Once a niche area with only a handful of practitioners in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., technology law and policy are now fast-growing practice areas with thousands of lawyers and policy professionals across the country working on legal and policy issues related to the internet, connected devices, digital media, and emerging technologies. If this type of work interests you, a career in technology law might be a great fit for you. This blog posts outlines some of the steps you can take as a law student to set yourself up for a successful career in this exciting field.
Take IP and Privacy Courses
If you’re serious about a career in technology law, you should take as many of the foundational intellectual property and privacy classes as possible. Here’s a brief primer on what you can expect to learn if you take these classes.
- Copyright Law: Copyright protects works of original expression for a limited period of time. Copyright plays an important role in the online entertainment industry, digital media publishing, and the software industry. A copyright class will help you understand what an important role copyright law has played in the development of the Internet and other new technologies.
- Trademark and Unfair Competition Law: Trademark rights protect the unique identifiers associated with a product or service (like the term “Google” for a search engine or the term “Uber” for a ride-sharing app). Some law schools pair trademarks with unfair competition law, which governs deceptive or wrongful business practices (and has been at the center of some of the biggest technology law cases in recent years).
- Patents and Trade Secrets Law: Patents cover certain types of inventions, and are another way that technology innovators protect their rights. Some law schools pair patents with trade secrets law, which governs the protection of confidential business methods and know-how.
- Intellectual Property Licensing: A license is a type of contract that grants rights to a party to use certain intellectual property for a period of time. As a technology law practitioner, you’ll need to be familiar with how to draft and interpret copyright, trademark, and patent licenses.
- Data Privacy: Privacy law has rapidly developed over the past 20 years, and all technology law practitioners need to be familiar with the major state, federal, and international laws in this area. A data privacy course will be a great introduction to laws such as the federal CAN-SPAM Act (which applies to email marketing in the United States), the privacy torts (which allow for civil damages at the state level), and the new European General Data Protection Regulation (which is the biggest update to European privacy law in two decades).
Some law schools offer concentrations in intellectual property or technology law, as well as clinics that can give you hands-on experience in the field — be sure to take advantage of these opportunities! However, your law school may or may not offer all of these classes. If that’s the case, you may need to talk to an academic advisor about good alternatives or look into taking courses at a nearby law school if that’s an option available to you.
Read Technology and Legal News
The law in this area is rapidly evolving, and developments in technology are closely intertwined with changes to the law. In order to keep up with what’s happening, you’ll need to read up on both the latest technology news and stay abreast of legislative and legal developments in this area. Wired, TechCrunch, Recode, Techdirt, and the New York Times Technology section are all great sources. There are also some excellent law blogs that cover topics related to technology law in depth, so find a few legal bloggers who cover the issues you’re passionate about and spend some time reading through their posts.
Connect with Practitioners and Thought Leaders Online
It’s no surprise that technology lawyers spend a lot of time online. There is a vibrant community of law and policy professionals on Twitter who make it very easy to keep up with what’s happening in this field. A thoughtful and professional Twitter profile can be a great way to connect with these practitioners and demonstrate your genuine interest in these areas of the law. You can also search for networking groups on LinkedIn.
Pursue Internships, Associate Positions, and Fellowships
There are now many organizations and law firms who have internships, summer associate positions, and post-grad fellowships that focus on technology law and policy issues. If you’re interested in working strictly on policy issues and impact litigation, the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse are some of the organizations to consider. You should also talk to your career office about local law firms with strong intellectual property practice groups. Another great resource for internships and jobs in this area is the Internet Law & Policy Foundry’s Job Board, which is maintained by early-career professionals in this field.
Consider Going In-House
Some technology companies are large enough to have their own teams of in-house intellectual property lawyers and policy professionals who work on legislative matters. Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, Austin, Los Angeles, and San Diego are all major innovation hubs with companies of this size. You may even be able to go in-house straight out of law school, so don’t limit your post-grad job search to firms alone.
Some law schools offer certificates in intellectual property. There are also professional organizations such as the International Association of Privacy Professionals that offer certifications to professionals who pass standardized tests and maintain continuing education credits. These credentials are another way to show employers that you’re serious about your career in this field and will be an asset to their organization.
It’s an Exciting Time to Practice in Technology Law
You have a lot of career options as a lawyer. Technology, intellectual property, and privacy law are rapidly evolving and the opportunities in this field are multiplying. Demonstrating your genuine interest in these topics through coursework, professional experience, and networking will be key to your success! Good luck with your job search…
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