How to Get a Job in Tech Policy: Corporate Lawyering

Foundry Fellow Brian Focarino on what brought him to Cooley LLP

Name: Brian Focarino
Location: Palo Alto, CA
Day Job: Associate, Cooley LLP
Twitter: @bjfocarino

How did you first get interested in tech law/policy?
I think what really defines my generation from my parents’ is technology, and if I was going to practice law, which I’ve always had a desire to, I wanted my practice to recognize and incorporate that technological aspect.

What do you do in your current position and what do you like most about it?
I work with startups, high growth companies, entrepreneurs, and established icons in the areas of trademark, copyright and advertising law. I love my practice because it’s global, hands-on and challenging. My clients are heavily tech and Internet-based, with business models that push at the frontiers of established industries. Because of that, their legal issues often push at the frontiers of established law. It makes coming into work every day fun.

What was the most useful class you took and/or internship you had to prepare yourself for the work you do now?
Being a legal intern at Google, working with digital media law specifically, reinforced my desire to practice at the frontiers of law. I became deeply interested in how technology informs, advances, and muddies long-held notions of ownership, authorship, and inventorship.

What challenges have you faced in your career so far?
Striking the right balance between between old laws and new technologies is a constant — and ever-changing — effort. The old adage — “it’s probably been done before” — may not apply. Often times clients will be doing things that have never been done before, and there’s a lot of extrapolation that must take place to map current (which is to say, already dated) law onto modern technology. The “challenge” comes in taking on managed risks, and understanding how courts or legislatures are likely to react. Answering some questions requires lawyering in the past, present and future.

What advice do you have for college/grad students and other people interested in pursuing tech law/policy careers? Any “out of the box” tips?
Show, don’t tell. Recruiters shouldn’t have to read your cover letter to find out what you’re interested in.

Aside from your job and the Foundry, how else do you engage with tech law/policy?
Wait — there are things aside from my job and the Foundry? In all seriousness, though, I read a lot and write a lot, sometimes about technology law.

What do you see as some of the most exciting topics in tech right now/in the near future?
99.8% of the world’s data was created in the last two years. Civilization itself is about 6,000 years old. How we treat, whether we generate, if we abuse, if we lose control over, how we own and how we harness the explosion of data are the most interesting questions in tech law and policy for me right now, and I predict will remain unsolved well into the future.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What are your long term career goals, if any?
Every now and then I take a step back and ask myself: am I happy and challenged? Do I feel healthy and fulfilled? Recognizing that what makes you happy can change over time, I think, is one of the most important conclusions you can reach, and the earlier you reach it, the better. I could see myself doing a lot of different things in 10 years, but what makes me happy and brings me satisfaction and fulfillment throughout my career could (and should) change. I always thought when I was younger that I’d love being a judge someday. That still sounds pretty fun.

What’s something about you that doesn’t show up in your Foundry profile? 
Despite being involved in tech law and policy, I still think the most meaningful moments are when we unplug from technology altogether. In today’s “always on” world, unplugging completely can feel a little irresponsible. I try to make time for it as often as possible — on vacations, with loved ones — it’s a rush. And it’s worth it.

How do you think tech law/policy will change in the next 5–10 years?
My prediction is that “tech” itself will cease to be treated as separate and apart from everything else, and become more seamlessly incorporated into preexisting structures, roles, and norms. As such, there won’t be a “education technology policy” — there will only be “education policy.”

Who is your tech law/policy hero?
Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, for his thinking and writing about technology and its relationship to prosperity and inequality.

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