Olive Cooke. You may not recall her name but you may remember the terrible story of the little old lady driven to take her own life partly as a result of being pursued relentlessly for donations by various charities who had obtained her contact details directly or indirectly.

Personal data has become big business and the wide misuse of that data has resulted in positive action by the EU in the form of the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) which comes into effect on 25th May 2018. The Privacy and Electronics Communication Regulation (“PECR”), which governs unsolicited direct mailings, is also being updated and the indications are that this will follow the provisions of the GDPR. And before you skip this article thinking that Brexit means that we no longer have to worry about these regulations, the UK government has announced that it will adopt the provisions of the GDPR (and by implication the PECR) into UK law.

There is much to commend in the thinking behind the new legislation. No longer will you have to look for those annoying tick boxes hidden at the end of reams of small print which need to be either unticked or ticked in order to stop the deluge of advertising from a company from whom you simply wanted to buy a sofa or, even worse, them selling on your personal data to third parties who continue the deluge. Going forward, the general rule will be that, if you want to use someone’s personal data (their home address, email etc), you must have a lawful basis (as defined by the GDPR) so to do.

Much has been made of the eye watering penalties for severe breaches of GDPR – E20m or 4% of turnover – and, as the 25th May 2018 deadline fast approaches, hysteria mounts concerning the complexities and cost of implementation. However less has been said of the golden opportunity GDPR offers. Now is the time to streamline your contacts and upgrade your ability to sort/use those contacts according to more sophisticated parameters. Doing so will make your business development more targeted as well as efficient and should in turn produce greater ROI.

Databases are the bane of every business, whether you are selling legal services or anything else. They become obscenely overweight, loaded down with a large proportion of contacts who are to all intents and purposes (and sometimes actually) “dead”. Maintaining the efficacy of those databases is a time-consuming and expensive task that most small – medium sized businesses simply do not normally have the resources (or will) to prioritise. GDPR provides the justification to take this task centre stage.

Many large businesses will already have sophisticated databases which control their contacts in a manner designed to assist business development – both in terms of communicating with those contacts and reporting on the success of those communications. At the Bar, business development functions have necessarily been bolted on to internal systems as the basis of those systems was designed before the Bar was able to advertise its services. Whilst marketing functions have been becoming more sophisticated, GDPR is a shot in the arm in this regard and this will undoubtedly be to the Bar’s general advantage.

And that general advantage is also another positive development to GDPR – at the Bar at least. GDPR has got us all talking and sharing. Leading by example and presenting a united front will do wonders for the Bar’s public profile.