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Why the Tech “Trail” is Important for Attorneys

Three Reasons
First, because a series of studies demonstrates that, for every high technology position, there are created five additional, non-technology jobs.  These can be support positions that range across a wide variety of professions and occupations, including law.

Second, the “cluster effect.”  The Fall 2005 edition of Current Issues in Technology Management defines a technology cluster this way: “a geographical concentration of related technology firms including competitors, suppliers, distributors, and customers; usually around scientific research centers and universities.”

Technology companies tend to locate near one another. This is, in part, due to a desire to benefit from the synergistic and incremental nature of technology innovation.  Perhaps more important, one of the strongest state and local economic development and business attraction phenomena over the last two decades has been the purposeful creation of technology clusters, regions where government encourages the clustering of high-tech firms through tax and training incentives and regulatory concessions.

The first technology clusters emerged without much government incentivizing in places like Silicon Valley in Northern California and the Route 128 partial ring road around Boston.  Governments became interested when they observed the job-creation and increased tax revenue possibilities that these early clusters generated.

Today, there are few regions without a technology cluster program in place.  The most prominent and successful clusters include:

Silicon Valley, CA
Route 128 Corridor, MA
Northern Virginia Technology Consortium
Colorado Convergence Corridor
Silicon Alley, TX
Princeton Region, NJ

As the tech cluster notion matures, there are an increasing number of very specific clusters emerging where firms concentrated in one hi-tech area congregate.  A good example is photonics.  U.S. photonics clusters include:

Carolinas Photonics Consortium
Colorado Photonics Industry Association
Florida Photonics Cluster
Rochester (NY) Regional Photonics Cluster, Inc.

Third, lower “critical mass” when it comes to a hi-tech startup hiring in-house counsel.  The complexity surrounding technology innovation generally means that the law comes into play as a crucial business component much earlier in a company’s life cycle than might otherwise be the case.  Intellectual property protection and transactional negotiation and documentation are central to hi-tech, startup success and, frequently, engaging outside counsel is inadequate to the day-to-day business strategizing and other tasks in which attorneys must be involved.

The Law-Technology Gap   
One of the most important functions that hi-tech company lawyers perform is filling the void in what I call the “law-technology gap,” the ability of technological innovation to leapfrog the ability of law to regulate it.  Examples abound all around us, from combination medical products that combine drug therapies with medical devices, http://www.fda.gov to the cascade of new telecommunications technologies that emerge continuously and leap far ahead of the regulatory scrutiny of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. http://www.fcc.gov.

How You Might Fit
While it decidedly boosts your chances of landing a job to have an intellectual property background or training, it is not always essential.  Transactional lawyers who lack any IP education or experience are in demand, as are attorneys with good business law experience and judgment.  In addition, because licensing is such a central business element for hi-tech firms, attorneys with licensing knowledge or experience are also sought.

Employers are not limited to hi-tech companies. Outside law firms of all sizes, colleges and universities, federal laboratories with technology transfer programs, and government regulators are also worthy employers.