University of California at Berkeley

Boalt Students Drawn By Magnet of High Tech Law

 by Kathleen Scalise

A remarkable number of Berkeley's incoming law students anticipate a career in technology, and the booming interest is flooding courses and creating a new glamour field, say Boalt Hall faculty.

High profile criminal cases that consume the nation's attention don't grab these Boalt students, who are more interested in cyberspace than superstars. Nearly a third of Boalt's new class has career aspirations in technology law. These students are taking classes that even last year weren't in such high demand.

"I had 200 students sign up for my intellectual property course. That's up a lot from last year. I just couldn't handle them all," said Boalt Hall Law Professor Robert P. Merges, director of the new Center for Law and Technology.

Last fall the same course, Introduction to Intellectual Property, attracted 86 students.

Boalt Hall registrar Leslie Farrer handles course enrollment and has seen the technology trend grow dramatically over the last two years.

Merges said students are taking their cue from the job market. "The hiring is very hot now," he said. "(Law firms) are dying for entry-level lawyers in this area. They have a ton of work."

Technology's also where the money is, said Pamela Samuelson, a new law faculty member with a joint appointment at the School of Information Management and Systems.

"The highest per capita income for a law subspecialty is in intellectual property," she said. "It's fascinating to me that in the last 10 to 15 years, intellectual property has moved from being a pretty marginal area where most major law schools didn't even have one person in the field to this kind of demand."

The change mirrors the jump in value of technology products. "When intellectual property is pirated, it can cause really devastating losses," she said. "Awards in a winning lawsuit can run seven, eight figures."

Given today's marketplace, "the entire field of intellectual property is so much more important to the success of businesses," she said. "It's the key to success because the more your products are information products, the more you rely on intellectual property law to protect them."

Other areas of technology law -- contracts, trademarks, privacy and biotech -- are attracting Boalt students.

Recent Boalt graduates now working in the technology arena are finding the atmosphere exhilarating.

"The glamour jobs are coming out of this field," said alumnus Jon Streeter, who is in patent, copyright and licensing at the San Francisco law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Jamie Nafziger, a third-year Boalt student and an editor of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, concurs. "Some areas of law seem so settled," she said. "You might be able to add one little thing if you're lucky, but here you can write the whole book."

"I feel this is an area where I can really be valued," said co-editor Laurel Jamtgaard. "I do agree a lot of students are passionate about the opportunities and the technology. But others are just passionate about getting a job."

While interest in technology is up at law schools across the nation, Merges of Berkeley's law and technology center said campus is attracting more than its share, because of proximity to Silicon Valley.

Merges and co-director Peter Menell launched the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology/Intellectual Property last spring. The center recently sponsored its first conference, "Digital Content: New Products and New Business Models," held Nov. 8 and 9 at the Haas School.


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