From “talker” to trusted leader

  • November 21, 2022
  • Angela Ogang

Dina Maxwell is Director & Privacy Lead at PwC Canada, where she is responsible for managing the firm’s internal data protection program. She advises on all aspects of data protection, including privacy, data governance, compliance, and innovation.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I am originally from a small mining and fishing town called Beresford, in the north eastern part of New Brunswick. I was born and raised there with my four older sisters. My dad Samuel was a family doctor, and he was originally from Ghana. My mother was a psychiatric nurse, and she is originally from another small town in New Brunswick called Miramichi.

What were the biggest influences in your life growing up?

I am from a family of talkers. We are all very communicative and social. After my sisters and I were done school and my dad had finished seeing his patients for the day, my mom would make us dinner and we would sit around the dinner table and talk about our day, about movies and music, and things that were interesting to us. So, the importance of being able to speak for myself and communicate my opinions was definitely instilled in me from a very early age, starting with those dinner time conversations.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in law?

I graduated from high school in 2002 and had the privilege of attending Harvard University for my undergraduate studies. While I was at Harvard, I majored in English and American Literature and Language, and I also did a minor in French. I look back at my time in Cambridge as such a formative four years of my life. I graduated from Harvard in 2006 and, honestly, I was a bit torn as to what I wanted to do. Being an English major, I contemplated going the PhD route, maybe becoming a professor, so that was one option. I had a journalistic angle that I was keen to explore a bit more, so I was looking at different journalism degrees as well. I was also considering law school because, growing up, I always did a lot of debating and public speaking.

Ultimately, the PhD and journalism options didn’t feel like quite the right fit at the time. I am also fortunate in that two of my sisters had gone into law. My sister Rita-Jean Maxwell is now a judge of the Superior Court of Justice and my sister Ada Maxwell-Alleyne is the Assistant Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. The fact that the law could provide a lot of different career avenues—like policy, private practice, government or compliance—was also very appealing to me. I ended up pursuing law at the University of Toronto and after graduating in 2009, I articled at a big Bay Street firm and I was called to the bar in 2010.

How did you ascend to in-house leadership in privacy and data protection?

After my first year of law school, instead of doing a law-related internship, I went back to New Brunswick and spent the summer working as a reporter for the Telegraph Journal in Saint John. They were revisiting the province’s access to information legislation at the time and the paper was asked to deliver an opinion on the proposed amendments. That was one of the first assignments that I had, and I found it very interesting. The availability of data and access to information draws on so many issues which I thought were really compelling. I also thought it was an area that would have a lot of development and I anticipated that there would be some good opportunities to get involved. So when I began my legal career, I focused on building a privacy practice alongside my civil litigation practice and I would always try to find opportunities to do privacy and data protection work for my institutional clients. I also enjoyed litigating, but I always knew that, ultimately, I wanted to pivot to privacy and data protection.

That’s how I started building that practice, and over time, it just became a bigger part of my area of expertise. In addition to being in private practice for a few years, I worked briefly in the access to information department of a Crown agency and for a privacy research company. Moreover, I focused exclusively on privacy and data protection engagements while working for a company that provides alternative legal services. I have been working in the area for almost twelve years now and I don’t think I would have reached my level of expertise without having all of these different experiences along the way. As a director at PWC and as someone who leads our internal privacy and data protection program, all of those experiences not only sharpened my knowledge of the law but also helped me assess data protection issues from a lot of different perspectives. I think that lends itself well to being in an in-house role.

What would you say are the benefits of working in-house as opposed to working in a law firm?

There are a lot of benefits to both environments. When you are cutting your teeth as a junior associate at a law firm, you are definitely working in a high pressure, fast-paced environment but you learn very quickly how important it is to balance your time so that you don’t become too burned out from all the different client demands. It’s also a great environment to learn about client service and cultivate soft skills that help you forge strong client relationships.

That said, being in-house is a great fit for me. I love the area that I specialized in, but I am also interested in seeing how my advice plays out over the long run within the organization. And as in-house counsel, I think you are uniquely positioned to see how your advice directly impacts the business and how things evolve, and whether or not your advice needs to be recalibrated based on shifting business priorities. That’s not impossible to achieve in private practice by any means but it’s different, especially if you are at a bigger firm or mid-sized firm where you are churning out a lot of deliverables for many different clients. I really enjoy being very much entrenched within the business and I find that, as I progress in my career, I am thinking a lot more about bigger issues, like the ethical considerations about whether or not data should be used in whatever way the business aspires to. I really like that aspect of being an in-house counsel in particular.

What would you say is your biggest achievement to date?

That’s a tough question. There are a lot of things that I am really happy about and that I am proud of. One is the fact that, after so many years of evolution in privacy law, I find myself in this position where I am being called upon as an expert to opine on the law. It is satisfying in the sense that people trust you to deliver that advice. That trust is so important, but it also spurs me to make sure that I’m staying on top of the law. I am very proud of the organization I work for and reaching a director level within my company is definitely a career milestone.

I am also really proud of the fact that I have been able to build my privacy and data protection expertise while finding balance in a way that makes me feel whole in other parts of my life. A few years ago, I was at a crossroads. I had been working in private practice for many years and like a lot of us, I never really took a break to think about what I wanted to do and what kind of life I wanted to have. I reached a point where I couldn’t get enough rest and I just felt completely burnt out. I took a year off from work and I spent the time getting in touch with my priorities. I spent time meditating, doing yoga, and connecting with my family and closest friends, and just taking the time to re-evaluate what it is that I wanted for my career and for my life and the kind of person that I wanted to be. I recognize that being able to take that time off is a privilege and I am very grateful that I had the support to do that, because I came away with a much clearer sense of what I wanted to do and on what terms I wanted to do it. It reinvigorated my interest in the law and it became really clear to me that I need to be able to have the time and space to do things outside of law in order to feel like myself.

Are you active in the community?

I am involved in a number of professional organizations, such as the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers and the International Association of Privacy Professionals. More informally, I love talking to people and being a mentor. I make time for people who reach out to me to ask about getting involved in privacy law and data protection because it’s important to give people practical advice on how to get in the field. It is also very important for junior lawyers, especially racialized lawyers, to see people who look like them in positions of leadership, whether it’s in-house or at a law firm.

Do you have any practical tips for those who are interested in working in your field?

If you are interested in getting involved in privacy and data protection law, it’s really important to be a voracious reader. Read the articles, read the bulletins, stay up to date on developments in the law because the area is in so much flux right now. Go to the CPD events. They are not only important from a learning perspective, but they are also a good opportunity to network with people who work in the field. I would really encourage people to go to the International Association of Privacy Professionals conferences and to explore the privacy section offerings through the Ontario Bar Association or the Canadian Bar Association. A lot of organizations and law firms offer really great CPD programs as well. I would also recommend getting additional certifications to bolster your privacy legal knowledge. It demonstrates to people that you have a baseline level knowledge of privacy legal issues in whatever jurisdiction you practice in. The opportunities in privacy and data protection are endless, so I encourage lawyers, especially junior ones, to explore the field as much as possible.

Angela Ogang is a bilingual lawyer admitted to the Ontario and Kenyan Bar and the Secretary of the CBA and OBA Women Lawyers Forum. She practices at her firm, AngeLAW, in Toronto and advises clients in the areas of estate planning and administration, immigration, and business law.