Brave New Legal Word

by Anton Zuiker

The Internet since last year has seemed like a saloon poker game in a wild, lawless frontier; if you invested in technology stocks in 2000, you might even feel you lost the hand just as a barroom brawl broke out.

But while the NASDAQ stumbled and lurched, a group of law students at Case Western Reserve University quietly brought law to cyberspace, creating a rich web site called The Internet Law Journal. The new economy, they figured, would need lawyers, and those lawyers would need to know how the laws of intellectual property, commerce, business and crime would apply to the Internet. The Internet Law Journal, at www.tilj.com, gives Case law students a forum for publishing legal news and analysis that wouldn’t otherwise make it into the traditional Law Review. Such analysis – covering e-mail privacy to cyber-divorce to online prescription drug sales – is a welcome counterweight to the oftentimes airy predictions of technological innovation.

The Internet Law Journal was the first of its kind when it went live on the World Wide Web in November 1999. It was the product of a year of coalescing a core group of student editors, seven months of planning and a bit of persuading law school deans that this was a serious and lasting endeavor. The outcome is an online law journal written for the business and legal communities, written so “you don’t need a dirty rotten lawyer to understand it,” says founder Chris Gerstle.

As a law student at CWRU in 1997, Gerstle was determined to become an Internet lawyer. In the mid-Nineties, he had graduated from The Cooper Union in New York City and started his own Internet company, designing web sites for small businesses. The time was ripe, of course, but Gerstle got a bitter taste nonetheless. “I kept running into lawyers who didn’t have a clue about what I was selling our clients, our mutual clients. So I went to law school to become an Internet lawyer.” He parlayed that interest – and $10,000 on his personal Visa card – into the pioneering Journal.

“The question I ask,” says Michele Kryszak, the current editor in chief of the journal, “is whether my mother could read this and understand it.” Kryszak’s mother happens to be an Internet entrepreneur who owns a Michigan sports card store and has become a successful seller on the online auction site eBay (her eBay ID number is 4069). “I talk to her about taxation,” says Kryszak, a student in CWRU’s joint business-law program. Go to the e-commerce section of the Internet Law Journal and you’ll find a comprehensive but easy-to-read guide laying out the evolving issues of Internet taxation as well as updates about the current U.S. moratorium on Internet taxes.

What’s remarkable about the Internet Law Journal is how pertinent it is to anyone using the Internet today. From litigation to intellectual property to electronic commerce to privacy, you’ll find important news and the relevant online sources to help you understand the evolving rules of cyberspace. Even if you use the Internet simply to send and receive e-mail, you’ll want to read the journal – if only to keep tabs on how your messages may be used against you in a court of law.

The authors of the Internet Law Journal are some 39 Case law students. Soon, 32 additional law students from Emory and Columbia universities will join in, says Gerstle, who still manages the development of the site, from Manhattan, as executive editor. He’s had numerous students contact him to talk about his foray into Internet law. When Gerstle started at Case, the law school had no courses dedicated to law and the Internet, and the Law Review was publishing only one article relating to the new technology. Now, say law professors Andrew Morriss and Hiram Chodosh, Internet technology issues are being infused into the school’s curriculum.

In developing the curriculum, says Chodosh, director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center, “we look at how to attract excellent students, how to train them well, and how to enhance their job prospects once they’re done with us.” The school has added 10 cyberlaw courses over the last three years, and other traditional law courses include discussions of current developments relating to the Internet. Last month, the school announced the appointment of Craig Nard, a leading voice in the field of intellectual property and patent law. Nard will join the faculty in January 2002 and head a new Center on Law, Technology and the Arts. Another new faculty appointment is expected soon, this one an electronic commerce expert. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us,” says Gerald Korngold, dean of the law school. “The Center will be a focal point of the school, and will have an innovative array of courses and research into how law is facilitating technology today.”

Law firms have already been calling the school’s faculty asking for names of students with technology knowledge. “Chris [Gerstle] is a good example of how hot – on the job market – people with technology experience are,” says Morriss, associate dean for academic affairs and Galen J. Roush Professor of Business Law and Regulation. Two other Case students will shortly join the Cleveland firm of Ulmer & Berne, says Michael Stovsky. One will join Stovsky in the firm’s e-Law Group, and the other will bring technology knowledge to the litigation department. “Both will be able to hit the ground running, which was the impetus for the school’s cyberlaw courses,” says Stovsky, who teaches Representing Internet Start-up Companies as an adjunct professor.

“I think students are interested in cyberlaw because law firms are interested,” says Gerstle. “And law firms are doing Internet law because their clients want it.” Those students involved in the Internet Law Journal, says Gerstle, are often quickly asked in interviews to talk about the experience. To nurture these conversations, the Internet Law Journal teamed up with the law school’s career services office to host a national job fair last September specifically for law firms recruiting Internet-savvy lawyers. This, too, was the first of its kind, says Susan Seliga, assistant dean for career services. Seventy-six students from 34 schools across the country attended, and they interviewed with about a dozen firms. A few students got their jobs because of that fair.

The online journal, too, gets a good showing. The site receives 100,000 to 200,000 hits each month, which translates to about 10,000 unique users visiting the site. And 15 percent of those are from countries other than the U.S.

Kryszak and her staff currently update the site once per month, but with Columbia and Emory joining, she expects they’ll be able to post new articles every other week. Students typically spend six to ten hours researching and writing their articles, and many students expand their articles into the legal issue “note” that they’re required to write before graduation. (The online journal shouldn’t be construed as legal advice, say Gerstle and Kryszak; law students, since they’ve not yet passed a bar exam, are not allowed to give legal advice.)

“I’m 40,” says Dean Morriss, “but I feel old. One of my kids once came home and said her teacher had played a round black thing with a hole – a record.” His law students are another reminder of the changes in technology. “The main gauge I have is the number of students with laptop computers who want to take their exams on their computers,” says Morriss. Seventy-five of 210 students took cyber-exams last year, up from 50 the previous year and 25 in 1998. And, says Morriss, it’s inevitable that these students will insist that their workplaces use technology and offer technological solutions for solving problems.

Back in 1998, when Gerstle was pounding the pavement in New York looking to capitalize on his interest in the Internet, one lawyer told him the Internet was a fad like Rollerblades. In 2000, with his resume reflecting the birth of the Internet Law Journal, he approached the Manhattan firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene and MacRae and demanded a practice in Internet commerce and emerging economies. Demanded?

“I had a hard time finding a firm that would allow me to consume myself with Internet law,” he says. “But I pride myself on being a pain in the butt, so I interviewed saying ‘I want to do Internet law. Do you have enough work for me?’”

Poker face or no, Gerstle got the job. And because of Gerstle and the Case law school, the Internet is far from a riotous boomtown.

Brave New Legal World Northern Ohio Live Magazine, February 2001

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