A painter of abstract urban and riverside landscapes, Steven Heffer is used to finding the contrast between the new and old, the rural and the industrial. However, representing these conflicts through a paintbrush is no easier than his work balancing one of the greatest tensions in the digital age: the right to privacy versus the open access of information. Partner at Collyer Bristow and its head of arts and culture, Heffer is an unusual combination of lawyer, artist, and curator, successful at combining them to better serve them all. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Collyer Bristow Gallery, where ‘we not only have a series of exhibitions and like to support emerging artists, but also use these events as a great way of keeping contact with our clients and industry members’. By actively entering his clients’ world, he is able to understand their needs and tailor his services accordingly. Confident in his place in the forefront of media law, he guides clients through the current legal impenetrability of privacy demands. While the Media and Privacy team he heads has expertise in all areas of media law, his main areas of interest are privacy, defamation, and cyberrelated litigation. Naturally for someone working in this area, his clients include many well-known figures in the public domain, particularly actors, entertainers, sportspeople, politicians —‘we have lots of MPs’, he says. Over the last few years, most of Heffer’s work is either to do with reputation management, such as his work on the phone hacking scandal. One of the biggest – and most public – cases was when Collyer Bristow ‘acted as lawyers in the Leveson Enquiry for the victims.’ He’s ‘dealt with numerous claims arising out of phone hacking, against News International and the Mirror Group.’ Moreover, these cases haven’t gone away; media abuse and intrusion are still at the centre of several of his current cases. Heffer’s argument is that these abuses won’t stop until the international regulatory environment is set up in such a way so as to ensure private individuals can be protected. He says news ‘used to be just the newspapers – things came to the public eye and then went away. Now, allegations which are made stick around for a very long time unless active steps are taken to manage them. That’s a very difficult job in many cases – but it can be done. Especially if regulations are adopted on the international stage.’ That regulation will have to bring big companies like Google and Facebook along with it, bringing them into the fold to help enact privacy orders now that information can travel across borders in a second.While governments work to ensure cross-border privacy laws are consistent and strong, Heffer is keen to ensure his clients appreciate the risks of the new media on their reputations. He notes that ‘unless it’s their particular background,’ then ‘the more high-profile people are, the less they tend to engage with social media.’ If clients haven’t withdrawn from social media, Heffer is leading the field in legal reputation management when a crisis arises. His team dealt with the first Twitter libel case, and since then he has cautioned against ‘the naivety of young people not understanding the impact of what they say,’ going on to offer protection against digital-age features such as online trolls. Having a man who understands how to protect a client’s privacy in the ever-changing media legal landscape has never been more valuable.
Reputation Management Lawyers