasingly digital future.
Tell us about your role at BNP Paribas America
As a Director in the CIB Americas Legal Department, I lead a team that focuses on intellectual property (IP) and technology law. I joined BNP Paribas in March 2015 as the only lawyer in the Americas with a dedicated focus on these areas, but, given the ever-increasing importance of this practice, the team has quickly grown to include five lawyers.
Our team covers a wide range of areas, and we support every single business and function across the BNP Paribas platform. While some teams in the legal department are dedicated to certain types of transactions or business lines, we advise all internal stakeholders on all things related to IP and digital matters, including data privacy, cybersecurity, and emerging technologies. That includes areas like artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, big data and cryptocurrency.
How does your team work with different groups across BNP Paribas?
Every group across the Bank is concerned with how they can use, share, store and process data, so naturally, we work with every group. Our role is to help ensure that BNP Paribas is mitigating and adequately addressing legal risk when the Bank is undertaking major projects that deal with data. Additionally, cybersecurity is an area that cuts across every group and is by its nature transversal. Our legal support extends across the Americas platform.
It is a very interesting time to be doing this type of work. BNP Paribas has a very ambitious digital plan for 2020, and the Group is investing heavily in digitalizing the Bank. In connection with those goals, IP/IT lawyers are kept busy advising on the legal aspects of all of those initiatives. We help guide senior management and the business through the lifecycles of these large projects, starting at inception of the project, incorporating the concept of privacy by design, and partnering with the business from end to end.
How does the rapid rate of technological change impact your work?
The regulatory landscape around these emerging technologies is complex and constantly changing. Staying apprised of all of these changes and quickly assessing their potential impact keeps us very busy. But this also helps identify potential opportunities for the Bank.
The pace of change is fast and regulatory regimes cannot keep up with each advancement in technology. Changes to the law take time due to the legislative process, so, we are often tasked with advising on areas of law that are not yet settled.
Can you share an example of the type of project your team works on?
As part of BNP Paribas' digital strategy, the Group has been looking to automation to see where it can be utilized in our everyday processes. We are working on a significant number of robotics process automation (RPA) initiatives, which look to automate manual processes that currently require considerable attention and time from staff. The goal is to free up people’s time so they can work on more complex, strategic tasks.
And it is not just automation of manual processes—we are also looking at AI-related automation, like chatbots. From the legal perspective, it requires an understanding of the use case for the business, along with an analysis of the potential legal implications. That means trying to understand the data, who is going to access it, how it is going to be used, and who is going to be responsible for the actions of a robot. We evaluate all of those issues when we are asked to look at a project like RPA, chatbots, or similar technologies.
Does this legal role require a unique skillset?
This role requires an intersection of different skills. First, IP/IT lawyers need a substantive understanding of the law, in particular technology and intellectual property law.
This role requires an intersection of different skills.
But they also need an ability to think with an innovative mindset, because they need to align with their internal client who is thinking innovatively.
IP/IT lawyers also need the ability to communicate clearly and effectively to a very senior audience, including when under pressure.
You’ve been with BNP Paribas for over three years now. What attracted you to the Group?
Before joining BNP Paribas, I was an IP and Technology Associate at a major law firm in New York, and I was recruited to start the team here at BNP Paribas. Being able to build out this practice within the legal department was an attractive part of the opportunity to join the Group. The two best things about the Bank are the people and the culture. There is a very collaborative and consensus-driven environment, and my colleagues are forward looking. We are able to work in a setting where people are looking two steps ahead, instead of simply being reactive.
“ If you’re looking to work in a global team, with people across regions and cultures, then BNP Paribas is the place for you. ”
Head of Intellectual Property and IT legal team, CIB Americas
What are you most proud of during your time at BNP Paribas?
We have created a team that is viewed by the business as a valuable player who should be at the table from the outset of a project. I think the business sees the team as a partner that is strategic and should be consulted at the beginning, who will have good ideas about how to set up the project in such a way that our legal risk can be adequately addressed.
For a team that did not exist just a few years ago, that is an accomplishment I am proud of.
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