I took my tech law students on a field trip to see The Social Network when it premiered in 2010. My hope was to impart upon them the need to get the venture's legal structure, IP assignments, equity distributions, and other contractual relations in place before success. No one fights over the legal inadequacies and confusions of failed ventures, but the faulty legal foundations of the billion dollar venture are the stuff of Academy Awards.
When I started teaching telecommunications and tech law in 2007, the first and repeated question from my students was almost always "What is the law?" When I would tell them, "In the fields we study, there is no law ... at least not much ... yet," they grew disconcerted. Law students, circa 2007, wanted to know precisely what they needed to know, little more, little less. What is the black letter law? What would be on the exam? What would not be on the exam? What would land them the job at the big law firm? The promise that they had that rarest privilege to blue sky the policies, the laws, the processes, and the ventures that would shape society for generations gave them scant comfort, even if some titillation.
That was just six years ago, but it feels like two generations ago in the timeline and accelerating trajectory of legal education. My own unscientific survey of my students from that bygone era revealed that students went to law school for some combination of the following reasons: (1) a love of the Law as an intellectual pursuit; (2) a desire to do good in the world; (3) an inability to mono-maniacally focus on a venture of their own; and/or (4) a quest for long-term professional job security and prestige.
At least as many law students still come to law school for some combination of "love of law" and "a desire to do good." Fewer and fewer law students come to law school in search of the traditional brass ring of "life-long security and prestige." More and more students, however, come to law school with a dream to figure out how to harness their legal training in their own unique, innovative, entrepreneurial directions.
Today, when I answer my students with "there is no law," increasingly more of them recognize the profound opportunity this answer implies. They relish the opportunity to use the law and their legal training to create the new rules, processes, and ventures of our digitally-enabled, Internet-empowered, geopolitically-obliterated future.
The most innovative among my students seize the opportunity to leap frog into the profession and to explore novel career paths, using their law degrees (1) to support innovative ventures that archaic laws could not have anticipated; (2) to promote systemic policy reform to ensure the law keeps up with the needs of disruptive new ventures; and (3) to mash up their legal training with their other passions to become innovative entrepreneurs in their own right.
Until recently we were training lawyers as roadblocks to entrepreneurship and innovation -- to issue spot and red flag every reason why the entrepreneur should not proceed with her hair-brained scheme. The world is moving too fast for "yeah but" lawyers in a "why not" world. We have to incubate the next generation of lawyers to think like the entrepreneurs with whom they must work. We must train lawyers to become innovators and entrepreneurs in their own right. Lawyers must learn not just to morph ventures to satisfy law. We must learn to morph the law to suit the evolving nature of business and society. A new generation of lawyers must be trained to advocate on behalf of causes and businesses, whose interests and concepts have not been represented in the various legislative and regulatory arenas. A new generation of lawyers must be trained to understand the intricacies of representing startups in emerging businesses where few, if any, laws were designed to accommodate new ideas.
We are living through a technology and policy inflection point the likes of which humanity has never seen. We are beset by revolutionary new technologies co-incident with general deregulation and global competition. Technologies are dissolving jurisdictional boundaries and distinctions. Old business processes and legal regimes do not seem able to accommodate. There are many ways in which the Internet can disintermediate, replace the need for human services. The subtle, nuanced, agile work of law is not one of these services.
Every revolution has needed the lawyers, at least to pick up the pieces and to establish the new rules of the road when the dust of revolution settles. Some lament that we have to many lawyers. I think we do not have enough lawyers. We just need to figure out how to deploy them and their subtle, nuance, nimble, legally-trained minds.