Q&As

Is a law firm a data controller or data processor under the UK General Data Protection Regulation? If a law firm acts as data processor, what contractual terms are required?

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Published on LexisPSL on 12/08/2021

The following Practice Compliance Q&A provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Is a law firm a data controller or data processor under the UK General Data Protection Regulation? If a law firm acts as data processor, what contractual terms are required?
  • Is a law firm a controller or a processor?
  • If a law firm acts as data processor, what contractual terms are required?

Is a law firm a data controller or data processor under the UK General Data Protection Regulation? If a law firm acts as data processor, what contractual terms are required?

An organisation’s obligations under Retained Regulation (EU) 2016/679, UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are different depending on whether it is a controller or processor of personal data. It is therefore crucial to determine in respect of any data processing activity whether you are a controller or processor.

Is a law firm a controller or a processor?

The question of whether a law firm is a data processor or data controller will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. The key will be whether the law firm determines the purposes and means of the processing of personal data.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published guidance on controllers and processors under the UK GDPR. It explains that:

  1. if you exercise overall control of the purpose and means of the processing of personal data, ie you decide what data to process and why—you are a controller

  2. if you don’t have any purpose of your own for processing the data and you only act on a client’s instructions, you are likely to be a processor—even if you make some technical decisions about how you process the data

In the vast majority of cases, solicitors will act as the data controller

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