Before she was a tech lawyer, Jennifer Beckage was in on the internet’s ground floor
Published in 2021 Upstate New York Super Lawyers magazine on August 20, 2021
In the late ’90s, Jennifer Beckage was a 20-something Southerner with big hair and a Texas twang who saw the future. She would sit down in boardrooms across the Northeast making a simple ask of Fortune 500 presidents: “Just throw away your entire marketing plan,” she says. “The whole world is changing. You should listen to me, a 20-year-old, and move your 100-year-old business online.”
She laughs at the memory. “I believed in the product, I was passionate about technology and about what we were doing,” she says, “which made me a little fearless.”
The “we” was EdgeNet, the startup she helped nurture as an owner and, later, as vice president of operations after its sale to a major telecommunications company.
“Trying to explain what we did then will sound like, ‘How did you even make money?’” Beckage says. “This was the beginning of this entire technical revolution, particularly from a corporate standpoint. Businesses moved online, and for the first time were able to engage in commerce in a borderless way. The internet was new; it was the Wild West. But it was also scalable architecture.”
So EdgeNet went climbing.
Beckage and her colleagues answered questions like “What is the internet?” and “How does it work?” It not only encouraged small steps—like advising businesses to skip the Yellow Pages and instead market online—but also helped design some of the first websites for Fortune 500 companies. The startup worked in e-commerce, web hosting, content-management systems, email services, databases and more. It also helped professionals figure out how to digitize and share information. “Doctors would come to us to learn how to exchange medical records on their PalmPilots,” Beckage says. “We found ourselves in a space with endless innovation.”
It was a whirlwind few years. “Just so much excitement,” Beckage says. A memory that stands out is the crew driving a tricked-out Hummer from Buffalo to Manhattan to become instant stars at the Fall Internet World 1999 conference. “This Hummer was equipped with mobile internet and TV screens on the back of every seat—common today, but just unheard of then,” Beckage says.
In 2000, Choice One Communications, a telecommunication company, was looking to offer new technical services and wanted to purchase EdgeNet. Beckage helped lead the sale. Afterward, she stayed on as vice president of operations. It’s the sale that sparked her interest in the law.
“We started to see privacy and security laws come about at this time as well, because now we’re exchanging credit card information online,” Beckage says. “I was like, ‘Wow, if businesses don’t fully understand how fast this technology is moving—or can’t grasp the law, which historically doesn’t keep up with technology—what are they going to do? So I went to law school to focus on technology.”
One problem: “There was not a single tech class when I started,” she says, laughing. That changed soon enough. After Beckage become equity partner at a regional law firm—and created its first data security and privacy team—she broke away to start her firm in 2018.
“Our motto is ‘Legally focused, technology driven,’” she says. “It’s continuing to be a leader and adapter in new technologies and leveraging those techniques for clients. We also preach to embrace and use tech for innovation, instead of being afraid of it.”
The firm works on regulatory compliance issues, litigation, class action defense and incident response. “A data breach and the response is emotionally taxing for the individuals that have to go through it,” she says. “They’ve got the day-to-day demands of the business coupled with whatever might be going on in their personal life, plus this really scary thing that they’ve heard about but never really think will happen to them.” To that end, the women-owned and operated boutique is a Platinum Breach Coach firm—a designation that NetDiligence awarded only to eight firms on the planet.
“What we’re experiencing now is very similar to what was going on in the ’90s,” Beckage says. “Except the new technologies today are AI and blockchain and quantum. I feel like my whole life prepared me for this role right now as a counselor and advisor. To be a seasoned lawyer with my background, it’s unique.”
Just don’t ask the Women and Technology Woman of the Year recipient about the tech she can’t live without.
“I use very little technology,” she says, wincing. “My children don’t let me hear the end of it.”