What led you to become a lawyer?
Through luck and curiosity, I “fell into” law. Growing up I had little exposure to lawyers or legal careers—I am the first lawyer in my family. After college I wanted to further my education and started to consider law school. Prior to applying for law school, I worked in a law office to see what being a lawyer would look like. I have always been fascinated with learning new things and I was intrigued with the variety of careers that lawyers have. I was hooked, and it turned out to be a great fit for me.
What made you decide to pursue certification?
I have practiced in the area of privacy, data security, and emerging technologies for several years. As businesses became more data driven and reliant on connected devices, I watched the practice area evolve from a small niche to a widespread, cross-industry legal issue. When I learned that North Carolina was offering specialization in my area of practice, I set a personal and professional goal to achieve the certification.
What's the best thing about achieving that goal?
Being one of the first lawyers in North Carolina—and in the nation (no other state offers this specialization)—to obtain this certification is an incredible honor and relief. The exam covers a lot of material and required a good deal of preparation. It is extremely gratifying to receive recognition of expertise in an area of law about which I am so passionate.
What is it like to work with clients seeking assistance with privacy law issues in Charlotte?
After practicing in San Francisco for a decade, I moved back home to North Carolina about four years ago. Given the nature of privacy and data security work, I assist clients all over, not just in Charlotte or even in the state of North Carolina. Charlotte is a great place to both live and work, and it has a vibrant emerging business, technology, and Fintech community. Working in Charlotte allows me to experience a wide variety of privacy and data security issues, and allows me easy access to clients across the country.
In what activities/volunteer groups are you involved?
I am an active member of the Privacy and Data Security Committee of the North Carolina State Bar and the incoming chair of the Law and Society Committee of the Mecklenburg County Bar. I am on the alumni committee for Leadership Charlotte, a member of the Cyberspace Law Group of the ABA, I serve as chair of Bradley’s Privacy and Cybersecurity Team, and often speak at seminars and publish frequently on privacy and data security issues. I volunteer as a mentor with QC Fintech, and I am the chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council, which advocates for policies that build a sustainable, equitable, and healthy local food system. And most importantly, I am the proud mother of three young children (2, 5, and 7) who keep me on my toes.
What do you want non-privacy law attorneys to know about what you do?
Privacy lawyers work in a variety of capacities—from handling regulatory compliance matters to corporate transactions to litigation—and everything in between. With cybersecurity and data breach issues in the news daily, privacy is an issue that affects our clients’ businesses in various ways and impacts almost all aspects of legal practice. Additionally, privacy law is constantly evolving, which can make legal interpretation challenging; however, it also gives privacy lawyers the opportunity to utilize their analytical thinking and problem-solving skills, often coming up with creative solutions to address clients’ business needs.
The original article, "Spotlight: Erin J. Illman," first appeared on nclawspecialists.gov on February 26, 2019.