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Take two former Supreme Court clerks — one an anthropologist who studied yellow baboons on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, and the other a computer programmer with expertise in precolonial Dutch law in America. Add a documentary filmmaker, a litigator who specialized in trade secret law, and a science fiction fan with an interest in Michel Foucault. What have you got? A fair sampler of America’s cyberlaw professoriate. The Internet, it’s easy to forget, has only been widely shared in the United States for the last five years. Yet the legal academy has already retooled itself to think deep thoughts about law and technology. Which raises the question: If almost no one was doing this stuff five years ago, who’s doing it now? And how did they get there? “There’s an element of fortuity involved,” says David Post, he of the yellow baboons, now a fellow at the Tech Center at George Mason University and an assistant professor at Temple University Law School. That fortuity would be, in part, the good luck to have worked in and around computers and the legal issues they engender well before most others did. At Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in 1985, Post found himself working for a partner who had already begun to think about networking and e-mail. “He saw in 1985 stuff that most other people didn’t see until 1998.” A later project gave Post added exposure. “There were millions of issues involving the technical specs in the contract,” he recalls. That led him to seek out help from nonlawyers. “I liked talking to the techies. It was just a blast.” Lateef Mtima, a professor at Howard University School of Law who teaches courses that apply copyright, patent, and trademark law to software and the Internet, similarly changed direction while at a law firm — in his case, Coudert Brothers. Clients in the software business sought his expertise in trade secrets, which pulled him into the world of computers. From Mtima’s perspective, there was more than luck involved. “When I first came to big-firm practice, being an African-American in the 1980s, it meant I needed to find a niche,” he says. “So, for someone trying to make yourself indispensable, it was an attractive route to go.” Not that there weren’t other routes to finding the juncture between law and technology. Years ago, Pamela Samuelson, professor of law at Boalt Hall and director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, was teaching the sort of intellectual property law that has nothing to do with computers. At one point, she asked two friends of hers who taught computer science to talk to her class about how Congress was handling technology issues. “Most of the people dealing with IP then weren’t having conversations with computer science programmers. I ended up being a kind of translator,” she says. There was also one facet of Samuelson’s life that kept computers at the forefront of her thoughts. “I ended up marrying someone who was a techie.” EDUCATING ONESELF Significantly, interest in computer issues among technology law professors does not date to their years studying for a law degree. There was “nothing in law school that was tech-oriented. Nothing. Zilch,” Post recalls. Mtima says, “I still remember that when I graduated from law school, the secretaries were switching to the IBM Selectrics.” Those, some might recall, were typewriters. It’s not just the legal aspects of technology law that professors have had to teach themselves. It’s also the technology part. Eric Saltzman, executive director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has had a varied career. He began as a public defender, morphed into a maker of documentaries about law and the courts (one of which won him an Emmy), then jumped into the business end of an intellectual property concern, and now makes his living thinking about computers and law. “I literally like to get my hands dirty doing things. I learned the physical editing with filmmaking. Same thing with video editing,” says Saltzman. But computer programming is not one of the skills that he’s picked up over the years. “I guess I’ve learned enough to begin to ask the right questions.” That’s the key, agrees Fred von Lohmann, a visiting researcher at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. “I don’t have advice from a programming point of view, but I do have legal advice to give.” James Boyle, a professor at Duke Law School, says that learning the technology is not so much an end in itself, but a means to trigger thought and discussion about law and policy. “You need to get deep enough into the technology to have at least a faint hope that you have a sense of the features important for legal and market analysis.” There’s also the lure that studying the technology will yield important new insight. “People who write about this are always wondering whether learning one more layer will be the layer that makes a difference,” says Boyle. ‘ EVERYTHING IS RELATED’ For Eben Moglen, a professor at Columbia Law School, learning the technology wasn’t a problem. “I started doing this stuff in 1971,” he says. “This stuff” would be computer programming, which eventually led Moglen to a job researching advanced computer language design at IBM, which he held while earning his law degree and a doctorate in precolonial American legal history. But while Moglen understood the technical subtleties necessary to ponder the legal implications of computers, until recently it was difficult to actually make a career of thinking and writing about law and technology. “When I went into teaching, there wasn’t anyone to talk to about all of this stuff,” he says. “My life with computers had nothing to do with my life with law or legal history.” That, luckily for Moglen, has changed. “Everything I talk about and do now is related. I’m trying to understand the social and political theory of the information revolution.” Moglen is not alone in blending his past pursuits with law-and-technology issues. Boyle sees his work as advancing legal and social theory. In the past, he has written about the intersection between law and postmodernism, Foucault, and Shakespeare. And Boyle’s interest in technology preceded his writing about it. “I had been a longtime reader of science fiction and was struck by how pathetic academics were as compared to sci-fi writers in playing out in interesting ways the kinds of twists and turns and unintended consequences that might result from technological transformations,” he says. What piques Boyle’s interest today is the idea of bringing it all together. “We have been living in this wonderful moment when the high theory and the mundane actions catch up with each other.” Even Post has managed to bring his current interest in computer law back to his initial expertise in anthropology. “The whole study of complex systems, which really began in the evolutionary sciences, is, I think, of profound importance to the study of law.” Someone once said, “The law is a seamless web.” If these professors are any indication, the law today is a seamless Web page.

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