Four Tips For Law Students Who Want To Work In Big Tech
- Student Tips
As a law student, you know and understand that technology will play a role in your professional life. But what if you made technology a cornerstone of your practice? If you want to marry technology and law by working as a lawyer for a tech company, there are plenty of opportunities.
Lawyers today need not only the legal wherewithal to survive, but a keen understanding of privacy, cybersecurity, intellectual property, and copyright, regardless of what kind of law they practice.
Why? Because law and technology are intertwined, for better or worse.
Not only does the legal industry need crackerjack lawyers, it needs crackerjack lawyers who understand technology, how it works, and how it makes an impact on legal decisions.
Here's how to position yourself to work as a lawyer in the high-tech industry:
1. Get an undergraduate degree in a STEM field
The practice of law revolves around the flow of information. Today, that flow of information requires technology. Want to understand how information flows in the legal sphere?
Get a STEM degree.
In a 2017 Forbes article, CEO Mark A. Cohen explained that lawyers need not just a law background for success in today's legal marketplace. They need STEM knowledge.
He said, "The legal industry has an acute need for STEM-trained professionals and offers enormous opportunity. It’s no surprise that many legal startups have been founded by Millennial lawyers with hard science backgrounds."
2. Choose a tech-friendly law school
Here's the challenge: many law professors are not tech savvy.
How do you find a law school that is tech-friendly and open to teaching you how to integrate tech with law?
Check out the Law School Innovation Index. One of its main objectives is to create a way to measure how "each of the 200+ U.S. law schools prepares students to deliver legal services in the 21st century."
In a 2017 article in Law Technology Today, Michael Robak, Associate Director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) Leon E. Bloch law library and School of Law CTO at the UMKC School of Law, said, "Today’s legal services delivery model requires more than just a traditional law education." He added, "Clients expect lawyers to be able to collaborate effectively with IT professionals and have a new technical skill set inclusive of data analysis, e-discovery software, and even, in some cases, programming. Technology knowledge gives graduating law students a distinct competitive advantage."
Robak explained that law schools need to prepare lawyers for using technology anyway, even if they don't want to work in the Big Tech. He said, "To educate students in legal tech, we need adjunct faculty, typically practicing attorneys or consultants, who are highly experienced in areas like e-discovery to partner with the law school doctrinal faculty and teach at law schools."
Recommended reading: How to choose a law school?
3. Understand your career choices
If you are interested in intellectual property, software patents, security breaches, cybersecurity, or a host of other legal fields, you need nearly as much tech education as you need legal education.
Recent high profile security breaches, identity thefts, data thefts, and liability and privacy issues with smart technology require that lawyers keep up with technology changes.
If you want to go into technology law, your choices are vast -- and require a rapid uptake of technological innovations, skills, and news.
4. Practice skills required by tech companies
While you don't need to be a master project manager, coder or website designer, you should be able to speak the language.
In a June 2018 article on BizJournals.com, one of the biggest skills lawyers can bring to the tech table is the ability not just to identify problems, but to help businesses fix them.
The story details Airbnb general counsel Rob Chesnut's anecdote about the company's marketing team's new idea for a luxury Airbnb offering. The team came up with a name, logo, and marketing plan, but Chesnut did not want to use it because the domain name was already in use.
He did not just send the marketing team back to planning -- he suggested that they add 'by Airbnb' to the name, removing prospects of copyright litigation.
Companies do not want litigation. They want guidance from lawyers. You need to figure out how to give it to them.
Learn more about law school.
Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.