By Andrew Cohen
Jim Dempsey knows full well that Berkeley Law’s intellectual property has been ranked No. 1 among U.S. law schools in 16 of the past 18 years. Undaunted, Dempsey—who replaced Robert Barr as executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology (BCLT) in January—calls that a cause for enthusiasm, not anxiety.
A leading expert privacy and Internet policy for three decades, Dempsey spent 18 years with the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), including a term as executive director. During that time, he worked on several projects alongside leaders of BCLT and the law school’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic.
For the latest issue of Berkeley Law’s Transcript magazine, Dempsey discussed his vision for BCLT. Here’s an excerpt:
Berkeley Law has the nation’s top-ranked IP program. Does that bring a certain level of pressure?
My mission is to build on Robert’s great work over the past 10 years. BCLT’s two main pillars are intellectual property and privacy, which are tech law’s two most important areas. In both, we have some of the nation’s top scholars and a very deep and broad curriculum. Throughout the interview process, I committed to Dean [Sujit] Choudhry, and to the faculty directors, to maintain our leadership position in those two fields while also working with them to expand into additional areas.
What other areas do you have in mind?
Cybersecurity and international engagement are where we need to grow. Today’s law students, regardless of which practice area they enter, will confront cybersecurity problems. Just look at the range of entities that have suffered from attacks in the past year. When there’s a major breach, the legal issues go right from the general counsel’s office to the board of directors. As for international issues, we live in a globalized economy, and the tech innovations of the past 20 years have been central to that. Lawyers will be dealing with transborder issues and they’ll need at least some familiarity with international law and global institutions.
How can BCLT best capitalize on its fortuitous location within UC Berkeley and in the shadow of Silicon Valley?
We draw on the rich expertise of our Bay Area community. Many of our lecturers are attorneys who practice in Silicon Valley. Every day, they’re here teaching upper-level courses in sophisticated areas of the law, often drawing directly on the work they were doing that very morning. Our Tuesday and Thursday luncheon talks by lawyers from area firms and in-house counsel are very well attended by students. They hear insights about up-to-the-minute problems that they’ll undoubtedly confront when they enter practice.
We’re also developing more experiential learning opportunities for students working with tech startups, which is very exciting. We’re ideally situated for this—intellectually, as well as geographically.
How can students make the most of BCLT’s presence, and vice versa?
One thing that struck me in the short time I’ve been here is the profound commitment of BCLT’s faculty directors to the educational mission. They spend a lot of time on curriculum planning, for example, to make sure students will have a broad and deep educational training. Our law and technology writing workshop run by Professor Peter Menell, which feeds into the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, is a phenomenal experience for students. They get a tremendous amount of supervision and input from both faculty and student advisors.
We host career fairs. We support seven student groups that provide other avenues for involvement outside the classroom. In these and other ways, BCLT helps students build their networks and expand their exposure to the issues and practice areas they’ll encounter in their careers.
What sparked your interest in privacy and Internet policy?
I’ve always been interested in public service. I did a lot of pro bono work when I was at Arnold & Porter. When I left for Capitol Hill, I had the extraordinary privilege to work for Congressman Don Edwards, who then represented the San Jose area. He chaired the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, and I began getting involved in privacy—particularly the Fourth Amendment and issues related to government databases. Congressman Edwards had oversight responsibility for the FBI, and a theme of his work was developing guidelines for the bureau’s use of technology. This was back in the very earliest days of the commercialized Internet. I’ve been doing tech policy ever since.
Is this area of law beginning to affect Americans as much or more than any other?
Yes. We live in the Information Age, and this remarkable technology has become woven into our personal and professional lives. Companies that offer these innovative products and services exist within a legal framework. But that framework is not well understood by many people and it’s constantly contested, rewritten, and re-evaluated. That puts us as citizens in the position where we love the technology, but we worry about its impact on privacy and a loss of control of our lives. Any lawyer, almost regardless of the sector and type of practice she pursues, will encounter tech policy and legal issues that touch on IP, privacy, security, freedom of expression, access to information, and global e-commerce.
Read Dempsey’s full Transcript Q&A here.