A throng of Silicon Valley law firm partners, in-house lawyers and judges crowded into a conference room in the Benson Center at Santa Clara University on a sunny May morning.
On the agenda: a presentation from associate law professor Colleen Chien followed by panel discussions among counsel at companies like Yahoo and Rackspace, intellectual property lawyers and federal judges — including the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, who attended, said the conference was a “watershed moment” for the law school that demonstrated its growing prominence in IP law.
“It’s a lot about timing and different initiatives coming together,” said Grewal, a former IP litigator who sits on the school’s advisory committee.
It’s been a big year for Santa Clara law’s high tech program. The school climbed to number three for IP law programs, behind UC-Berkeley Law and Stanford Law, in the 2013 U.S. News and World Report rankings. And after a series of high profile reports, op-eds and congressional appearances, Chien, whose face graces the brochure for Santa Clara’s High Tech Law Institute, was recruited last month to a top patent policy position in the Obama administration.
But if it seems that Santa Clara has made it onto the national stage, there’s no question where its roots lie — in the heart of the valley for which Silicon Valley was named. The simple fact of geography gives the 160-year-old Jesuit institution a history — and an alumni network — linking it to the epicenter of the tech industry.
Take eBay’s Scott Shipman as an example. In the late ’90s, Shipman, then a 2L in Santa Clara University’s newly minted high tech law program, landed a summer internship at eBay, at the time a 70-employee startup on the brink of an initial public offering. Today, Shipman is the associate general counsel and global privacy leader of the $70 billion company. He is also an adjunct professor, sits on the school’s advisory board, and likes to hire SCU grads, who he deems well-prepared for in-house life.
Dorian Daley, another alum and advisory board member, is the top lawyer at Oracle Corp., a heavy employer of SCU law grads. After stints at Sun Microsystems and Silver Spring Networks, another Santa Clara alum, Michael Dillon, became Adobe Systems’ general counsel in 2012.
“You can’t throw a stone and not hit a Santa Clara grad who’s had a business role in the Valley,” said Google lawyer Thomas Jevens, who is an alum and adjunct professor. “That’s the bedrock the whole program is built on.”
SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
Santa Clara University was founded in 1851 — before UC-Hastings, UC-Berkeley, UC-Davis, Stanford or the University of San Francisco.
The genesis of its high tech program can be traced back to 1984, when Silicon Valley was a whisper of what it is today and a group of students launched one of the first law journals to cover issues at the juncture of technology, the law and public policy. In 1990, the law school established a High Tech Advisory Board, a cadre of private attorneys, in-house counsel and judges who advise the school about its curriculum and programs relating to technology and intellectual property law. During the height of the dot-com boom, the school began offering a high tech law certificate to students.
Donald Chisum, author of the multiple volume treatise “Chisum on Patents” joined the faculty from the University of Washington in 1997. Chisum said he was drawn to Santa Clara Law because it had a head start in the area, “even over the big name schools.” It offered an IP program when “no one else did,” he said. He was also impressed by the students, many of whom took courses while working in the tech sector. “I would teach a patent law survey course and have 60 or 70 students in my class, and an advanced course, and it would be over-enrolled,” said Chisum, who left the school in 2006. “It was really a hotbed of interest.”
In 2001, the school had created the High Tech Law Institute, and in 2006 it recruited Eric Goldman from Marquette University to be the first faculty head. The former technology transactions and Internet attorney at Cooley, expanded tech-related course offerings beyond patent law and leveraged his relationships in the Valley. Today, he is known as a prolific blogger on Internet law, intellectual property and advertising and marketing law. His colleagues, Chien and assistant professor Brian Love, are widely recognized as thought leaders in the area of patent law.
Students have noticed: The number of graduates leaving with a high tech law certificate has grown from 12 to 66 over the last five years.
Grewal, who joined the program’s advisory board last summer, said he has been paying a lot of attention to the scholarship coming out of Santa Clara. He said the faculty is “publishing pieces of great interest” and covering “practical, pragmatic issues” that are “top of mind for a lot of cases we’re working on here in the courts.”
Chien, a UC-Berkeley Law grad, has been a prolific writer on litigation by non-practicing entities. This year she co-authored articles in Wired, The New York Times and Forbes among other publications and was named one of the 50 most influential people in patent law in the U.S.
Chien’s appointment to serve in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is a coup for the program, though it leaves it, at least temporarily, without one of its highest-profile scholars.
“It takes a long time to develop a reputation for a law school and one person, two people is not going to change everything,” said Covington & Burling IP partner Anupam Sharma. “I think [her appointment] is going to help SCU. She’s definitely made a splash amongst those in the patent world.”
Santa Clara Law’s location gives its IP and technology law program an edge, according to Goldman. “Within a 10-minute radius, we’ve got some of the big tech companies, and within a 30-minute radius, we’ve got all of the big tech companies,” he said.
Offering the only part-time program for an hour in any direction, Santa Clara Law attracts students with day jobs in the tech sector. A class taught by Google’s Jevens, which is offered in the evenings, is attended by a “phenomenally diverse group,” he said, including in-house lawyers interested in sharpening their licensing skills, academics, patent agents, programmers and entrepreneurs. “The diversity obviously contributes to the intellectual atmosphere,” he said.
SCU’s proximity to neighboring Apple, eBay, Yahoo!, Google, Cisco, Intel and HP makes it easier to draw attorneys and executives to campus as speakers, mentors and instructors and also allows for practice-based learning like internships, externships, and clinics, according to Goldman.
Over the past year, the school has hosted Google GC Kent Walker, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Kiva founder Matt Flannery, as well as Caroline Dennison of the PTO, FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez and Dr. Richard Stallman, a prominent figure in the open source software movement.
In April, the school launched the Entrepreneur’s Law Clinic, which offers students the opportunity to support the needs of early stage Silicon Valley companies under the supervision of Laura Lee Norris, an alum who worked in the legal department at Cypress Semiconductor and joined the faculty earlier this year.
Love, who joined the faculty last year from Stanford, where he ran the LL.M program in Law, Science and Technology, said Santa Clara’s program offers the practical learning employers want.
“The experience is directly applicable to many of the sorts of jobs that students want to have after they graduate, and I think it’s something that will grow in size and grow in prominence,” he said.
Alums also take a role in preparing students for the workforce. When Shipman joined eBay in 1998, he launched an internship program for SCU Law students, and more recently, eBay established an annual fellowship offered to graduates from Bay Area law schools.
“If [SCU Law is] focusing on education the right way, then in the long-term we get lawyers with the skill sets that we need,” he said. “It’s really hard to hire lawyers in the emerging fields.”
Similarly, Tom Dunlap, a 1979 graduate and former senior vice president and general counsel at Intel, established a program to place working engineers at his company in the part-time law program as a way to groom patent attorneys.
“[SCU Law] tends to provide students that can think practically,” Shipman said, “which translates well to in-house,” he said. “That’s why Santa Clara does well — because their grads are get-it-done people.”
McDermott, Will & Emery partner Fabio Marino said Santa Clara alums comprise close to half the IP practice in his firm’s Silicon Valley office.
Marino, who teaches at Santa Clara Law as an adjunct professor and sits on the school’s High Tech Advisory Board, said he considers Stanford Law and Boalt standout research institutions, but views Santa Clara as the better skills training program.
Its grads are “the surest bet in terms of finding requisite skills,” said Marino, a Hastings grad. “Typically, they’re clinically stronger than those from both Boalt and Stanford.”
Orrick partner Jessica Perry, a 2000 graduate who now chairs her firm’s hiring committee in Silicon Valley, credits the school’s clinics and trial advocacy programs for providing students with hands-on experiences “that you don’t really get until you’re a first- or second-year attorney. She added: “I think the school really reflects the community and the environment in which it operates.”
The school counts a handful of the region’s tech-focused law firms, including Wilson Sonsini and MoFo, as among the top 10 employers of Santa Clara Law graduates. Oracle is also a top 10 employer, and the school says it has graduates at Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, SanDisk and Cisco.
“You’re likely to find an alum in any of the large in-house departments in the area, and that’s not unusual, we’re the hometown player,” said Goldman. “But it does create a really nice pipeline for us here in the Valley.”
Gabriella Ziccarelli, who graduated this year and was editor of the Santa Clara Computer & High Tech Law Journal, said she was drawn to the school because of its proximity to the tech industry’s giants. After a volunteer clerkship with Grewal, she’ll start with Dickstein Shapiro in the firm’s IP litigation group. It’s an interest that was stoked by a class she took after her first year, while interning at Intuit and Plantronics, which she credits with giving her a “theoretical and practical perspective.”
Santa Clara’s IP law program has been ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News and World Report for most of the last decade. The law school’s overall ranking has hung around the 90s. In 2013, the law school came in at No. 96, in the company of Marquette, the University of Oregon, and Syracuse. According to Indiana University law professor William Henderson, that’s unlikely to change.
“Reputation is incredibly sticky,” said Henderson, who directs a center on the legal profession.
That makes Santa Clara akin to other mid-tier law schools with specialized programs that exceed the reputation of the school as a whole — Vermont Law School, ranked 119 in 2012, offers the best environmental law program in the country, and the College of Law at Stetson University, ranked 109 last year, the best trial advocacy program in the country. Such specialized programs focused on skills training “will open doors for students,” Henderson said.
If Santa Clara Law students have a hometown advantage in Silicon Valley’s job market, it’s not clear that carries over outside the region, said Covington’s Sharma, hiring manager in the firm’s Silicon Valley office.
Students “would be disadvantaged if you were going to take them out of the Valley. They wouldn’t be able to compete,” said Sharma. More than 50 percent of Santa Clara Law’s graduating class in 2012 gained employment in Northern California after graduation ­­— and with good reason, said Goldman.
“Our students live and breathe technology law every day,” he said. “Everywhere they turn, there are people talking about technology and technology law. It’s impossible not to absorb.”
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