If you've paid for your latte at Starbucks in a mobile payment transaction or pictured yourself in a so-called self-driving car, you're aware of new, connected technologies.
"They're providing individual and commercial customers with fresh insights about their products and services, and delivering more value as a result," says tech fan Stephanie Sharron '92, partner at Morrison & Foerster in Palo Alto, California.
"I have a passion for technology, and I also am really interested in some of the policy issues that drive data protection," says Sharron. "To me these new and emerging business models represent the next frontier for technology. They hold a lot of potential for commercial gain. But they also carry risks from both a corporate and a privacy perspective-which is what makes it such an interesting intersection," she says.
A transactional lawyer at MoFo (as the firm is familiarly known), she helps companies structure and negotiate their business partnerships.
"I specialize in helping companies that leverage data through technology," Sharron explains. "Cybersecurity incidents and data breaches are real risks that can affect everything from violations of personal privacy to theft of intellectual property and trade secrets. As transactional lawyers, we build protections into the contracts and negotiate the allocation of risk related to potential breaches in all those areas."
On her radar is an emerging area dubbed the Internet of Things or IoT-devices and other items embedded with sensors, software, and network connectivity that allow them to collect and exchange data. "Data and insights can be gleaned from embedding computing devices in ordinary consumer products that you might have in your home," she explains. "People are even discussing making fabrics, paint, wallpaper, that can pick up information from their environment and deliver new value and services to consumers."
The challenge: "These technologies will surround us in places where traditionally we've had a reasonable expectation of privacy," Sharron points out. "The extent to which we can individually control the collection and use of data about us-whether in our homes, in transit, or at work-and how that data is being used present unique questions for companies and consumers," she asserts.
Sharron was recognized for her work in technology, data protection, and privacy in the U.S. edition of The Legal 500 (2016-2017) and was ranked among the top information technology and outsourcing attorneys in the United States in Chambers U.S.A. (2012-2017).
She grew up in Palo Alto, California, adjacent to the area now called Silicon Valley and double majored in biology and political science as an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles, with the plan to "combine my interest and passion in science and technology with the law and integrate those two worlds," she says.
Her dad had attended Cornell and spoke highly of it, which made her consider it when she was looking at law schools.
The school's relatively small size "sealed Cornell for me," Sharron says. "The professors were deeply interested in teaching and in working with students, and the culture of the school was unique in that everybody was collaborative. The students supported each other in being the best they could be," she recalls.
Professor Faust Rossi was influential, as were her classes in intellectual property and conflicts of law, which "interested me because they combined aspects of policy and law."
A particular interest for Sharron nowadays is educating today's students on technology and the law.
"She helped design the technology transactions syllabus that forms a core part of the new Tech LL.M. curriculum at Cornell Tech, and she has taught in Professor Matthew D'Amore's class there," notes Charles Whitehead, the Myron C. Taylor Alumni Professor of Business Law and director of the school's Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship Program.
"Stephanie's knowledge of tech transaction challenges faced by start-ups is both encyclopedic and practical," says D'Amore. "She brings a real-world sensibility to the classroom, has great rapport with the students, and confidently discusses tech-related issues in diverse areas, from IP to data privacy to employment law."
"Stephanie's passion and commitment infuse every area of her life," says classmate and friend Jacquie Duval, partner at Ziff Legal Group. "I saw her dedication when she was managing editor of the Cornell Law Review, and I see it today in her attention to her clients, colleagues, and friends. She's also a tireless volunteer for the environment and women's issues and a genuinely kind and loving person."
Sharron began her law career as a dedicated technology transactions lawyer at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in 1992, a time when that practice area wasn't common. In 2008 she joined Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, where she deepened her knowledge of data security and privacy, before leaving to join Morrison & Foerster in 2014.
An active alumna, she has served on the Law School Alumni Association Executive Board and volunteered at her 25th Reunion last year. She and her firm served as hosts to Eduardo M. Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, when he toured the Bay Area, and to the Legal Information Institute's 25th Anniversary Panel Program on immigration and the tech sector in September.
Looking ahead, Sharron says: "I think we are going to continue to see a rapid evolution of these new technologies that are collecting more and more data that can be sliced and diced in new and potentially unanticipated ways. But the insights are going to be harder to predict or anticipate by companies and consumers."
"We do have to be thoughtful about how we use them, which is something I try to teach my sixteen- and twenty-year-old children," says Sharron. "If you do that, there are ways to manage some of those risks."