Michael J. Adams


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  • Harvard Law School, LLM, 2013
  • Georgetown University Law Center, JD, 2002
  • United States Naval Academy, BS, 1996
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia

Member, Transparency in AI Systems Brainstorming Group, The Sedona Conference Working Group 11

Member, Intelligence and National Security Alliance Cyber Council

Member, International Association of Privacy Professionals

Member, American Bar Association

Member, American Society of International Law

Contributing Editor, Lawfare Blog

Michael serves as chair of the Data Privacy and Security practice’s financial services and defense and government contracts teams. He is a first responder and 24/7 advisor to clients faced with data breaches and other cybersecurity incidents. In 2017, he led McGuireWoods’ response to what may have been the most complex, high-value disclosure of sensitive customer information in history on behalf of a Fortune 50 financial institution.

Michael joined McGuireWoods after serving 25 years in the U.S. Navy as a national security advisor and point person on cyber threats. Based on his experience, the firm has redesigned its approach to cybersecurity and data privacy—building a risk assessment and counseling architecture that focuses on information assurance, information governance and incident response and remediation. This refined approach has proven invaluable to protecting clients while ensuring legal and regulatory compliance.

Clients leverage his military experience and deep technical knowledge when they need counsel on hi-tech, high-value business opportunities such as advanced security measures, artificial intelligence, unmanned and autonomous systems, cryptocurrency, smart contracts, blockchain, biometrics, and smart architecture. These are areas in which both technology teams and corporate counsel play an important role.

Previously, Michael served as Deputy General Counsel to the last two Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During his three-year tenure with the Chairmen and Joint Chiefs, Michael counseled the country’s top military officers, civilian advisors, the National Security Council and Congress on international and national security law affecting military operations, including cybersecurity, privacy, information governance and technology. He developed frameworks to combat cyber threats and was a key adviser during significant cyber events, including North Korea’s hacking of Sony Pictures. In other assignments, he helped design a cyber architecture for forces in the Pacific theater; advised on the development, procurement and use of sensitive technology; and developed groundbreaking analysis that enabled the multimillion-dollar procurement of leading tools for counter-terrorism missions. Michael was deputy general counsel for U.S. Pacific Command and NATO’s ISAF Joint Command, as well as general counsel for Naval Special Warfare Development Group and special operations task forces conducting national missions. His background offers clients rare legal and technical insight into cyber risks and solutions, and he employs proven risk mitigation, compliance and incident response methodologies.

Michael’s risk mitigation and compliance advice routinely addresses cybersecurity and privacy legal obligations such as those set forth in the:

  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
  • Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement
  • General Data Protection Regulation
  • Privacy Shield
  • State laws (e.g., New York Department of Financial Services Cybersecurity Requirements)
  • Technical standards such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity and Special Publications and the ISO/IEC 27000-seies standards for information security management systems.

He also helps clients maximize data-related profits and efficiencies by overseeing data mapping and inventory projects, while building records and information management policies and procedures (e.g., records retention schedules) that ensure legal compliance and reduce unnecessary business risk.

Michael co-taught a national security law course at Harvard Law School on maritime and territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas and has lectured at Oxford, Columbia, Georgetown, the University of Virginia, New York University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of North Carolina Schools of Law. He also served as the U.S. government’s primary representative, negotiator or speaker on law and operations for events in Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, the Maldives, New Zealand, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Michael’s experience also includes mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, investigations, government contracts, labor law and litigation.

In the News

Mike Adams
T: +1 704 373 8847F: +1 704 444 8747201 North Tryon Street
Suite 3000
Charlotte, NC 28202-2146
T: +1 703 712 5135F: +1 704 444 87471750 Tysons Boulevard
Suite 1800
Tysons, VA 22102-4215

Co-led a team that advised a large financial institution on one of the most complex, high-value disclosures of sensitive customer information in history. The investigation involved all 50 U.S. states and over 30 foreign jurisdictions.

While in government service, Michael:

Advised on international and state-specific laws, policy, and regulatory regimes for 47 nations conducting military operations in Afghanistan, including matters involving cybersecurity, data privacy, emerging technologies, and government contracts.

Served as special counsel for sensitive, strategic investigations and personnel actions, and led multiple complex investigations involving loss of life and activities facing international scrutiny. Considered a leader in risk assessment, consequence management, evidence, due process and public affairs.

Served as prosecutor and defense attorney for the government; national security litigator; represented more than 400 clients; led more than 100 federal trials; handled 50 labor hearings and negotiated more than 200 tort claims seeking millions of dollars from the U.S. government.

Served as advisor for complex investigations and labor disputes involving employment termination, federal grievances, arbitration, litigation and settlements.

Advised on special operations, intelligence, counter-terrorism and maritime security. As a judge advocate, parachuted into the maritime domain and served as the afloat legal advisor for successful hostage rescue operations executed under orders of the president of the United States.

Selected for inclusion as a "Leading Lawyer," Cyber Law, North Carolina, Legal 500 US, 2018

Named a "Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Trailblazer," The National Law Journal, 2017

Defense Superior Service Medal, 2016

Bronze Star, 2008

Judge Advocates Association Career Armed Services Attorney Award based upon his outstanding professional accomplishments, service to community, service to the legal profession, and development of legal and military professionals, 2016

U.S. Special Operations Major General William Garrison Award for exceptionally meritorious service in advancing the rule of law in the Special Operations Forces community during a career, 2008

Recognized in a tribute to service by current and former senior government attorneys, Just Security, New York University School of Law, 2017

Speaker for multiple engagements amongst States, governments, and private institutions focused on international and national security law, cybersecurity, data privacy, and security operations
Speaker, "Data Privacy & HIPAA," 13th Annual Healthcare Finance and Growth Conference, September 25, 2018
Panelist, "Cybersecurity and Privacy," UNC School of Law Financial Services Compliance Boot Camp, June 11, 2018
Speaker, Cybersecurity and Data Privacy for Healthcare Providers, November 29, 2017
Speaker, "Cyber National Security," University of North Carolina School of Law, November 28, 2017
Speaker, "You’re Under Attack, What Do You Do?," 6th Annual European Data Protection and Security Conference, November 15, 2017
Speaker, "Cybersecurity for Nonprofits," 15th Annual Nonprofit Seminar; Back to Basics, November 2, 2017
Speaker, "Cybersecurity: Finding Stability in Uncertainty," Compliance in the Real World — A Practical Roundup of Today’s Top Issues, October 25, 2017
Speaker, "Security Issues for Fiduciaries and High-Net-Worth Families," New Developments in Wealth Planning, McGuireWoods LLP Complimentary Seminar, October 24, 2017
Speaker, "The View from Europe," Comparative Industrial Policy in the Cybersecurity Industry: Policies, Drivers, and International Implications, October 20, 2017
Speaker, Cybersecurity: Due Diligence in Lending, October 11, 2017
Speaker, "Security Issues for High-Net-Worth Families," 12th Annual Fiduciary Advisory Services Seminar; Issues Confronting Institutional Fiduciaries, October 4, 2017
Speaker, Blockchain and Smart Contracts: An Energy Overview, October 2, 2017
Speaker, "Cybersecurity," 2017 Round Up: Texas Association of Life & Health Insurers, September 25, 2017
Speaker, "Data Breach Disclosure During M&A Due Diligence," 15th Annual ACC New Jersey CLE Conference, September 15, 2017
Speaker, "Data Privacy & HIPAA," 12th Annual Healthcare Provider Conference; Healthcare Finance and Growth, September 12, 2017
Speaker, "Creating Cybersecurity Momentum," CLE: Ethics and Compliance, McGuireWoods LLP Seminar, August 29, 2017
Speaker, "Building Cybersecurity Momentum," ACC Israel Annual Summit, June 21, 2017
Speaker, "Building Cybersecurity Momentum," CyberTech Fairfax, June 13, 2017
Speaker, "A Focus on HIPAA, Data Privacy and Information Governance Best Practices," 4th Annual Healthcare Litigation and Compliance Conference, McGuireWoods LLP, June 8, 2017
Speaker, "International Law and Cyberwarfare," Council on Foreign Relations Roundtable Series on the Rule of Law and U.S. Foreign Policy, May 30, 2017
Speaker, "You’ve Been Hacked: What Now?," North Carolina Chamber Cybersecurity Conference, May 24, 2017
Speaker, "When Compliance Programs Fail: Truth and Consequences," Compliance in the Real World; A Practical Discussion About Today’s Top Issues, McGuireWoods LLP Conference, May 17, 2017
Speaker, SEC Compliance and Disclosure Update, McGuireWoods LLP SEC Practice Complimentary Webinar Series, April 18, 2017
Cybersecurity Featured Speaker, "Tallinn Manual 2.0 on the International Law Applicable," Cyber Operations Symposium, Austin, Texas, 2017
Speaker, "Hybrid Conflicts and the Transnational Legal Landscape," U.S. Special Operations Command Legal Conference, Tampa, Florida, 2016
Speaker, "Hybrid Conflicts and the Transnational Legal Landscape," U.S. Central Command and U.S. Africa Command Joint Legal Conference, Stuttgart, Germany, 2016
Speaker, "The Law of Targeting," Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2015
Speaker, "National Security Outside of Armed Conflict," Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C., 2015
Speaker, "Assessing State Responsibility in Hybrid Conflicts," The Chairman’s Legal Symposium on Hybrid Conflict, Arlington, Virginia, 2015
U.S. Delegate to Expert Meeting, Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015
Speaker, "Jus Extra Bellum," Joint Staff Operational Law Seminar, Arlington, Virginia, 2015
Speaker, "The End of the U.S. 'War on Terror': Exploring How this Conflict Might End and the Implications," American Society of International Law Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., 2015
Workshop Leader on Cybersecurity and Use of Force, Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, Oxford, 2015
Presenter: Cybersecurity and Use of Force, International and National Security Roundtable Meeting of Experts, Columbia Law School, New York, New York, 2014
Speaker, The Legal Foundations for U.S. Government Activities Inside and Outside of Armed Conflict, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C., 2014
Speaker, "Targeting," Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C., 2014
Speaker, "Jus Extra Bellum," The Center on Law and National Security, New York University, New York, New York, 2014
Speaker, "Law and Policy Applicable to Cyberspace Operations," Joint Staff Operational Law Seminar, Arlington, Virginia, 2014
Speaker, "Legal Justifications Inside and Outside of Armed Conflict," University of Virginia School of Law-International Committee of the Red Cross Roundtable, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2013
Speaker, "Law and Policy Applicable to Cyberspace Operations," Interagency Lawyers Cyber Training, Maryland, 2013
Speaker, "Information Operations Law" and "Counter-Piracy," Defense Institute of International Legal Studies-Indian Armed Forces Engagement, Kochi, India, 2012
U.S. Delegate to International Symposium on Counter-Piracy and Escort Operations, Nanjing, China, 2012
Speaker, Defense Institute of International Legal Studies-Indonesian National Armed Forces Engagement; Information Operations Law, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2011