Want To Go to Law School Because You're Interested in Internet Law?

Would-be law students occasionally ask me what's the best way of getting into Internet law. What school should they go to? How should they prepare? I'm not sure what the right answer is, but I thought I'd pass along some tentative thoughts:

1. Be skeptical about your initial interest. If you're excited about Internet law, that's great. But keep in mind that you probably know very little about what Internet law practice is actually like, and that Internet law practice (even if you can get into it) tends to be very little about the Internet as such.

My sense, for instance, is that most cases involving "Internet law" actually involve the application of familiar cross-medium legal principles — contract law, copyright law, contract law, trademark law, libel law, insurance law, did I mention contract law?, free speech law, jurisdiction law, and the like — to Internet transactions and businesses. Occasionally, you do have cases that turn on Internet-specific rules, or rules that end up operating differently on the Internet. But those cases are rare, and even those cases will mostly be about general legal principles and only partly about "Internet law" as such.

Perhaps you'll still be excited about them because they involve the Internet, just as many entertainment lawyers or sports lawyers get and stay excited about their fields even though the legal rules may be largely the same as for other business transactions. But you might well conclude that you'd gladly do copyright law generally, whether tied to the Internet or not, or that you don't much care for litigation generally, whether tied to the Internet or not.

2. Be open to other interests. Recall also that you probably don't know how much you might be interested in other legal subjects and other practice areas, which you just haven't studied. What if you find criminal law — or even tax law, bankruptcy law, or securities law — especially fascinating? (Though tax law doesn't sound sexy, many people come to like it a great deal, and see it as an unusually intellectually stimulating field.)

It may well be that several years from now, when you've seen more of the law, you'll find some other area to be more interesting than the one that fascinates you now. So stay open to the possibility, and don't focus too much on your current interests in choosing a law school, or preparing for law school.

3. Choose law school based on its overall quality, not its specialization. Law school really is primarily about teaching you how to think like a lawyer, and teaching you the skills and concepts that lawyers regularly use. It will also teach you specific legal rules, but most of the important ones — even for people who want to specialize in, say, Internet law — are rules that you'll learn at any good law school in generalist classes such as copyright law, trademark law, free speech law, and the like. And the other things you need to know you'll be able to pick up yourself, either in practice on in doing independent research projects during law school.

Relatedly, the credential value of a law school education will mostly turn (or so I've seen) on the reputation of the law school, coupled with your performance in law school, not on the reputation of a particular program within the law school. There might be exceptions, but I think this is the general rule.

So you might want to choose a top-tier law school, if you can get into it, because it has such a good reputation. Or you might want to choose a mid-tier law school in which your predictors (LSAT score and undergraduate GPA) are near the top or the high middle, rather than the one top-tier law school that let you in even though your predictors would place you at the bottom of the class. (There's something to be said for either approach.) Or you might want to choose a law school that's in a city where you'll be close to family. But I wouldn't much focus on the law school's specialty offerings, even if I knew that I wanted to practice, say, cyberspace law. And I certainly wouldn't much focus on the specialty offerings if I concluded that I couldn't reliably predict what I'd eventually want to practice (for the reasons given in points 1 and 2).

4. Choose pre-law classes that will improve your writing skills. (Almost) no matter what kind of law you'll want to practice, writing will be one of the most important skills you can have. And while good legal writing follows somewhat different conventions from good writing generally, the two have a lot in common. Moreover, while law school will teach you a lot about some lawyerly skills — reading cases, reading statutes, constructing arguments, and "thinking like a lawyer" — and while law school will try to teach you something about legal writing, you probably won't learn anywhere near enough about writing in law school alone. So the more you can improve your writing before law school, the better.

5. Should you choose other pre-law classes that fit your current expectations about your future career? All this having been said, should you still try to prepare for an Internet law career by studying more about Internet architecture, or computer programming, or what have you? After all, if you're thinking this hard about going to law school, you're probably the preparing type — shouldn't you do something special to prepare?

I'm not sure, because if you're already so interested in Internet law, you probably know a decent amount about the underlying technology and the underlying business structures. And it's not like you really have to know a vast amount of technology to do a good job as an Internet lawyer. (You might need to know a lot of biology to be a biotech patent lawyer, though I've heard some patent lawyers express doubt even about that. But my experience has been that most Internet law issues can be understood with a decent but not vast amount of understanding of Internet technology.)

But, hey, if you really want to take those classes, go ahead. At least you'll be interested in them, you'll get good grades, and you might have a better GPA when you apply to law school.

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In any case, that's my tentative thinking about the subject; I'd love to hear what others have to say.