UC Berkeley press release

NEWS RELEASE, 10/31/96

High profile criminal cases not for them; technology's where the money is, say UC Berkeley law students

by Kathleen Scalise

BERKELEY -- A remarkable number of UC 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 couldn't let them all in. I just couldn't handle them all," said Boalt Hall Law Professor Robert P. Merges, director of UC Berkeley's 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. "A very exciting thing is happening here at Boalt," she said.

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 faculty member holding a joint appointment with the law school and 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 commonly 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."

Besides intellectual property, other areas of technology law are attracting Boalt students, including contracts, trademarks, privacy and biotech.

Law Professor Marjorie Shultz, an expert on biomedical technology, said student interest in her course has become so enormous, "I regularly have to cut in half or thirds the number of students who want to take my course."

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

"The glamour jobs in law are coming out of this field," said Boalt Hall alumnus Jon Streeter, now working on patent, copyright and licensing for the San Francisco law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

"Not only is there a huge demand in law firms for these students, but it's exciting. There's a level of business activity that's unprecedented and that's especially exciting when you're a young professional," he said.

Jamie Nafziger, a third-year Boalt student and an editor for 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 her fellow student and co-editor Laurel Jamtgaard, also completing her final year at Boalt. "I do agree a lot of students are passionate about the opportunities and the technology. But others are just passionate about getting a job."

Asked if they have plum jobs waiting for them when they graduate, both women grinned and said, "Yep, actually."

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

"People here know where the technology and the industry is going. We need to be injecting a little more Silicon Valley presence into policy debates," he said.

To this end, Merges and co-director Peter Menell launched the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology/Intellectual Property last spring with substantial financial contributions from more than a dozen Bay Area law firms.

The center is sponsoring its first conference in November. The conference, "Digital Content: New Products and New Business Models," will be held Nov. 8 and 9 in the Andersen Auditorium of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. It will feature legal experts fielding questions from "people who are actually running businesses and facing problems," said Merges.

For registration and fees, email patterso@haas.berkeley.edu or call (510) 642-4041.


Note: Robert Merges is available at (510) 643-6199. Law students Jamie Nafziger and Laurel Jamtgaard can be reached through the Berkeley Technology Law Journal at (510) 643-6454.

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