Seattle U Law launches new program to prepare lawyers for future tech challenges

May 2, 2023
Woman with cell phone in urban setting

A new Seattle University School of Law program aims to prepare a cadre of diverse legal professionals to help guide the development and implementation of current and future technologies in lawful and ethical ways.

The Technology, Innovation Law, and Ethics (TILE) Program provides opportunities for students pursuing JD, Master of Legal Studies (MLS), Master of Laws (LLM), and Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) degrees to obtain a solid grounding in the legal disciplines and ethical principles needed to practice in this evolving area of the law.

“There are huge policy questions related to technology, and these drive the legal and regulatory decision-making. At Seattle U Law, we are uniquely positioned to exercise leadership in this area, based in part on our proximity to some of the world’s largest tech companies, in a global capital of innovation that is Seattle, but also on our Jesuit tradition that emphasizes an ethical and humanizing approach to complex issues,” said Dean Anthony E. Varona.

In a strategic and considered way, the program brings together many elements of the law school’s academic curriculum and student life into a tech law ecosystem. These include more than 30 tech-focused courses and legal clinics; dozens of internships and externships at some of the leading tech companies in the world – including Amazon, Microsoft, and Expedia; multiple student organizations that pertain to technology; a student journal; and numerous professional opportunities in the sector.

Taught by nine distinguished career faculty members and a host of adjunct professors, all with significant expertise in technology and innovation law, the program’s foundation rests on three primary areas of focus that are integral to practicing law in the technology space:

  • Intellectual property, including copyright, patent, and trademark law
  • Transformative technologies, including artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity, the Internet, and privacy
  • Ethics and entrepreneurship, such as technology ethics and the effective representation of entrepreneurs

A centerpiece of the program is an annual Summer Institute for Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship (SITIE), held in May and June, where students from any law school can gain an insider’s view of Seattle’s start-up culture and learn how to provide legal expertise to innovators.

“Seattle University School of Law has committed a substantial set of resources to this area because we recognize the need for well-trained lawyers, both now and in the future, who are well-versed in the legal challenges posed by disruptive technologies. This is among the richest and deepest offering of courses that the law school offers,” said Margaret Chon, TILE faculty co-director.

Chon, who is the Donald and Lynda Horowitz Endowed Chair for the Pursuit of Justice, added, “We view TILE as a community where alumni, students, faculty, staff, and others can connect with each other over shared interests in technology and innovation law.”

Professor Steven Bender, TILE faculty co-director, stated that “It is also a commitment to do more in the future, such as continually revisiting and revising the curriculum as the sector’s legal needs change.”

New technologies such as artificial intelligence show great promise in addressing society’s most vexing challenges. Without proper frameworks for use, however, they could cause irreparable harm. In addition to the legal knowledge, students also receive a solid grounding in the ethical dimensions of lawyering in this space, a hallmark of Seattle U Law’s Jesuit tradition.

“One only needs to look at cautionary tales of tech leadership gone awry at Theranos and Uber to understand the need to construct and implement robust legal, cultural, and ethical frameworks and guardrails on new and emerging technologies,” said Bender, who is also associate dean for planning and strategic initiatives.

“Lawyers can be a valuable moral compass in businesses and organizations to ensure that the potential social impacts of technology are anticipated and accounted for.”

Another important element of the program is to help aspiring lawyers become conversant in the technologies they will look to safeguard. “We want students to have a skill set to understand prevailing technologies, to be competent and strategic technologists,” Bender added. “This will help them be taken seriously by the leaders and entrepreneurs when they provide legal advice to enable, rather than to stifle, innovation.”

In addition, technology companies have a well-documented diversity problem, with few people of color. “A key goal of the TILE Program is to build out a pipeline from our student body, which is among the most diverse of any law school in the nation, to technology law practices and companies, where so many of our graduates are already making a difference,” Chon said. Seattle U Law’s alumni hold influential positions in tech companies around the world, from small startups to major players.

Relatively unique among other tech law initiatives, “TILE will actively explore questions like who will win and who will lose when new technologies are implemented, how inequality may worsen, and other negative social impacts that may result,” Chon added.

The program will also feature events throughout the year to bring tech law experts and pioneers to campus. The next event hosted by the law school is the virtual 6th Annual Innovation and Technology Law Conference, on Friday, June 9, with a theme of “Enabling Innovation in Law and Society.

Share this