Do You Have the Right Stuff to be a Space Lawyer?
This summer, three lawyers from disparate backgrounds published the first comprehensive, introductory guide to the laws newest frontier: outer space.
Matthew Kleiman, Jenifer Lamie, and Maria-Vittoria Carminati came from very different legal orbits to create The Laws of Spaceflight: A Guidebook for New Space Lawyers (American Bar Association, 2012). Kleiman is a professor of space law at Boston University and general counsel at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lamie is a newly commissioned U.S. Army JAG Corps attorney and recent graduate of the LL.M. program of the University of Nebraska College of Law, where she specialized in space, cyber, and telecommunications law, after attending Vermont Law School. And Carminati (who goes by Giugi) is an associate in the litigation practice at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Houston, Texas.
The three co-authored The Laws of Spaceflight in less than a year, collaborating as part of an initiative supported by the American Bar Associations newly formed space law committee, chaired by Kleiman. (The book was written independently from the companies or organizations the lawyers are employed by.)
So how, exactly, is the law different in outer space?
Readers of the book are beamed into the realm of space law in 233 pagescomplete with an appendix that includes international spaceflight agreements and sample contracts used by space lawyers of the past. Law isnt made in a vacuumnot even space law, opens the second chapter, which covers the legal history of spaceflight.
Thats the major emphasis of the books authors as they introduce readers to this seemingly far-off universe: Theres a network of people to connect to with knowledge of space law, and the laws governing this industry affect more companies and attorneys than you might initially guess. And as the authors are quick to point out, legal acumen is the most important quality to bring to the highly technical industry.
The space-lawyer trio has one major interest in common: they are all, by their own admission, total nerds about outer space. All three dreamed at one time or another of being astronauts. As adults, they read about scientific progress in their free time. And if someone offered technical training for space lawyers, Kleiman, Lamie, and Carminati would be clawing their way to the front of the line to board the rocket.
Im fundamentally a nerd, says Carminati. I love science fiction, the sheer power of physics, things that go boom, the intellectual and scientific endeavoranything that pushes people forward.
Carminati found a thirst for space law in her third year of law school, when she took a course on the subject with Arthur Dula at the University of Houston. Her husband, a doctor, is also interested in aerospace medicine, which has further fueled her interest. Carminati has found that there exists a vibrant, growing system of lawyers with a passion for spaceflight.
Theres definitely a community thats building up, she says. After Carminati launched her space law self-education, she was delighted to find that other lawyers read Title 14 of the Federal Code of Regulations for fun, too. (Title 14 covers aeronautics and space.) Theres so much to learn and so much to know about this area, and it can be hard not only to find the resources, but also to find the people. When something happens in the space industry, we will be the people who understand.
As Lamie has developed an interest in space law, shes come to understand the breadth of issues covered within the spaceflight industry. When people ask me what kind of law Im interested in, I say space law and they automatically think of aliensthey think that its the most narrow area of the law. It is highly specialized but uses so many different areas, Lamie says.
The book covers many of those areas, including telecommunications, transactions, contracts, licensing, environmental law, intellectual property, and more. And the entities needing legal representation and counsel are growing, too, as spaceflight goes commercial. Companies that have long engineered space exploration, like aerospace manufacturers The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin, are now working and competing with start-ups and newer companies, like spaceflight transporters Virgin Galactic and Space X. And the list goes on. Component manufacturers and service providers for these companies will also be affected by the changing industry, note the books authors.
Though Kleiman dreamed of being an astronaut before he ever dreamed of going to law school, he considers his legal expertise his greatest asset to Draper Laboratories, a research company that already has its share of rocket scientists. Nobodys asking the lawyers to design the spacecraft, says Kleiman. Being a good lawyer is more important. A physics or engineering background would help, but its not a prerequisite. Instead, Kleiman says a good corporate law backgroundwith a specialty in intellectual property, finance, government compliance, or trade, for examplepaired with an openness to becoming technically conversant will most benefit the space lawyers of the future.
The space industry right now is where aviation was in the 1920s and 1930s, says Kleiman. When commercial airlines were just being born, it was still considered a dangerous activity. It is, but companies developed the technology to make it routine, and the government found the appropriate level of regulation to promote innovation and protect citizens.
Kleiman notes that it might take longer for spaceflight law to develop along those lines. Most people have been in a commercial airplane. You dont have that with spaceflight. But with space tourism on the horizon, who knows what the future holds?