Leaders List interview: 60 seconds with Ben Hobbs, Schillings

Date: 01 Mar 2022

Silvia Ricciardi

Ben Hobbs, Schillings

Tell Citywealth’s readers about your role.
I’m a Partner at Schillings, specialising in protecting the privacy, reputation and security of high-net-worth individuals and international businesses across a range of industries. I work to provide clients with strategic reputation and privacy advice, often in times of complex crisis.

Increasingly, the landscape of modern business means these reputation and privacy crises happen in the digital world, not just in the traditional media. As such, I help clients manage and respond to challenges and threats, such as smear and hostile campaigns, cyber-attacks, data breaches or harassment.

Schillings is a unique, multidisciplinary practice, with a range of services under one roof. I am a lawyer, but the law alone is not enough to protect privacy, reputation or security. On a daily basis, I work alongside our investigators, cyber experts and other specialists to ensure that our solutions are effective, efficient and holistic.

Talk us through one of your most recent client cases.

As already mentioned, many of the challenges our clients face today are online. One of my clients was experiencing a number of issues with social media platforms and search engines, including the publication of photographs of and information about their infant child. Making legal complaints to photographers, picture agencies, publishers and websites around the world eventually led to the child not being photographed any further, the sale of existing photographs being stopped, and substantial numbers of unpixellated photographs being removed from online. All of this enables the child and my client to enjoy their time as a family, without constant intrusion.

Another interesting case has involved a client’s name and image being used in multiple scam adverts on social media. Legal correspondence with that platform did not result in sufficient protections for the client, so they are currently suing the platform in Ireland. The case raises really important questions about what social media platforms could, and should do, to better protect the public from being defrauded, to protect successful and high profile individuals’ names and images from being misused, and to ensure that they know exactly who is behind these adverts which generate billions in revenue for them. These areas are ripe for regulation and it will be interesting to see the impact of the Online Safety Bill and other policies. 

What are the most important skills and qualities for a lawyer specialised in reputation protection?
A crisis or reputational issue is very rarely planned for (although it should be). Things happen fast, so it’s essential to be prepared to move quickly, be responsive and efficient and meet tight deadlines. You can’t be hampered by the pursuit of perfection and need to be resilient. When a client’s reputation is attacked or privacy is invaded, that is an incredibly stressful time and deeply personal experience. They need someone who is level-headed, confident, can grasp the issues and objectives quickly, and who is calm and empathetic. Our lawyers also need to be bold and innovative, not afraid to litigate or try new things to achieve the client’s aims.
Given our multidisciplinary structure, our lawyers also need to recognise which of our other skillsets are required to provide the best advice or achieve the best outcome. One of my clients could have litigated an interesting data protection point, but a conversation with my cyber colleague enabled me to negotiate a much quicker and equally beneficial solution for them. 

What’s the biggest challenge lawyers in your sector are currently facing?
The law is limited by jurisdiction – reputation, privacy and security are not. As the battleground is increasingly online, or against companies or individuals who are not in this jurisdiction, we need to be agile and innovative in order to best protect our clients. The ease with which people can anonymise themselves when saying things online, coupled with the lack of speed or action, proactive or reactive, from the platforms they use, is a challenge we regularly face. It is always interesting to see how someone making false allegations or disclosing private information will change their behaviour and attitude once they have been unmasked. 

Are your clients behaving differently in the present era?

Clients have always been concerned about protecting and enhancing their reputation, privacy and security. Last year, we invested in a tech startup which forms part of our digital communications division: as the threats change, so must we. The best-prepared clients will ensure that their online presence and reputation is as resilient as possible, ready for if and when a crisis hits. They want to have as much notice as possible as to when an issue might arise. They also want to ensure their privacy or security is not exposed by what is available online. Being prepared and resilient is key.
Alongside this, the other key difference I am seeing in clients’ behaviour is their attitude towards taking on big tech and social media. Whereas previously they may have been prepared to resolve complaints when unlawful and infringing material was removed, they are increasingly determined to ensure that these global companies are held to account, and not able to avoid responsibility or accountability by virtue of their size or location.   

Best and worst parts of your job?

I’m conscious that this will sound a little cliched, but the best part of my job is the fantastic clients we have, and the fascinating variety of issues we solve for them, working in a unique environment with exceptional colleagues. Reputation, privacy and security are not 9-5, and when a crisis strikes it is always high stakes for clients. That obviously puts a fair bit of pressure on, but I thrive on that, and it is very satisfying when I am able to prevent false allegations or private information being published, or otherwise provide a successful solution to the client’s problem.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given?

My fellow Partners and colleagues have such broad and deep experience, that I am always learning from them. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I have been given was to understand that me being an introvert was not a weakness. They really opened my eyes to see the strengths of all personality types and preferences. This helped me better understand myself, make the most of my strengths, and work even better with colleagues and clients.

Ben Hobbs is a member of our Leaders List.

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