By Victoria Willingham • January 30, 2020•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence
The beginning of the year always triggers a sense of renewal. As we embark on yet another orbit around the sun, the essence of ambition infiltrates the atmosphere and we make efforts to tackle new goals and aspirations. That same energy is seemingly constant across the tech industry. With new ideas and concepts come new legal issues and requirements. Lawyers, therefore, are integral in moving the needle forward in efforts to shape industries that may not have previously existed.
The decision to become a lawyer can vary greatly between individuals. Consequently, it is common to see law students and law school graduates question their career choice when the going gets tough. One might feel overwhelmed after committing to a field that can be simultaneously broad and narrow, traditional, and difficult to navigate without solid mentorship. On one hand, the decision to go into certain areas may be driven by financial reasons or lack of exposure. While on the other hand, one may choose to enter certain spaces due to an intrinsic desire to create social impact.
From a legal perspective, the tech space lends itself to nearly anywhere one may fall on the spectrum. Whether you’re a law student, a newly-minted attorney, or a seasoned professional, here are some ideas of areas within the technical space where you can steer your career pathway.
If you take joy in being a rule follower, enjoy legal research, but still want a little room for creativity, then a career in compliance at a tech company may be your route. In law school “it depends” is the default answer when the professor socratically asked a question that was inherently unclear. Thriving in that space is essential to success in the world of legal compliance. Due to the innovative nature of this space (hello, gig economy), lawyers who work in compliance must be comfortable with the unknown while having the finesse to make decisions based on minimal information. Further, compliance professionals must be nimble and anticipate regulatory matters (privacy laws like CCPA, GDPR etc.) that have the potential to heavily impact a tech company’s entire business model.
With a science background, you can really go far as a product counsel. These roles are becoming more and more prevalent. As apps and new products continue to emerge, companies need “tech savvy” lawyers to take the necessary steps to research issues and advise on any potential legal risks as it pertains the development or refinement of a company’s product (think app updates). If you understand highly technical engineering terms and love working cross-functionally, this type of role in tech is definitely one to explore.
Diversity and Inclusion
Individuals who are passionate about representation in the workplace should definitely consider opportunities in diversity and inclusion. Often juxtaposed to the human resources or people teams, many attorneys find rewarding careers working on diversity and inclusion matters within tech companies.There has been a recent surge to include diversity and inclusion officers in companies as not only a way to recruit and retain talent, but also as a way to create internal pathways that help employees cultivate their careers in safe and nourishing environments. This option may be a perfect fit for you if you consider yourself an advocate and you’re constantly looking for ways to help others and ensure everyone’s voice is heard - especially in uncharted territories.
Gone are the days where making a social impact as a lawyer is reserved for a specific sector of jobs or pro bono work. Many companies are taking the initiative to do their due diligence to engage in the community by creating programs that help people in need. Companies are also taking great strides to offer products and services that have sustainable supply chains (think fair wages and proper sourcing). As a result, lawyers who pursue roles in social responsibility (also known as corporate responsibility or sustainability) have an opportunity to create systems and programs that either help companies make a stronger impact in the community or mitigate any damages that may have resulted from an oversight. Individuals who thrive in these types of roles see the “big picture” and have the acumen to identify problems and systematically create the pertinent steps toward resolution.
If you’re in the process of exploring your career trajectory and interested in entering the tech world, this nonexhaustive list is a good place to start. Always remember that just as the year is new, so is each day. Your legal career can be as innovative as any new app. Think of legal opportunities in tech as potential product (career) updates that might align with your pursuit of a new legal perspective.