With “abysmal sporting prowess” and knowing embarrassingly little about football, Wellington-born Laura Ashworth-Cape came off the bench to secure an in-house legal role with London-based Arsenal Football Club.
That was two years ago and for 31-year-old Laura, football is now one of her hobbies, as is that other great British pastime – darts.
“I came on at Arsenal specifically to advise on privacy and data protection,” Laura says.
- Laura Elizabeth (Laura) Ashworth-Cape
- Entry to law
- Graduated BA (Political Science) and LLB (First Class Honours) from Otago University in 2010 and Master of Laws (Distinction) from London School of Economics and Political Science in 2017. Admitted in New Zealand in 2011.
- In-house legal counsel at Arsenal Football Club, London.
- Speciality area
- Data protection compliance and general commercial law.
“I started work here about five months before a big piece of European legislation came into force – the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). You might have heard of it in New Zealand, that’s how much it frightened everyone.”
The GDPR, which came into force in 2018, is designed to harmonise data privacy laws across Europe; protect and empower all EU citizens’ data privacy and reshape the way organisations across the region approach data privacy.
“They were desperate for lawyers in that area. I have since convinced them to keep me on and my role has broadened out to be a general in-house lawyer. A lot of personal data is held by the club about players, supporters and staff. It was an interesting role to come into and there are huge fines if you do not protect the data.
“The equivalent in New Zealand would be the Privacy Act, which relative to the GDPR is like a skeleton. The Privacy Act is quite toothless in comparison to the European legislation on data protection.
“For example, personal data is any information about a living person, from your name, address and phone number to medical information, where you go to school, what you do online. Basically, anything about you from which you are identifiable. It’s a really broad concept.
“I came to Arsenal to deal with that. On the player side we kept a lot of information about players at the training ground. It has become necessary to do that for teams to be competitive.
“Like any large organisation we hold a lot of sensitive information about our staff. And from an operational and commercial perspective it covers a lot of our fans and visitors to the stadium. So it covers things like the use of CCTV and the like.
“It is an interesting area of law and sounds like a quite niche area but because of how comprehensive the regulation is it actually involves everything from contracts, data protection impact assessments, data access requests when people ask to see what sort of information you hold about them, to dealing with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
“So there is quite a lot of variety.
“The ICO is the independent regulatory office in charge of upholding information rights in the interest of the public. It is the equivalent of the Privacy Commissioner.
“When I started I came in as the only specialist in that area. We have 10 in-house lawyers in the team, which is quite big relative to other football clubs. Maybe Manchester United and Manchester City have an equally large team.
“Some premier clubs don’t have any in-house lawyers, they instruct out. Each lawyer in our team is responsible for a certain area, dedicated to football, partnerships, marketing, etc. They took the lead on implementing my advice on data protection in their areas.”
Laura says she was lucky to get exposure on how the GDPR impacts the club across all areas of the organisation. “We had to do a very general audit of what was being handled and how, and did it comply, which was a really interesting exercise.
“The way most people are aware of the GDPR is because, around May 2018, a lot of businesses sent out emails asking people to consent to receive marketing material and to read their new privacy policies. That was all motivated by the GDPR - that’s the consumer angle that people are most familiar with.”
Since then she has moved away from doing solely data protection to include doing more general commercial work.
Perks of the job
Before moving to London, Laura worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), providing policy advice and representation on international human rights issues arising at the United Nations, including with respect to privacy and data protections, freedom of expression, the rights of people with disabilities, arbitrary detention, religion, and the use of the death penalty.
During four years with Chapman Tripp in Wellington she advised a broad range of clients on privacy and data protection, advertising, anti-bribery, competition law and sector-specific regulation. She also tutored in law at Otago University.
“Football is one of my hobbies now. It wasn’t before. But I have become very into football. One of the perks of the job is you can either take two season tickets or cash them in. I took the tickets.
“It means during the season there are one or two games a week, and we go to as many as we can. I am still learning about football and will say embarrassing things often around football chat.
“I am coming up to speed while everyone I work with has lived and breathed it their entire lives. I enjoy it and enjoy watching the games. It’s an amazing game, so skilful.
“Arsenal is not in the European competition we would like to be in this coming season. The premier one is the Champions League and we are not in that at the moment.”
On May 30 Arsenal had an opportunity to get into the Champions League when the club reached the final of the Europa League against London rivals Chelsea. However, they went down 4-1.
“It was nil-all at half-time and the score doesn’t reflect the game. So we are going into our third season in the Europa League.
“But we are on the up. Arsene Wenger managed the club for more than 20 years and when I started it was nearing the end of his reign and we were on a downward trajectory performance-wise.
“A new manager, Unai Emery, came in and we finished further up the premiership table than last year so it’s going in the right direction now but we’re not where we should be.”
Arsenal finished fifth in the English Premier League last season, a point behind another London team, Spurs.
Despite what she describes as her “abysmal sporting prowess”, Laura is “not bad” at that other great British pastime - darts.
“I've taken part in the club's staff tournament for the past two years and was in the winning darts team in May - one of my prouder achievements. I also attended the (PDC) World Championship in London - as a spectator, for the avoidance of doubt.
“Yoga is worth a mention. For the past year or so we've been really lucky to have an external instructor come in and take a weekly session for the legal team.
“My hobbies are generally more art-related. Painting and design were a keen interest throughout school, abandoned when I went to university in favour of law after Dad told me about a design graduate who ended up working at McDonald’s.
“Nowadays I try to fill the void by visiting galleries - London and Europe are obviously brilliant for this - and attending the occasional class.”
Laura’s mother Therese is a legal executive, now working for barrister Elizabeth Hall at Pipitea Chambers in Wellington. Her father Bill runs his own printing business, Megalith, in Petone.
Her sister Sophie, an accountant in Wellington, is moving to London this month.
Laura is married to visual effects artist Rob Cape, whom she met at Otago University. Rob worked at Weta Workshops in Wellington and found work easily in London because of his Weta background. “It has served him well,” Laura says.
“I don’t play sport. I occasionally try to jog home from work. In New Zealand I played netball at school, and when I was very young I was into horse riding.
“I am not much of a physically active person. I watch the All Blacks and English rugby. A lot of my time is spent upskilling on football so I find that space for any other sport goes out the window.
“I have been lucky to travel. We did a huge trip when I graduated - round Europe and south-east Asia. When I worked at MFAT I did a lot of interesting travel through that role.
“As we’re in London we do a lot of travel - fitting things in at weekends. We have been here three years and getting across Europe in a couple of hours has not lost its novelty factor yet.
“I like a huge range of music. I played the piano when younger and sang in school choirs. Something I often go back to is a childhood soundtrack we used to play in the car on family trips – Bread – the California soft rock band from the early 1970s.
“I enjoy chart toppers. And have just been to a Spice Girls concert reliving my teenage years. They are touring minus Posh. I couldn’t get tickets to their London show, so travelled to Manchester to watch them.
“I read a lot of books based on podcasts - at the moment it’s How to Fail by Elizabeth Day. She gets successful people to talk about how failure has helped their lives. Putting a positive spin on failure. In a way it is inspiring. It is my second non-fiction book in a row.
“Everything I know about Love by Dolly Alderton is another podcast one. I usually go off the Man Booker prize list.
“We are into Netflix and I love watching Love Island. It’s terrible but you get addicted to it. A reality TV show where a bunch of attractive people get put in a villa. I’m not sure if I will get committed to it. It goes out every night for months and everyone at work talks about Love Island.
“I enjoy going to movies – particularly those of American film maker Wes Anderson, who made Grand Budapest Hotel and Fantastic Mr Fox. My husband Rob worked on his 2018 film Isle of Dogs.
“Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is an all-time favourite film and the soundtrack is up there for me. It was a feature of our wedding. We seriously considered having Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell as our first dance but we went with the more romantic Lets Stay Together.
“I would love a pet. I grew up with a menagerie of animals, at least two dogs, several cats. We had a lamb in Khandallah, plus chickens, ducks, birds. I miss not having an animal here. But we live in a one-bedroom flat with no outdoor area. Londoners are huge on small dogs and will pay so much money to have their dog taken to dog day care.
“We don’t have a car and it is a great relief not having one. The tube is so good. We live centrally so are well connected and I’m a walk away from work. I get the bus in and if I can’t be bothered to, walk or jog home.
“I still feel we should go somewhere new for holidays. We are making the most of being over here and haven’t repeated holidays anywhere. We enjoyed Portugal, and Japan was my favourite country on our way over here.
“Japan is incredibly efficient, the people are so helpful and everything runs very smoothly. We left a bag with passports, camera and cash on a bullet train that went to the other end of country. It was handed in and made its way back to us despite no one speaking a word of English because the people are so honest and helpful over there.
“On an MFAT work trip to talk about nuclear disarmament I went to Hiroshima, which was very sad.”
The first lawyer in her family, Laura was inspired by Ally McBeal – Calista Flockhart’s character in the American legal comedy drama television series.
“I didn’t know when I went to university what I should do, knowing that I wasn’t strong at science and maths and kind of falling into law as a sensible option. I had to decide between law and art.
“I had a sense of what would be a sensible decision. Law was definitely the right one.
“I loved my job at MFAT and had a lot of amazing experiences there but I was in policy rather than law and I realised I enjoyed the law and missed it when I went to MFAT.
“It was hard to demonstrate my contribution in policy. And hard to show progress towards your goals.
“I loved Chapman Tripp where I was for four years and I love the role I’m in now. An alternative career would involve something to do with helping people.
“One of the teams I look after at the club is a community outreach team. The club has a community hub, a venue at a football pitch which is made available to schools and retirees … we get troubled youth and do a lot of work with them.
“Football is brilliant for getting people together, focusing the mind and distracting them from other things. Players get out occasionally and get involved if there’s a big event.
“We also have a charity foundation associated with the club that does projects overseas in refugee camps, using football as a way of keeping people occupied, give them hope and something to focus on.”
Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at email@example.com