WHAT MAKES THE PRIVACY LAW CERTIFICATE SPECIAL?

Eric Goldman

Eric Goldman is a Santa Clara Law professor, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute, and supervisor of the Privacy Law Certificate.

By ERIC GOLDMAN, PROFESSOR, SANTA CLARA LAW, AND SUPERVISOR, PRIVACY LAW CERTIFICATE

You might think that law school certificates are all the same, and for the most part, you’d be right. Usually, law school certificates require students to take specified courses and maybe write a paper. These certificates help students organize their electives and send a signal to future employers about the student’s area of interest. However, they don’t necessarily “certify” the student’s actual capabilities to employers.

In 2014, the law school adopted the Privacy Law Certificate, the first of its kind in the nation. The Privacy Law Certificate differs from traditional certificates in important ways. Like other certificates, it requires students to complete specified coursework, including courses on domestic and international privacy law plus several electives. However, the Privacy Law Certificate also requires students to:

  • complete an externship or internship in the privacy field.
  • pass a certification exam administered by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).
  • publish (not just write) a paper on privacy topics in a periodical read by other privacy professionals.

Thus, student progress towards the certificate isn’t measured merely by courses completed, and students can’t check off certificate requirements simply by enrolling in more courses. Instead, compared to their peers, students invest hundreds of additional hours beyond their coursework (and some money for IAPP membership fees) to complete the Privacy Law Certificate.

We might measure the Privacy Law Certificate’s efficacy by seeing if it helped students achieve outcomes they wouldn’t have otherwise achieved. With increasing frequency, certificate students are dropping by my office to tell me about a new internship they got because they perfectly matched the employer’s specifications.

The early data suggests that Privacy Law Certificate students get good returns on these investments. We’ve seen strong employer response to Privacy Law Certificate students. Some possible reasons why:

Student Sorting. The Privacy Law Certificate’s requirements attract students who are motivated and organized enough to take on a rigorous challenge. As a result, these students demonstrate that they possess some of the “soft skills” that prospective employers desire the most.

Demonstrated Commitment to Privacy. By declaring for the certificate, students expressly prioritize privacy over other career tracks. Typically, law students think they maximize job opportunities by hedging their bets. However, students with demonstrated specializations often are more attractive to employers and end up having more job options than students who cast wide nets. By embracing the certificate and its requirements, Privacy Law Certificate students clearly signal their commitment to prospective employers.

Building Student Resumes. As they complete its requirements, Privacy Law Certificate students are constantly adding new privacy-related accomplishments to their resumes. Each new item makes their resumes stand out even more compared to their peers. This can create a great “laddering” effect. Each newly added resume item (such as IAPP certification) helps open the door for the next resume item (a great internship). When repeated over the course of their law school career, the laddering effect can help students reach a fairly advanced professional level.

Community Integration. As students complete certificate requirements, they become integrated into the community of privacy professionals. For example, when students join the “club” of IAPP certified professionals, they start looking to prospective employers more like peers than newcomers. This creates networking and referral opportunities for students. Furthermore, when employer-interviewers view student candidates as their peers, those interviews tend to go well.

We might measure the Privacy Law Certificate’s efficacy by seeing if it helped students achieve outcomes they wouldn’t have otherwise achieved. With increasing frequency, certificate students are dropping by my office to tell me about a new internship they got because they perfectly matched the employer’s specifications. Usually, as they tell me what the employer was looking for, it’s clear that the Privacy Law Certificate’s structure guided the student to make the choices that positioned them for success. As a law school, we seek to enhance our students’ professional value, and the success stories of our certificate students make me think we’re making progress towards that ambitious goal.