Sunday, August 26, 2001 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific

Job Market
More lawyers enter cyberspace

By Jenni Bergal
Knight Ridder Newspapers

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — When Robert Kain graduated from Vanderbilt Law School in 1978, he never dreamed he'd practice computer law.
But today Kain is one of a growing number of attorneys who specialize in "cyberlaw," dealing with the Internet. Cyberlaw can encompass everything from domain-name protection to defamation to the digital distribution of music.

"No one knew what cyber meant when I graduated. I never imagined it would be like this," said Kain, a registered patent attorney who practices in Fort Lauderdale and specializes in intellectual property, which involves trademarks and copyrights.

Attorneys such as Kain have flocked to cyberlaw because they realize that traditional specialties, such as intellectual property, contracts or corporate law, need to keep pace with changes in technology.

Much of cyberlaw deals with commercial transactions negotiated through the Internet.

Many law schools have begun offering computer-law courses, and students are lining up to take them.

Harvard Law School, for example, has its own cyberlaw research center, which studies issues ranging from privacy to antitrust to e-commerce.

Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law professor who teaches a course called Internet and Society, said student response has been overwhelming.

"We started with about 25 students in 1997. This fall, there are several hundred on the wait list," Zittrain said.

Betty Taylor, who teaches a seminar on computers and the law at the University of Florida, has seen the same degree of interest at her school. Her class touches on everything from copyright to identity theft to privacy issues. "Students find it fascinating."

Computer law is "very popular because everyone is working on the Internet," said cyberlaw attorney Bruce Fischman of Miami.

Fischman said this new breed of law is challenging because the Internet is global and largely unregulated. No one country's legal system can govern commerce on the Web. And Internet-related case law or legal precedent seems to be evolving constantly.

"It's sort of the old Wild West," Fischman said. "We try to tame it."

Ed Mullins, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and defamation cyberlaw in Miami, said computer law is permanently altering his profession.

"I think every attorney will be changed by the Internet, because their clients are on the Internet and are affected by it," Mullins said.

"Who else are they going to come to with their legal problems?"

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company