Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s World
Minnesota Law’s field-leading faculty are blazing new trails on the cutting edges of emerging and evolving disciplines.
Who is liable for injuries sustained in an accident when artificial intelligence technology was controlling the car, flying the airplane, or performing the surgery? What are the legal implications of a cyberattack that results in a massive data breach? What protectable legal interests are there in genetically modified material?
All manner of legal questions arise when it comes to emerging technologies and industries such as AI, cybersecurity, data privacy, and biotechnology. Future attorneys, whether they practice in cutting-edge fields or traditional law, will regularly confront unresolved matters as the courts, lawmakers, and regulators scramble to keep up with rapid changes in these fields and others.
Trailblazing Minnesota Law faculty members spend significant time exploring emerging legal areas, examining how the law currently applies and how it might evolve in the future. They teach seminars and courses in subjects that range from neurolaw to digital evidence, giving students a deep dive into the technology. Students research and debate potential legal issues while learning to apply precedents to fields that are in flux.
Overall, taking courses in emerging subjects primes future lawyers to think creatively and cultivate flexibility. “It prepares them for a future that’s coming,” says Francis Shen, associate professor of law, McKnight Presidential Fellow, and director of the Shen Neurolaw Lab. “Students realize that the law is always changing, and that they will have a real hand in changing the law in response to and in parallel development with these technologies.”
It’s vital for students to investigate coursework at the vanguard of law because many will encounter a multitude of related issues as they start practicing. William McGeveran, associate dean of academic affairs and the Julius E. Davis Professor of Law, teaches classes in data privacy and data compliance—topics that today affect most every legal field. Think of HIPAA in health care, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in education, or mergers and acquisitions, where it’s common to conduct due diligence on potential data-security liabilities.
“We’re turning into an information economy, and whatever drives the economy is what drives the law,” McGeveran says. “You would not want to be studying to become a lawyer in the late 19th century and say, ‘I won’t really pay attention to the railroads.’ That’s the situation we’re in now with a lot of emerging technologies. They are such an important component of what’s growing our economy.”
Data privacy law may be cutting-edge, but McGeveran takes a practical approach to the topic in his classes. He uses hypothetical situations—for instance, applying existing rulings on cell phone tracking to rapidly evolving technologies such as Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa. Students read current case law and then develop arguments and analysis for potential legal issues related to newer technology.
Professor Alan Rozenshtein brings hands-on experience to his courses in cybercrime and cybersecurity. While working in the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, he focused on foreign intelligence, terrorism, and cybersecurity. Rozenshtein teaches his students about the underlying structure of technology, including the internet, information architecture, and encryption. He also covers legal issues related to cybersecurity, surveillance, and the borderless internet. Overall, he aims to give students a firm grasp of the policy and technical issues that might arise in their legal careers.
“It’s a big area, and a new area, and it makes it exciting and challenging to teach,” Rozenshtein says.
Class compositions keep discussions interesting, as students range from relative tech newbies to computer science graduates. It’s a good combination that allows students to teach each other and practice explaining complex topics in understandable ways.
“Lawyers who don’t know enough about technology fall into trouble, and lawyers who know too much about technology also get into trouble when they speak in a way that’s no longer accessible to clients or colleagues,” Rozenshtein says. “If you can’t explain yourself to a generally intelligent but otherwise technologically unsophisticated person, you aren’t going anywhere. That’s a skill we work on as well.”
Susan Wolf, McKnight Presidential Professor of Law, Medicine, & Public Policy, Faegre Baker Daniels Professor of Law, and Professor of Medicine, teaches a course in law, biomedicine, and bioethics. She finds it valuable to boost students’ understanding of how law evolves in response to emerging technologies and the relative roles of law and ethics in coping with these technologies. Students work on thinking critically and applying their new knowledge to myriad legal issues that might arise in domains ranging from reproductive technology to genomics to euthanasia.
“We’re looking at areas of the law that are being created on the fly, in response to very rapidly moving and often unexpected technologies,” says Wolf, who also chairs the University’s Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment, & the Life Sciences. “I’m trying to equip them with broad knowledge of emerging areas of biomedicine and make sure they are very savvy in thinking about the appropriate tools to deal with challenges and disputes in these areas.”
A PATHWAY TO PATHBREAKING PRACTICE AREAS
Many of the Minnesota Law professors teaching in high-tech legal fields are known scholars and authorities in their areas. McGeveran wrote Privacy and Data Protection Law, a book used in two dozen law schools, and Shen co-wrote the widely used textbook Law and Neuroscience.
The University of Minnesota is an excellent place to teach emerging law subjects because it’s teeming with experts in many relevant fields and disciplines, Shen says. He regularly invites guest lecturers from across campus to his classes in artificial intelligence and neuroscience. The Twin Cities area is also home to many corporations that contend with high-tech legal issues—another boon for Minnesota Law students. Shen recently took his neurolaw students to Medtronic, where they met with the general counsel and learned about legal implications of the company’s deep brain stimulation technology.
Through these experiences, “students really get in on the ground floor of extraordinary change in the law and see that the law is fluid,” Shen says. “They will have the opportunity to shape the future of the law because technology won’t be the same as it was years ago when the doctrine was laid down.”
Law School students who explore groundbreaking legal areas enter the job market with valuable expertise and skills. Wolf points out that in addition to classes, some have the opportunity to work as research assistants with the Consortium on Law and Values, including on projects supported by the National Institutes of Health and other funders. The projects consider how law, ethics, and policy should cope with challenging questions, such as how research with portable MRIs should be conducted in remote and underserved areas or when individual-specific research findings should be offered to participants in genomics studies, she says.
Students in McGeveran’s data compliance practicum have the opportunity to earn the Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) credential at a highly discounted rate from the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Adding a CIPP designation to their J.D. is a great way for students to demonstrate their bona fides in this burgeoning field. In addition to the practicum— often featuring guest lecturers from the field— McGeveran’s students also have the chance to job-shadow privacy professionals and explore career opportunities.
It’s important to have such experiences because jobs in emerging fields don’t fall into such traditional categories as litigator or transactional attorney, McGeveran says. These nimble lawyers work as counselors, policy planners, and troubleshooters who respond to emergencies like security breaches. “These are all exciting, dynamic things to do as a lawyer, and they aren’t captured by categories that students often think about,” he adds.
Firms have begun to establish practices in artificial intelligence, and privacy law also is growing strongly. Minnesota Law graduates who take advantage of the faculty’s documented expertise in these new and developing fields are likely to have strong job prospects.
“There is a huge need because it’s territory that hasn’t been filled yet,” McGeveran says. “It can be really great for someone coming out of law school, tooled up and ready to go into privacy. We’ve placed a lot of graduates in great places doing privacy law.”