From clinical student to clinical instructor
Kendra Albert shares their Cyberlaw Clinic story
The 2019–2020 academic year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Cyberlaw Clinic, which is based at the Berkman Klein Center. To commemorate the occasion, we spoke with Kendra Albert (Harvard Law J.D. ‘16), clinical instructor in the Cyberlaw Clinic and former student in the Clinic about their takeaways from that experience, their current work, and what they’re the proudest of in their time at the Clinic.
Responses have been edited for clarity.
When you were a student at the Cyberlaw Clinic, what projects did you work on and who did you work on them with?
Vivek Krishnamurthy was my supervisor and I worked on a project for him related to computer security and rolling out changes to the clinical IT system at HLS. I also did some work for a tech policy NGO hacking back and computer security. And then I did some trademark work with Andy Sellars. All of those things were fun, and it was a really interesting mix of things. The clinical IT project was internal advising, thinking about how the university should handle things. And then the other work was for real-life clients, which was exciting.
I think I also learned about section 1101 of the Copyright Act and the Beijing Treaty, which is the anti-bootlegging statute — which basically, I think that my takeaway was, no one’s ever heard of this and that’s probably good. Because if they’d had, lots of people would sue with it. So that was a valuable lesson into maybe you don’t need to teach people more about any particular thing. Maybe it’s just good that sometimes people don’t know a ton about it. But now I’m talking about it. So, oops.
What were your main takeaways from working in the Clinic, in terms of your career trajectory?
I worked for the Clinic spring of my 3L year, so by then, I was pretty certain of what I wanted to do. But it was valuable to have the opportunity to do real legal work for clients. And so I think the projects that resonated with me the most when I was working in the Clinic were the ones where it’s like, “Okay, this real client needs this real thing involving trademark or so on and so forth.” That’s something I take into my work with students now — the unique opportunity of clinics is to take things out of the research, academic thinking and to, “Okay, this client needs this real thing.”
And so I actually err, maybe even more so than the other supervisors in the Clinic right now, towards focusing on projects where the person has a particular legal need rather than more broad research or policy projects. Because I know that as a student that was something that was really important to me. And student investment in the work is quite different when it’s, “Oh, I need to answer legal questions because I need to figure out what I need to do next,” rather than, “Well let’s blue-sky think about how we should approach this entire field.”
I’m continually trying to find ways to give my students now those direct client experiences that allow them to have that same reaction. Which is, “I can actually help people solve problems,” rather than, “This is an academic exercise.” I think that’s what’s special about the Clinic as opposed to other parts of the Law School — is that you have the opportunity to both do focused technology law work, and to serve clients who have particular legal needs.
How did working in the Clinic help you to kind of come full circle, back to working at the Clinic as a Clinical Instructor?
I certainly think my application for being a clinical instructor was a better sell having been in the Clinic, and knowing Chris [Bavitz], and Vivek [Krishnamurthy] and the rest of the team. I also think my time in the Clinic inspired me to think that, oh, this is something I could be — a supervisor, I could do this. It wasn’t that long before I came back! It was maybe a year and a half between when I was a clinical student and when I started teaching. That was only possible because I had a significant amount of technology law experience before I took the Clinic.
So I think that that experience of being in the Clinic, and learning about how the Clinic functions, and what the expectations are, and what the Clinic was trying to do, did mean that when the clinic job opened up, I was really excited about it. And it ended up being a fantastic fit so that worked out really well.
What is your area of focus and what do you work on with your students?
I’ve stolen my former boss’s phrase — I’m a militant generalist. I do a little bit of everything. That’s actually part of what I like about the job, sometimes you’re an hour and a half ahead of the students. And that’s how real lawyering is a lot. Something comes in, and you have to figure out how to do it because you’ve never done it before.
In terms of my specific area of focus, I really like to work on things that are technically complicated. So I do a lot of work with computer security for clients like Voting Village. I do a lot of work with software preservation for folks like the Software Preservation Network. Both of those are areas where there are technical details and they matter. It turns out, actually, a bunch of the same law applies to those two things. But even independent of that, I really like getting into the weeds and the nitty-gritty of how the factual details work.
Fact-specific stuff is where I really feel like I excel and it’s a great opportunity for the students. They can do that work for the first time, or one of the first times, in a space that’s a little safer than your first job out of law school, or even a summer job where you’re hoping to get an offer or you want to come back to the organization. So I see my job as getting folks comfortable with the idea that they have to become subject matter experts, not just on the legal research, but also on the case, the underlying facts, the entire area.
I also do a bit of First Amendment work across a whole variety of different things. Everything from Freedom of Information Act work to representing an individual using a pseudonym who gets subpoenaed for their information. And that’s actually something I started doing. I was interested in it in law school and did an independent clinical where I worked at Public Citizen with Paul Alan Levy, and that’s a significant part of what he does.
My areas of focus are pretty broad, but so are the substantive set of skills I practice. Many lawyers sort of pick between transactional work or litigation, but instead, as a militant generalist — I do a little bit of everything. I don’t spend a lot of time in court though. Almost all of my litigation work is defense side pre-litigation counseling. So people often ask if I end up in court and the answer is hopefully not. (Knock on wood!) Because usually, that would mean that something’s gone wrong for my clients. But if someone receives a cease and desist letter, we’ll help them figure out how to respond. That’s what I focus on and work on.
Thinking about your tenure at the Clinic, from a student to now, what are you the proudest of?
The easy answer would be “I’m proud of this particular work product or whatever.” But honestly the thing I’m most proud of as a clinician is being able to get better at working with and learning from students. I think so much of being a clinician — and what I really appreciated — is we get the opportunity to start over every three months with a new crop of students and try new things. I think my practice as a clinician has gotten much, much better in terms of supporting students. There’s this concept called “support and challenge,” which is that you both want to support students who are doing something new but also challenge them. And I think I’ve gotten much better at balancing those things, as I’ve done it more.
I think the thing that I’m most proud of is the experience we can provide to students and watching them get excited about doing real legal work that helps solve people’s problems, rather than more abstract or academic work. And I think that’s a really important part of what the Clinic brings to the technology law space at HLS and also to Berkman Klein.