R&G Tech Studio Presents: Litigation & Enforcement Partner Ama Adams

May 2, 2023
10:36 minutes

On this episode of the R&G Tech Studio, litigation & enforcement partner Ama Adams, who’s also the managing partner of Ropes & Gray’s Washington, D.C. office, sits down with data, privacy & cybersecurity partner Fran Faircloth to discuss how she helps clients bridge the gap between ongoing national security concerns and the rapidly evolving technology landscape.


Fran FairclothFran Faircloth: Hi, I'm Fran Faircloth, a partner in the data, privacy & cybersecurity practice at Ropes & Gray. I want to welcome everyone to the latest edition of the R&G Tech Studio podcast. In this edition, we have my friend and partner, Ama Adams. Ama is the managing partner of our office here in D.C., and her practice is focused on international trade and national security. Ama, thanks so much for joining the podcast today. I'm really excited to talk to you about your practice, but before we jump in, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and the basics?

Ama AdamsAma Adams: Absolutely, thank you so much for inviting me to be a guest on the podcast, and for that lovely introduction. In terms of a little bit about my practice, as you mentioned, it focuses on international trade and national security. And what I like to tell people when they ask me what that means is when you pick up The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or The Washington Post and you're reading about many of the geopolitical events that are happening in the world, whether it's respect to Russia, China, Venezuela, or Iran, my practice involves the intersection of those geopolitical issues, and trade and investment regulation.

Fran Faircloth: Wow. So, super boring, not interesting, or relevant stuff at all. This sounds like a really fascinating area of the law. Can you tell me a little bit about how tech is impacting your clients for better or worse right now?

Ama Adams: I think the one way or a salient way to think about how tech is impacting my clients is that there is a race to be at the head of the technology game from a national security perspective. My practice involves representing many different types of companies who are involved in the development, production, or innovation around different types of technology, whether it be semiconductor, AI, machine learning, manufacturing, gene editing, gene testing, you name it, and a lot of those types of technologies are finding themselves increasingly caught in the crosshairs of national security considerations. I'm not a technical expert, I'm not an electrical or a mechanical engineer by any stretch of the imagination, but many of my clients and the firm's clients are involved in those types of innovations, and so, that's how I get involved in helping them when they're trying to push their visions forward.

Fran Faircloth: This is so fascinating when you're spanning that gap between the technical and these national security issues. How do you help your clients bridge that gap and address these issues?

Ama Adams: There's probably two key ways that we help our clients bridge these issues. There's first, helping them get a good grounding or understanding of what these regulations mean. There are technical aspects to many of these regulations in determining whether, for example, a type of technology might be controlled for export control purposes to different parts of the world, or if they're going to be downloaded on a server outside of the United States. So, helping our clients understand what those rules of the road look like. And then, trying to help them assess some of the softer issues—so, not the hardcore issues—in terms of what are some of the reputational or geopolitical risks that can be involved with some of the technologies that they may be developing or partnering overseas with others to create or manufacture. I think I said “softer,” but it would be that those intangibles sometimes can be hard to concretely understand but can help drive strategy, and in many ways, help avoid situations where a client might find itself violating some of those technical rules.

Fran Faircloth: With this area being so driven by what's going on in the world and everything that's changing so rapidly, if you look in your crystal ball to the next five or 10 years, what do you see as the emerging issues?

Ama Adams: If we look into a crystal ball or read tea leaves for the next five to 10 years, one of the emerging issues is going to be the race between the United States and several of our allies and adversaries, our “countries of concern,” as we call it in my world—the race to stay on top. It's very clear that being the leader in technology not only means that our clients are being able to provide the consumers, but the government with innovative and potentially game-changing technologies. It also means that our clients are going to find themselves increasingly caught up in these issues that are outside of their control. And so, when we look forward to the next five to 10 years, it's really about getting companies to understand what it is that they are creating and developing, who they're doing it with, what the impacts of these rules are, and to be able to find ways for them to be able to grow and develop that doesn't, as the government might say, “Threaten or impair our national security interests.”

Fran Faircloth: With so much of this, really just as you said, outside of the control of your clients and at the whims, I guess, of the national security environment and whatever country's the more powerful tech powerhouse at the moment, how do you help clients prepare for that kind of unknown in the future?

Ama Adams: That is a great question, Fran. I think it's something that we're still putting the playbook together, but I think at the core of it is that we have incredible expertise and understanding of these regulations. We have incredible resources and connections across D.C., both from other practitioners and peers that we work with, and with government officials that we've come across through matters over the course of the last five, 10, 15 years. And so, that combination allows us to pivot for our clients, to try to stay abreast of issues as they pop up. If you look at the situation with Russia, the situation with China, 15-20 years ago, would we have thought we would be where we are? Maybe some would've, but we have to be nimble and flexible for our clients. That is how we help them stay atop of these issues, because they pop up and they come up, and they can be very dramatic and very material in their impact, and it's on us to make sure that we are front of mind and top of mind for these issues.

Fran Faircloth: It sounds like you give your clients a lot of piece of mind with your broad experience and knowledge of this area—it's really fascinating. I could talk about this a lot longer, but I know that we're running low on time, and I want to make sure that we get to my favorite part of the podcast, which actually has nothing to do with the law, but gives us a chance just to get to know you a little bit. So, it's going to be pretty quick questions and quick answers—a little bit of a lightning round. First, tell me a little bit about where you live and your family.

Ama Adams: I live right outside of Washington, D.C., about 10 miles, in a city. Alexandria City is the name of the city I live in with my husband and my 17-year-old son, who, as I often joke around with people who know me well, who thinks he's 27 and should be able to make all the decisions in the household.

Fran Faircloth: Is he impressed at all by your very cool job, working on these major national security questions?

Ama Adams: Not at all—not impressed at all. There are many times where he says, "Mommy, you won't believe the day I had. Your day just doesn't compare to what I had to deal with." So, he is not impressed at all.

Fran Faircloth: It's so hard to impress our own kids, right?

Ama Adams: Very much so.

Fran Faircloth: Do you have a favorite movie?

Ama Adams: I have lots of favorite movies. I kind of have an eclectic taste, but I do love old, classic movies. In particular, I do love Alfred Hitchcock movies: North by Northwest is one of my favorites, also To Catch a Thief. I just love the storytelling from some classical movies, and the imagery and cinematography are things that are just near and dear to my heart.

Fran Faircloth: I love that. Alfred Hitchcock's also one of my favorites. North by Northwest kind of makes sense for you. So, do you identify at all with the Eva Marie Saint character—all the international intrigue and fantastic dresses?

Ama Adams: You know what? I never thought about that, but maybe that actually is part of the reason why I do love some of those movies, and I do love some of the clothes and the looks and the classic lines. So, you actually may have done a little bit of a psychological case study of me right there, Fran, that I hadn't been thinking of. But, yes, that certainly probably makes sense for that movie.

Fran Faircloth: Great, breaking news here on this podcast. I'll finish it out with a question that has been asked many times on this podcast: In a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which do you think is more important, the peanut butter or the jelly?

Ama Adams: To me it is the jelly: 60% jelly, 40% peanut butter. A lovely grape jelly—you have to have a little bit of the oozing jelly coming out of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. So, that is my answer, and that is the right answer.

Fran Faircloth: If you go back and listen, I have a different answer on this, but I'm not sure if you've convinced me. Grape or strawberry?

Ama Adams: Grape. I do like strawberry, but grape is my first choice.

Fran Faircloth: All right. I'm not sure I'm convinced—we may have to disagree on that one. Thank you so much, Ama, for taking the time to talk with us today. It's been really good to chat with you. And for our audience, once again, this is the Ropes & Gray R&G Tech Studio podcast. It's available on the Ropes & Gray website, on the R&G Tech Studio page. It's also linked and available wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks so much.