Santa Clara Law’s innovative new certificate challenges students to hone essential job skills for the tech industry while in law school.
BY DEBORAH LOHSE | PHOTOS BY CHARLES BARRY
Many years ago, tech lawyers might have been hired strictly for their ability to identify and flag legal risks in the activities of others: a copyright infringement by the marketing team, an executive’s bad behavior at a companysponsored party, a sales team accepting poor contract terms to get a deal done quickly. Few would have expected them to help solve the problems they flagged and serve as de facto partners alongside major business units.
But these days, that’s what many companies expect, even of junior attorneys. And Santa Clara has launched a new program that prepares lawyers to speak the language of their business clients, work to solve problems on multidisciplinary teams, andultimately add value to a business organization.
Two years ago, Santa Clara Law Professors Eric Goldman and Laura Norris J.D. ’97 saw a chance to give their students a hiring edge. They set out to create a fast track for students specializing in tech law, one that would ensure that they graduate with not only traditional legal skills but also with those most in demand from employers today. They also looked for ways to help students understand how Silicon Valley’s “secret sauce” actually works.
The result is the new Tech Edge J.D. (TEJD) certificate. It’s unlike any other certificate offered by Santa Clara Law — or any other law school. The Tech Edge J.D. represents the next wave of innovation in legal education. It’s heavy on self-direction, creativity, and hands-on learning and is guided by intensive mentorship for both academic and professional goal-setting and success. The first cohort of TEJD students starts in Fall 2018.
“We’re seeing more and more that our clients expect creative advice from their legal advisors that incorporates both technology and business acumen,” says Seth Gottlieb J.D. ’07, a partner at Cooley LLP. His observation echoes a trend that leaders of Santa Clara Law’s High Tech Law Institute have been hearing from alumni and Silicon Valley employers.
While admittedly adding to an already daunting law student workload, the TEJD certificate provides an exciting, real-world dimension for students who know they want to specialize in tech law, and it offers these students a unique competitive advantage once they hit the job market.
How It Works
Instead of focusing solely on courses completed, the TEJD certificate requires students to achieve certain knowledge or skill milestones. These milestones signal the students’ actual development of knowledge and skills that employers want—making them more valuable. Along the way, TEJD students also build a professional portfolio that showcases their accomplishments.
To reinforce that classes are not the certificate’s metric, the only required course is a semester of the Entrepreneurs’ Law Clinic. Otherwise, students can complete certificate milestones in courses, externships, clerkships, and even extracurricular activities.
“TEJD is one of the most important strategic initiatives the Law School is currently pursuing,” says Goldman, TEJD’s assistant director and the co-director of the High Tech Law Institute. “We are educating a new kind of graduate — one who is much more specialized and integrated into the Silicon Valley professional community than we’ve produced in the past. This model may illuminate the law school’s path for producing specialized graduates for a wide range of practice areas.”
The TEJD certificate is a natural extension of Santa Clara Law’s nationally ranked high tech and intellectual property program, which benefits from the school’s location in the heart of Silicon Valley. The High Tech Law Institute faculty includes a dozen full-time faculty members with expertise on every aspect of IP and high tech law—plus two dozen part-time faculty working on the front lines of IP and high tech law at leading Silicon Valley law firms and technology companies. Moreover, the IP and high tech curriculum is one of the most comprehensive in the country. Due to its breadth and depth, students are able to create a highly personalized course of study.
To craft the Tech Edge J.D., Goldman and Norris started by asking current and former Silicon Valley in-house lawyers, venture capitalists, and tech executives to think about how Santa Clara Law should anticipate the next generation of high techlegal education—and how the law school could help make its graduates more valuable to Silicon Valley employers.
The answers proved exciting, but also challenging.
Not surprisingly, given the contraction in law hiring in the past few decades, employers wanted first-year hireswho could hit the ground running in the type of lawyering most in demand. They want professionals who not only know applicable law, but can add value on multidisciplinary teams, creatively solve problems, and provide useful and understandable guidance to decision-makers. And they require experts in law who are not only able to point out legal risks but are also able to resolve them.
While this sounds great, one big challenge to front loading real-life lawyering skills into law school is clearly time. For instance, more extensive accreditation standards continue to soak up students’ time, and the perennial need to ensure students adequately prepare for the bar exam alsoeats up precious hours. The challenge was to get students to complete these vital requirements while also obtaining the level of expertise and specialization demanded by the market. The TEJD certificate offers a solution that is simple, but radical—at least in the context of traditional legal education.
Those who master the juggling and intellectual challenge to earn a TEJD certificate will be ahead of many peers in professional development before graduation. This certificate will send a strong signal to employers that the students are organized enough to complete the certificate’s multitudinous requirements, and they have the self-drive and smarts needed to get the job done.
In this way, too, the TEJD certificate students will appeal not just to employers in Silicon Valley, but to those at the global level. Because of the milestones’ generalizable nature, many employers outside Silicon Valley eagerly welcome people who understand the “secret sauce.”
A Network of Support for TEJD Students
All TEJD students will have a faculty or staff advisor to counsel them and help them figure out ways to complete each milestone. Students will also be assigned two professional mentors, such as alumni or local practitioners, to provide additional perspectives and help integrate the students into the professional community.
Another innovation: Santa Clara Law will start working with TEJD students as soon as they are admitted. During the summer before law school starts—known as 0L summer— TEJD students will take part in a group orientation with professional development and team building. Also during 0L summer, advisors and mentors will work with TEJD students to help them develop a personal career plan. For many students, this will be the first time they have tried to formally articulate their professional development goals. Setting goals at the outset of students’ law school careers will help them maximize the full value of their three years of graduate education.
Norris, the program’s founding faculty director, is already a proven program developer, having built the Entrepreneurs’ Law Clinic from the ground up in 2013. As former vice president of legal affairs at Cypress Semiconductor, she also keenly understands the mindset of the Silicon Valley hiring manager.
“As a hiring manager, I recognized that there was a learning curve, even for seasoned attorneys, to get up to speed on the technological and business priorities of our clients,” she says. “The TEJD certificate will help shorten that learning curve and produce attorneys who can speak the same language as their clients.”
Already a Tactic of Top Santa Clara Law Grads
Some of Santa Clara Law’s most successful graduates actually accomplished precisely these sorts of milestones on their own while students at Santa Clara, which helped set them apart in the eyes of employers they wanted to impress.
Sona Makker J.D. ’16, public policy associate manager at Facebook, says she essentially created her own version of the TEJD certificate by acquiring skills outside the traditional law school curriculum to better prepare her for the Silicon Valley job market.
“I gained critical writing skills and recognition in the privacy community by looking for opportunities to publish blog posts on privacy and technology subjects,” she recalls. “I started small with high-level pieces and eventually published a paper in a journal.”
She volunteered to educate children about privacy at a local library as a way to build up her public speaking skills in a low-pressure environment. She also discovered, through reading descriptions of job openings, that many companies were looking for experienced privacy trainers. So she offered to develop a training module as part of an internship assignment.
“The skills gained through my extracurricular activities, combined with my internship experience, helped transform my résumé into that of a valuable advisor with relevant skills, despite being a new graduate,” she says. “Students who earn the Tech Edge J.D. certificate should see the same benefits, positioning them for success in landing that first job out of law school.”
Gottlieb says that, even 11 years out of law school, he’s still constantly challenged to stay abreast of trends that affect his clients.
“As corporate attorneys, we are always in the boardroom, where business decisions are being made. The better we understand our clients’ challenges, the more valuable our advice,” says Gottlieb. For instance, he says he’s currently spending his free time reading books on emerging technologies like blockchain, “to try to keep up.”
Predicts Gottlieb: “Graduates with the Tech Edge J.D. certificate are going to be in a much better position in the legal marketplace.”
Seeking Help from Santa Clara Alumni
“We know the value of our strong Santa Clara Law alumni network, and we encourage alumni to get involved with this groundbreaking program,” says Norris. Alumni can help TEJD students by offering campus tours or shadow days, sponsoring externships or clerkships, and acting as mentors.
DEBORAH LOHSE is assistant director of media and internal communications for University Marketing and Communications at Santa Clara University.