Computer law is the body of law that deals with electronic data. It encompasses the transfer, usage, and storage of any electronic data. In other words, computer law is the law that focuses on computers and other electronic gadgets that can store and transmit data.
When you talk about computer law, it touches over several broad areas, ranging from security, privacy, and even the U.S. Constitution. As a lawyer that specializes in computer law, you will deal with everything from contracts to privacy protection, among many others. Different laws touch on electronic media at both the state and national levels.
Areas of Interest in Computer Law
Computer law is far-reaching. It touches on many different areas. Some of the critical areas of interest for computer lawyers include:
Contracts are an essential part of any computer transaction. It all begins when a user buys a computer or any device that can store and transmit electronic data. You are always given a booklet with the terms and conditions. This booklet is also known as a contract between the manufacturer and the user. The agreement lays out all the legal requirements and responsibilities of both the manufacturer and the new user.
The same thing applies when you go to a website and accept the terms and conditions. The contracts are not just limited to a manufacturer and a consumer. Many third-party contracts get initiated between manufacturers of the same product or service. A perfect example is an e-commerce store that sells your products and an independent company that handles the delivery of your product to your doorstep.
A computer lawyer handles all these situations. There is virtually no transaction that can take place without a valid contract that is drawn up by a competent computer lawyer. A computer lawyer ensures that all the legal requirements are met and observed by both parties in the agreement.
Today, one of the most sensitive areas for any company is privacy. Privacy is the murky water through which computer lawyers guide their clients to avoid being sued or criminally liable. A company must protect the personal information that their clients share with them within the confines of the law. Computer lawyers also help determine when such personal data may be shared.
It is the computer lawyer's job to ensure that their client comes up with policies that protect the customers' information. Privacy settlements are too expensive. The ramifications of breaching privacy laws are also too significant for a corporation to take them lightly.
You cannot mention computers without talking about intellectual property (I.P.) rights. In this day and age, the two go hand in hand. Lots of companies make similar products that are protected by intellectual property rights. As a computer lawyer, you are responsible for ensuring that your company's I.P. rights are protected. The same case applies to competitor products. No one wants to be caught infringing on the I.P. of another company. The financial damages are often too big, even for well-established companies.
I.P. rights are not just limited to hardware. There are a lot of considerations for software as well. Companies ship lots of software products every day that need the input of computer lawyers to ensure they comply with intellectual property rights.
Computer lawyers spend much of their time filing for patents, trademarks, and copyrights. They also need to defend I.P. from infringement or defend their companies from unlawful businesses that try to take advantage of illegal copyrights.
When you go online, there are a ton of messages and communications that goes back and forth between different people. Lots of transactions are also carried out online, unlike the old days where you had to visit a store to buy stuff physically. Nowadays, many third-party marketing companies sell different products online using client information. There has always been debate as to the liability of these companies to clients.
Governments all over the world demand certain information that tech giants like Google and Facebook have. Such companies usually find themselves in crosswinds between the government and their clients. Computer lawyers, therefore, need to understand all the privacy laws to handle court and government requests for client information.
Another area that is coming up with computers is cybercrime. Every day, malicious people all over the world use computers to steal money and personal information. While most of these crimes target individuals, others target organizations as well as governments.
Criminals use just about anything to scam unsuspecting Internet users out of their hard-earned cash. Others use computers to facilitate crime from the comfort of their screens at home. Since computers have made things more comfortable, they have also made crime easier.
Computer lawyers have to be several steps ahead when dealing with computer crimes. They help formulate laws and regulations that help identify and mitigate computer crimes. Prosecutors who have a history of computer law are more adept in prosecuting computer criminals compared to those without any background. At the same time, computer attorneys defend people charged with committing computer crimes.
Every government has a set of rules and regulations that governs its telecommunications industry. It has been the case since the time AM radio came on the scene. The laws and regulations govern how companies use bandwidth, manufacture telecommunication equipment, privacy, market share, among many others.
Computer lawyers help companies navigate through these telecommunication laws. Attorneys ensure that telecommunication providers keep all the rules in check and adhere to the regulations. Computer lawyers also help whenever there is a litigation against the company for breach of any telecommunication law or regulation.
One of the areas that computer law is disrupting is the Constitution. There are a lot of areas where the First Amendment comes into play. One of those is freedom of speech. In a place where there is the comfort of anonymity, people can say anything they want. The limits of freedom of expression are always up for debate when it comes to the Internet.
Another area where constitutional law and computer law converge is in search and seizure. There are cases where the court has to determine when law enforcement can conduct searches on a computer or other electronic devices. Law enforcement agencies tend to believe they have a right to access information on computers or electronic devices without needing warrants. It is the work of computer lawyers to keep the government in check during such cases.
Why Should I Become a Computer Lawyer?
Without a doubt, computers have become the most significant invention after the wheel. They have revolutionized the way we conduct business, social matters, and also the way we transact with the corporate and government sectors. When done right, computers bring a lot of positives. However, they are also a conduit for criminals and lawbreakers. Computer lawyers have the privilege of determining the regulations that touch on computers and the Internet.
It is one of the fastest-growing and most challenging fields in law that requires out-of-the-box thinking and strategy. Computer lawyers formulate, enforce, and protect laws that govern computers and electronic data. They are at the helm of a fast-paced industry that controls the world.
One of the highlights of practicing computer law is ever-changing laws and cases. It is one of the most distinct fields of law. Computer law is always growing and evolving. It doesn't matter whether you are working in government or the corporate world. The work is not only limited to representing individuals, companies, and governments but also lobbying and coming up with ways to implement policies plus many other practice areas covered by computer law.
Besides the uniqueness, there is also the potential for making lots of money. If you have been following litigations regarding privacy breaches or copyright and I.P. issues, you will note the millions of dollars involved. Computer law is one of the best-paying jobs when you are attached to a high-profile case involving millions or even billions of dollars.
Education and Training for Computer Lawyers
Have you dreamed of becoming a computer attorney in the United States? It's a pretty straightforward process. You first need to complete an undergraduate degree, get a law degree, and take and pass your bar exam before getting a license to practice. The following are steps you need to follow to get your license to practice computer law.
No. 1: Enroll for Your Undergraduate Law Degree (LL.B)
The first requirement to practice as an attorney is to have a law degree. It usually takes at least three to four years to finish your undergraduate course. Some of the most common pre-law majors for law students are Journalism, Business, Philosophy, and Political Science.
No. 2: Sit for Your Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
LSATs are necessary for enrolling in any law school. It tests your competence for the law course. There are five sections with multiple choice questions plus a written exam. Once you pass your LSAT, you can proceed to the next level.
No. 3: Apply to a Law School
The next step after getting your LSAT is applying to a law school. An LL.B degree is a precursor to getting into a law school. You may need more than just a good LSAT score and an LL.B degree to get into a law school in or out of state. Some of the most common requirements include letters of recommendation, community service, affiliations, plus others.
Getting into the Best Law School
- Get into an American Bar Association-certified school.
- Go through the school's curriculum before applying.
- Confirm whether the school meets both your career and educational requirements.
- Check the school's library and research facilities.
- Look up the faculty to see their qualifications, experience as well as alumni recommendations.
No. 4: Advance Your Law Degree
The highest degree you can get in law is a Juris Doctor degree. It is recognized everywhere in the States and is usually the last step in becoming an accomplished and respected lawyer. There are hundreds of ABA-approved schools that offer a Juris Doctor degree. A Juris Doctor degree typically takes around three years to complete.
Shop around for a school with the best facilities and faculty.
No. 5: Sit for your Bar Exams
Bar exams are essential in getting your practice license. Almost all states require you to pass bar exams before you obtain a license to practice in that state after graduating from an ABA-approved law school.
It will take you close to seven years to finish your undergraduate LL.B, then law school, and all other exams to fully qualify as a computer lawyer. You can also add a couple of years of practice to get the right experience from an established law firm or organization.
Top skills for a computer lawyer
Just like other careers or fields in law, some skills give you an edge over other lawyers. These include:
- Great oral skills
- Analytical and rational thinking
- Excellent writing skill
- Technological proficiency and know-how
- Knowledge of computer laws and legislature
- Legal research
Practicing as a Computer Lawyer
There are a lot of avenues for practicing as a computer lawyer. Every transaction that involves a computer has something to do with a contract, intellectual property rights, privacy laws, tort, government regulations, and legislation, among many others. All these require the services of an attorney. It doesn't matter whether you are working for the government or the corporate sector. Computer attorneys work in so many situations and fields of endeavor.
Besides governments and institutions, individuals also need computer lawyers. A computer lawyer can enter either private practice or get employment with organizations, institutions, and even governments to provide legal services.
Although a legal career in computers is fraught with challenges, it gratifies the attorneys who practice computer law. Lawyers who love everything about tech will find themselves at home. Computer attorneys have an opportunity to contribute to the changes in computer law even as technology progresses. They can influence laws and be at the forefront of implementing them or defending clients from abuse of computer laws by the government or law enforcement.
Job Outlook and Salary
One of the things that makes a career in computer law promising is the fact that demand for computer lawyers will endure. There are lots of privacy and I.P. rights cases going around that there aren't enough attorneys around to meet the demand.
Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that there is a growing need for all types of lawyers. There is an increasing demand for seasoned computer lawyers who can handle high-profile cases. If you want to stand out in the competitive field of law, computer law is a great place to practice.
The salary of computer lawyers is also quite good. Their median salary is about $114,000. There is a noticeable salary difference between lawyers who work for the government and those in the private sector. Experience also plays a crucial role in determining the salary of a computer attorney. The same case applies to the state where you practice. Some states have higher wages than others.
The best employers for computer lawyers remain telecommunication companies as well as law firms. There are tons of lawsuits that involve telecommunication companies. The corporations also face lots of I.P.-related cases, making them an easy target for competitors and unscrupulous companies that steal I.P.
Advancing Your Career in Computer Law
Immediately after graduating, the best course for a new computer lawyer is to join a law firm as an associate. Working with others is the best way to gain valuable experience from experienced lawyers. The other alternative is to work as a law court clerk. After a couple of years working in a law firm, depending on how aggressive you are, you can rise through the ranks to become a partner. If that doesn't appeal to you, you can venture into private practice by opening a law firm.
Besides working in a law firm, corporation, or for the state, you can also further your studies and get into academia. The first step is getting a Masters of Law degree (LL.M), which should be followed by a Doctors of Philosophy Degree (Ph.D.). Having both of these degrees will allow you to teach in law school or contribute to research that touches on computer law.
Just as is the case with other careers, there is steep competition in law. Hundreds of thousands of students graduate every year with law degrees. You have to put a lot of effort to stand out from the sea of attorneys.
Pursuing a career in computer law is both exciting and challenging. It is one of those paths that require you to keep abreast of the latest technological changes as well as new legislation that touches on technology. It also requires strong analytical and critical thinking skills. However, the rewards are nothing short of impressive.
The salary for accomplished computer law attorneys is lucrative. There is also a high demand for great law companies at both the government and corporate levels. If you are looking for a challenging and exciting career path in law, computer law is one.