As tech giants like Facebook and Google build business models that harness the power of artificial intelligence and data to bring convenience to consumers, they are also pushing the boundaries of privacy and data protection. That has raised demand for technology lawyers and, consequently, specialist LL.M. program in technology and related fields.
“Technology lawyers shape the developments of technology and mitigate its deleterious effects,” says Daniel Seng, director of the Centre for Technology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and the Law at Singapore’s NUS Faculty of Law.
“They have a good understanding of both law and technology to balance protecting the interests of customers and ensuring that technology has breathing room to innovate for the benefit of society.”
His institution puts on the LL.M. in Intellectual Property and Technology Law — one of many related degrees that are gaining ground around the world as the coronavirus crisis highlights our dependence on technology, communications and access to data.
“Any dynamic, fast-growing field will be attractive to young talent eager to make a name for themselves. But IT and IP law strike a chord with students because technology is such an integral part of their daily lives,” says Seng.
For instance, copyright issues permeate our consumption of content online, while regulation dictates what we can or cannot say on social media. Privacy and security law are at the heart of any online activity.
All this and more is covered during the Law & Technology Certificate program for LL.M. students at Berkeley Law in California. On the course, they gain a solid foundation in the basics of US law, take deep dives into areas that are existential for the technology sector (intellectual property, privacy, cybersecurity) and acquire a global network of practitioners.
Keeping the tech law curriculum relevant
In the rapidly evolving field of tech law, Berkeley Law keeps the curriculum relevant by drawing on faculty who are at the forefront of research as well as practicing attorneys from Silicon Valley who represent clients tackling the issues.
“Law has a reputation for being reactive, but the area of law and technology may be one of the exceptions as it attempts to respond to the changing landscape as quickly as possible,” says Anya Grossmann, director of global outreach.
“Lawyers have an absolutely central role in addressing privacy and other key issues of the digital age,” adds James Dempsey, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. “Lawyers are defining and redefining the legal framework that determines who can collect what information and how it can be used and disclosed.”
Recently, NUS Law added new modules on cybersecurity, risk management and the regulation of cryptocurrencies to its LL.M. program, compounding content on smart contracts, AI and international patents.
Several other law schools have added fresh LL.M. programs or concentrations on related subjects such as privacy law, policy and cybersecurity law. These institutions include the USC Gould School of Law, Texas Law and the School of Law at Queen’s University of Belfast in Ireland.
A good job market for tech lawyers
Despite the pandemic and economic downturn, tech law is one area where demand for lawyers continues unabated, according to Barbara Lauriat, senior lecturer at the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London.
“We all know legal practitioners in our field who are even busier than usual right now,” she says. “If anything, the Covid crisis has shown how crucially important the broad field of intellectual property and information law is in our world today.”
Lauriat, who teaches and researches on intellectual property, adds: “Our dependence on the creative industries for entertainment while stuck at home reminds us of the importance of well-balanced copyright laws to protect, but not stifle, content creators.”
King’s offers an Intellectual Property & Information Law LL.M. that blends theory and practice to give students an edge in appreciating how countries may differ in their approach to dealing with protection and regulation. For example, the GDPR legislation harmonized rules across the EU governing data in 2018, but other countries have different legal frameworks for protecting individuals’ privacy rights.
King’s also has an active and enthusiastic community of students who organize their own discussion groups, talks and networking events called KIPPS (King’s Information Technology and Intellectual Property Law Society).
At NUS, students go on to work for tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Alibaba, while others flock to law firms where their IP and technology knowledge can be put to good use helping clients. Some join the public sector to serve as regulators and policymakers. Alumni also join the law school’s faculty, committing to academic research and helping to educate the next generation of specialists.
Grossmann at Berkeley adds that her graduates have founded the technology departments of their law firms or joined exciting startups hoping to innovate the field. Often, foreign students return to their home nations, she adds. “Many countries’ legal systems are still in the developmental stage when it comes to technology law and our students are well-poised to be at the forefront of the development of this practice area,” she says.
King’s Lauriat agrees. “It is often the role of lawyers to be the pessimists who foresee the problems of the future. Lawyers will continue to play an important role in safeguarding public and private interests in the wake of rapid technological advancement,” she says.
“Lawyers can help shape and apply the regulatory frameworks in which the tech sector operates.”