Terry Mutchler, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel
Government, corporate information and secrets are at the core of Mutchler’s practice, as she is one of the foremost practitioners in those increasingly important troves of intellectual treasure. As the chair of the firm’s unique transparency and public data practice, she represents government entities, pharmaceuticals, hedge funds, defense contractors, life science, and medical marijuana companies, struggling with the question of what is and is not a public record, and how to obtain or protect information. In most cases, Mutchler knows the answer. And if she doesn’t, she’ll litigate like crazy to get to it.
Because transparency laws are relatively new, and are evolving quickly, the firm saw that its clients were frequently unaware that when they submit records to the state or local government, competitors may have access to it. With Mutchler’s expertise, creating a practice that helped position clients’ submissions to properly protect confidential and proprietary material and help them understand what records will be public as part of their submission, was a no brainer.
Necessity is the mother of invention. What need was your firm inspired to address with your innovation?
I created the nation’s first transparency law and public data practice—at the intersection of law, media and government. I maximize open records laws to competitive advantage for media companies and corporations alike. My work focuses on counseling multinational corporations that do business with or are regulated by federal, state, and local governments to both protect their information from competitors, but also to access records.
Innovation within a law firm requires a strong vision and a lot of coordination internally. How was your firm able to turn a vision into a reality during such an unpredictable year?
The genesis for transparency law was a natural progression bred from my days as an Associated Press journalist. I traded my press pass for a law licenses and worked as a Chicago media attorney, and was tapped as Illinois first public access counselor by the Attorney General enforcing Sunshine Laws on behalf of citizens and media. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell later appointed me founding executive director of a new state agency—the Office of Open Records— enforcing open records law. During that seven-year role, I conducted a joint-training session with Lockheed Martin Corp. and Pentagon officials to train on the Freedom of Information Act. Federal contractors lined up with questions about using open records law to competitive advantage, and my entrepreneurial spirit sparked; I recognized a business model for an exciting and sustainable new practice of law within the First Amendment.
What obstacles did the firm need to overcome to execute that vision?
A key change that has resulted from my work? Clients are becoming sophisticated with using these laws, and C-Suites nationally now recognize transparency law as a complex, and often overlooked, area of law that has great impact on their bottom line. For example, I helped a national news outlet reduce improperly charged copies fees from $25,000 to less than 23 bucks. I helped an international electronic tolling corporation identify public records, while protecting from a competitor its trade secret and confidential proprietary records in a $750 million state contract. The future of this practice will continue to be leveraged by every major industry, including pharmaceuticals, gaming, oil and gas, life sciences, public service advocates to name a few. The transparency law and data practice is creating a critical body of caselaw and strategies for government agencies, citizens and corporations alike. As a result, technology, business and governmental policy will be shaped for decades to come by transparency law, as public records are leveraged across the board.