Late last year (Nov 2016) Select Legal Systems posted a piece of news on GDPR – and how it will affect law firms.  In a nutshell GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is new EU legislation, due to come into force on 25 May 2018, bringing with it significant changes in the way businesses must manage the personal data they hold on clients and prospects. The new law threatens fines of up to £17M (€20M) or 4% of annual worldwide turnover, whichever is greater, for businesses who do not comply.

3 blackboard style labels on sticks 1 = hand drawing of light bulb, 2 = "B2B ?" 3 = B2C ?"
Law firms of course are particularly data-heavy and the type of data they hold regarding their private and business clients is often of a highly confidential and sensitive nature.  This brings its own set of challenges in light of GDPR.  However, the new legislation is set to affect legal service marketing quite significantly too.

Many law firms offer services to businesses as well as individuals and its the legal service marketers offering business law that will face the biggest challenge from GDPR.

This is where the big B2B / B2C marketing debate comes in.

Under the current Data Protection Act (1998) and the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) there has been a distinct legal difference between a ‘natural person’ – a human being –  and a ‘legal person’ – a business or company. Marketing to a ‘natural person’ is often described as B2C (business to consumer) marketing and marketing to a ‘legal person’ as B2B (business to business) marketing.

In terms of current legislation B2C marketers have always had to jump through more hoops in terms of obtaining permission to send email marketing messages to individuals. B2C marketers have to have consent – known as ‘opt-in’ whereas B2B marketers have advantages under ‘legitimate interest’ making it appropriate to market to company representatives as long as emails include an ‘opt-out’ mechanism at every stage of the marketing campaign.

Email is a mainstay in the marketing toolbox and it seems the stringent opt-in standards stipulated by GDPR are not something either the business community or customers are calling for in the B2B sector.  Rachel Aldighieri, Managing Director of DMA (Direct Marketing Agency) said, “The B2B sector is strong and thriving. Part of the reason for this is because businesses are free to market to other businesses and alert them of their products and services. This gives businesses the chance to learn about the best products and services available and make their operations more efficient, more cost-effective, and better.”

It seems, there is little or no distinction between a ‘natural person’ and a ‘legal person’ in the GDPR directive causing much confusion and concern amongst the B2B marketing community.

The 39-page document published last month by the ICO – Information Commissioner’s Office attempts to offer guidance re GDPR Consent.  Within it there is this statement regarding ‘legitimate interests’:  “Legitimate interests: if you are a private-sector organisation, you can process personal data without consent if you have a genuine and legitimate reason (including commercial benefit), unless this is outweighed by harm to the individual’s rights and interests.”

According to the DMA (Direct Marketing Agency) “The EU Commission’s proposal does not require opt-in consent for B2B email marketing to corporate subscribers, although as a general rule consent will be required for sending electronic marketing to consumers but marketers must ensure that staff members of corporate subscribers are able to easily unsubscribe/opt-out from receiving electronic marketing.”

The DMA is lobbying for businesses to retain their ability to market themselves to other businesses and a number of other effects GDPR will have on B2B marketing as explained in the following blogs written by the organisation’s Managing Director, Rachel Aldighieri:

4-1-17:  GDPR Set To Damage B2B Marketing

11-1-17:  ePrivacy Fears Around B2B Marketing Opt-In Averted

Joanne Hunter, Head of Marketing for Select Legal said, “I attended a CIM webinar in October last year and they clearly advised B2B marketers would need to gain opt-in for email marketing just like B2C marketers in order to comply with GDPR and avoid hefty fines. However, the DMA’s advice is in complete contrast to this. It’s very confusing and the clock is ticking. My advice to law firms that practise corporate law and any other B2B businesses out there is – make sure you have a plan B in the event that the DMA’s lobbying B2B efforts are not fruitful!”


Select Legal Systems Limited is a leading provider of Legal Practice Management Software for law firms. Their flagship product, LAWFUSION, offers modules for managing all aspects of a Legal Practice including a marketing / CRM module. As they continuously enhance the system, they keep abreast of changes in legislation such as GDPR and strive to provide tools that empower law firms to achieve compliance.  For more information about Select Legal or LAWFUSION please call 01482 567601 during office hours.  Alternatively please use our online enquiry form at any time.