fivehundred magazine > > Interview with… Didem Kalaycıoğlu Birol, founding partner, DKB Legal

Interview with… Didem Kalaycıoğlu Birol, founding partner, DKB Legal

Tell us about your education journey starting at Istanbul University in 1998 and why you picked law.

My desire to become a lawyer started at a very young age. My grandfather was my inspiration to go to law school. He graduated from Ankara University Law School and served as a military judge for many years, and he used to tell me about the trials when I was a kid.

Besides, I have always been very social and outgoing, with strong interpersonal skills. So when it comes to choosing a profession, I followed in the footsteps of my grandfather, my idol, and graduated from Istanbul University Law Faculty.

After graduating, I completed my legal internship as a lawyer in a boutique law firm that served both individual and corporate clients and started working as a lawyer after obtaining my license. Afterward, I completed my master’s degree in Economic Law at Galatasaray University.

After graduating in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in law you started as an attorney at a law firm but moved to become legal counsel at Doğuş Grubu a couple of years later. Why the change from private practice to in-house?

The law firm I worked for, provided litigation and legal consultancy for Doğuş Holding Tourism Group, among other clients. As I focused more and more on the work of this group within the scope of internal task sharing, the corporate management offered to hire me in-house. I evaluated this offer and decided that moving in-house will lead to being close to the business itself and this will give me a business-wise perspective. Within this framework, it was a very pleasant period for me to work in the company as an in-house lawyer, as it gave me the chance to know the dynamics of the company and cooperate in close contact with other teams within the company. This experience helped me to gain a business-wise perspective.

You spent nearly 15 years at Turkcell in a variety of senior roles. What were your personal key highlights while working at the company?

Turkcell is a highly dynamic company operating in a strictly regulated market, constantly updating itself with new targets. Therefore, in order to be successful, professional knowledge is not enough, you need to keep yourself up to date and adapt quickly to changes. In this context, personal characteristics are extremely important to make a difference. Since the first day I started working for the company, I have tried to understand the industry very well and to master the technical information related to the main field of activity of the company. I worked closely with the technical teams and learned the terminology from them. I provided cooperation not only with the technical teams but also with the other teams of the company (hr, marketing, information security, etc.) to ensure to speak the same language. So, if you ask me what qualifications have helped me to work so successfully at Turkcell for so many years, I would say rapid adaptation to changes and resilience.

Besides, managing a team in such a dynamic industry requires setting the right goals for the team, adjusting their outlook to change, and creating a very strong team spirit. I think I was successful to achieve these.

Finally, the transition from the field of electronic communication law, which I specialized in for years, to the field of personal data protection was essentially a step out of my comfort zone. Although I was familiar with this field as there have been personal data regulations in the sectoral legislation for many years and I contributed to the consultation stages of the law on behalf of Turkcell, entering this new field, was a step that I am glad I dared to take.

While acting as “Data Privacy and Competition Law Associate Director” at Turkcell, you were also appointed as the Data Protection Officer of the company. What has this new role added to your responsibilities?

As you know, the DPO is a role that some organizations are required to appoint under the GDPR. There is no requirement to make such an appointment under Turkish law.

However, appointing a DPO even if the data controller is not obliged to, is very important when it comes to conducting a data privacy compliance program and building a “culture of privacy”.

Both roles require expert knowledge of data protection law and practices. So, they have overlapping responsibilities.

A data privacy legal counsel is a lawyer who specializes in data privacy law and advises the company on legal issues related to data protection. The legal counsel also is responsible for drafting and negotiating data protection agreements, such as data processing agreements, and representing the company in legal proceedings related to data protection. So, within the scope of data privacy, my responsibilities were, inter alia, managing the team to fulfill these tasks successfully.

On the other hand, the DPO is responsible for thinking about compliance, considering the individual as well as the organization, explaining the requirements, and bringing the right people together to get the job done. Therefore, leadership skills, the ability to see the big picture, and project management skills are especially important.

A DPO needs to know not only what the law says, but also what it means and how to apply it to the company in question and its operations.

A successful DPO uses the law, guidance from regulators, case law, best practices from colleagues and cases where things have gone wrong, as well as his/her/their own experience, to advise his/her/their company appropriately. A smart DPO builds on and leverages the expertise available throughout the organization from the other functions; this is critical to gaining acceptance and support.

Your goal is to embed data protection into the company’s policies, processes and culture so that it becomes second nature. This is the goal of the accountability principle under the GDPR.

In my case, with my deep knowledge of the telco industry and my background in the company, I knew all the data processing activities of the company, so I could make decisions and advise about data privacy matters by taking into consideration of the business objectives. So I believe that’s the difference I made as a DPO in Turkcell.

What are your reflections on the diversity and inclusion culture in the legal profession in Türkiye?

I believe Türkiye has a large number of successful female attorneys. We cannot, however, disregard the fact that, like in the rest of the world, women face disadvantages in the realm of business.

Law in Türkiye is already a difficult field, lawyers struggle with many difficulties. But there are also other problems that women have to face compared to men.

Social and cultural stereotypes regarding women’s roles, excessive workloads, etc. make it difficult for women to achieve their goals.

Although many significant actions are being taken in this direction, gender diversity is a problem that is even less frequently brought up.

While the big law firms that have put diversity and inclusion on their agenda have contributed to raising awareness on these issues, everyone needs to value them in order to move forward. In this respect, we need to raise these issues more and more.

Inclusion and Diversity should be treated as an issue that concerns everyone, rather than a social responsibility practice of organizations. We should focus not only on the diversity of workplaces but also on the inclusiveness of work cultures, given that it positively impacts both individuals and organizations and reduces negativity.

You set up legal services and compliance firm DKB Legal in 2022 which primarily focuses on Data Privacy Law, Telecommunications Law, and Competition Law. What made you decide to leave your incredibly successful career at Turkcell and to be the founding partner of a new firm?

My long corporate career has given me a lot in terms of team management, business-wise perspective, communication, and collaboration with different professional careers. But at the end of these years, I felt the need for a change of path. I needed to step outside of my comfort zone since I wanted to start my own practice. I made that move and I am very happy. As a boutique law firm, we work in close contact with our clients. With my years of experience working in-house, we provide proactive, fast legal support focused on the company’s goals and strategies.

How is DKB Legal progressing with its diversity agenda?

As DKB Legal, we are a boutique law firm that is still in the growth stage and one of our most important values is diversity. In this context, we are a welcoming office for everyone.

As a law firm, we are dedicated to promoting inclusion and diversity in all facets of our operations. We are aware that different perspectives and experiences are necessary to provide our clients with the best possible legal representation. We are committed to establishing an office that is inviting and inclusive to everyone, particularly members of marginalized groups.

How do you define the culture at DKB Legal?

We are a dynamic, curious team that values teamwork. We work closely with our clients as if we were their internal teams and through this close collaboration, we produce quality output for our clients.

We value open communication, mutual respect, and hard work among our employees.

How do you see the new generation of women lawyers?

I believe there are outstanding and passionate women lawyers. Young female lawyers are determined versatile and have improved personal skills.

I appreciated the dedication of the female colleagues I have worked with and mentored throughout my career. I think we will hear more names/stories of successful women lawyers in the near future.

If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?

I think I would have been a theater artist. I always loved being on the stage. I was on the theater team during my primary, middle and high school years and we took first place in inter-school competitions. In my first year of university, I played in the theater troupe of Istanbul Technical University Fine Arts Department. But I couldn’t continue due to the heavy workload of law school. Being on stage is something I enjoy immensely, maybe I will return one day 😊

Which women have inspired you the most?

My mother and my grandmother are strong, smart women who believe women must have a good education and a career. So, I grew up believing that my education and personal growth should come first, then anything else.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t had a chance to have a mentor in my professional life but had so many female friends who encouraged me that I can achieve my goals. I especially want to thank my dear friend Emel Nakay, Senior Legal Counsel at Accenture, for always being there for me.

Knowing how important mentoring is, I make an effort to mentor young colleagues and female students as much as I can.

In this context, I mentored female law students and new female lawyers at “TurkishWIN” for years. I am currently a member of the “Womenat” Platform and mentoring young colleagues. I am enjoying this sharing immensely.

What motivates you?

Innovation and continuous learning are what keep me motivated. I can say that every new piece of information I read and every new experience I have inspires me. In addition, doing my best, providing the most beneficial support to my client, taking into account their goals and strategies, and achieving good results motivates me tremendously. At the same time, sharing what I know and giving lectures are things that make me very happy and motivated.

In this context, I actively participate in many trainings, seminars, conferences, and workshops. I am one of the trainers of the “TEİD Academy” within the Ethics and Reputation Society (TEİD) and I teach “KVKK and Effective Compliance Program Management” within the scope of “Corporate Ethics and Compliance Management Certificate Program”. All these activities motivate me a lot.

In your career so far what achievement are you most proud of?

In fact, it was a challenging process to specialize in the field of electronic communications law for many years at Turkcell, to work in this niche and sector-specific area, and to gain knowledge and experience. When KVKK came into force in Türkiye I was both honored and proud to be offered this role by our senior management, but at the same time, it was a big challenge for me to step out of my comfort zone, to manage a compliance program on a scale that I had not managed before and to implement legislation that was introduced from scratch in the country in a company the size of Turkcell and its subsidiaries. I think I took a risk by accepting this role and managing such a compliance program, but I think my team and I have achieved great things together.

I think it was quite a bold move in my decision to leave such a long corporate career and switch to private practice. So I am very proud of this move as well.

How do you manage your current work / life balance?

It doesn’t seem very realistic to me to have a stable private life / work-life balance all the time. Because it is very natural to have some periodic intensities. Life itself is not stable. My great fortune in this regard is that my son, my husband, and I make a great team. Thanks to my always supportive husband and good teamwork between him and our son, we get through such periods. When I am extra busy, my husband and son take over the load, and when I return to normal, we regain our balance.

When you look back at your career and the knowledge you’ve gained, what advice would you give to female students who are about to enter the legal industry?

Law is a profession that requires lifetime learning. Knowing this, I recommend them to constantly improve themselves and never stop questioning and wondering.

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