Opening Statements

Joint degree programs help combine the disciplines of law and technology

Posted Nov 1, 2013 3:20 AM CDT
By Anna Stolley Persky

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The past few years have seen numerous high-profile legal battles over the ownership, boundaries and implementation of technological advances, including issues of privacy in the Internet age and even the patentability of genes.

With all the legal scuffling over technology, one thing is clear: There’s a demand for lawyers who “get it.”

“The level of technical sophistication that is required to understand current issues is much, much higher than it used to be,” says Christopher Yoo, a top authority on law and technology and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In August, Penn Law and the School of Engineering and Applied Science announced a new joint degree program allowing students to graduate with both a JD and a master’s degree in engineering. The four-year program is slated to begin next fall.

“Our goal is to educate a generation of lawyers who are able to anticipate the changes in law and technology and move back and forth between them,” says law dean Michael Fitts.

Students pursuing the joint degree program are expected to spend their first year taking classes at the law school and their second year at the engineering school. The next two years, students will take classes in both schools. As part of the program, students will study topics like e-discovery, privacy and security, network neutrality and biotechnology.

Penn Law isn’t the only school to launch a joint program in law and technology. Texas Tech University has been offering a joint degree program in law and engineering since 2009.

Practitioners say these joint degree programs can assist law students who are planning to practice in any field involving technology. “Younger generations are growing up with computers and have a great foundation for certain technology, but a technical degree may give the lawyer the proper vocabulary and training to better understand the business and even provide alternative solutions,” says Washington, D.C., patent lawyer Eric Sophir.

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Getting It: New law school programs teach students about the intersection of law and technology."

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