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Morrison & Foerster on Monday hooked up with a pair of privacy experts from the Clinton administration as part of a growing effort by the firm to become a dominant player on privacy issues for corporate clients. The two, Peter Swire and Lauren Steinfeld, helped craft the federal government’s recent regulations on medical privacy, and MoFo is hoping the two will round out the firm’s growing privacy practice. Privacy has become a hot-button issue in the last few years with the passage of laws aimed at protecting consumer information. The recent Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act imposed requirements on banks and financial institutions as to how they maintain personal financial information and share it with others. Similarly, medical privacy regulations adopted in the final days of the Clinton administration require health care providers to obtain consent before passing along an individual’s medical information. And international agreements require U.S. companies to protect data transmitted across international borders. “The issue has been around a long time, but it’s only in the past two to three years that privacy has become a hot political issue,” said Lee Adams, a partner in Morrison & Foerster’s Washington, D.C., office. Companies have paid as much as $1 million to ensure they are in compliance with privacy requirements. A Zona Research Inc. survey found that of the companies questioned, 30 percent planned to spend more than $1 million in the next two years on privacy experts. Accounting firms are also getting a large chunk of this business, auditing companies to ensure that their practices are in line with their policies. Until recently, MoFo’s privacy practice has focused on the financial services sector. But in the last six months it has sought to position itself as an expert in all aspects of privacy. To that end the firm has brought on top ex-Clinton officials that played key roles in the medical and international arenas. In December, MoFo hired Barbara Wellbery as a partner in its D.C. office. During her six-year tenure in the U.S. Department of Commerce, Wellbery was the chief architect of the so-called safe harbor data privacy accord with the European Union. She also served in international organizations as the lead United States negotiator on numerous electronic commerce issues, such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Swire was the Clinton administration’s chief counselor for privacy and Steinfeld served as associate chief counselor for privacy at the Office of Management and Budget. Together they crafted medical privacy regulations that require health care providers to obtain consent before passing along medical information about an individual. On Monday the two entered a “consulting alliance” with MoFo’s Washington, D.C., office. Adams said MoFo decided that a consulting arrangement made more sense than the traditional counsel relationship. In Swire’s case, he said, the alliance “better reflects his allocation of time between teaching full time at George Washington University Law School and other nonacademic pursuits.” Swire and Steinfeld will spend about five to 10 hours a week working with the firm. MoFo was well positioned to attract the former government officials. MoFo partner L. Richard Fischer — author of the treatise “The Law of Financial Privacy” — got to know Swire when the two appeared together on several privacy panels. MoFo also offered proximity. The firm’s offices are across the street from George Washington Law School, where Swire is a visiting professor. MoFo’s expertise in the area was particularly appealing to Swire. “Morrison & Foerster has an outstanding privacy practice with a number of lawyers who are leaders in different privacy areas,” Swire said, pointing to Fischer’s expertise in financial privacy and Wellbery’s work with the European Union. “As White House coordinator on medical privacy, I think I fit another piece into that puzzle.” Prior to joining the White House in 1999, Swire was a professor at Ohio State University College of Law for three years and a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law for six years. Before joining the OMB, Steinfeld was an attorney adviser to the head of the Federal Trade Commission. MoFo has 14 attorneys in its privacy practice group. In addition to eight attorneys in D.C., the firm has three attorneys in its Los Angeles office and three in San Francisco who devote an average of 30 percent to 40 percent of their time to privacy-related questions.

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