Announcing ‘Tech Edge JD,’ a Major New Innovation in High Tech Legal Education

Santa Clara Law recently announced the launch of a new certificate, the Tech Edge JD (abbreviated TEJD). The first cohort of TEJD students will start Fall 2018, and we are now accepting applications for the program. See the program’s website.

We believe this certificate differs from every other law school certificate in the country in significant ways, so we consider this is a major innovation in law school education. Why am I so high on it?

Most law school certificates measure student progress by courses completed (plus sometimes a writing requirement). This certificate takes a very different approach. Instead of focusing on courses completed, the TEJD certificate requires students to achieve certain knowledge or skill milestones, whether that’s done via courses, externships or clerkships (we require 2 semesters plus a semester of our Entrepreneurs’ Law Clinic), or even extracurricular activities. Delinking the certificate’s milestones from course completion solves several problems: (1) it overcomes the scarcity of students’ discretionary units (which are shrinking as accreditation requirements become more detailed), because students often have too few discretionary units to complete everything they want to accomplish in law school, (2) it reduces the impact of variations in how teachers teach courses (both between different teachers and a teacher’s changes from year to year), and (3) the certification communicates more than just students’ completion of courses; it signals the students’ actual development of knowledge and skills that employers want and that makes professionals more valuable.

The TEJD certificate milestones reflect the things technology law and business professionals in the Silicon Valley are expected to know or have experienced. I’ve heard some people describe it as a “mini-MBA,” though more precisely, the milestones help students grasp Silicon Valley’s “secret sauce.” While most TEJD students will choose to work in the Silicon Valley, we think TEJD certificate students will appeal to employers everywhere—both because of the milestones’ generalizable nature, and because many employers outside the Silicon Valley would eagerly welcome people who understand the secret sauce.

To complete the many milestones while completing all of the standard JD and pre-Bar requirements, TEJD students will have to work harder than other law school students. This has three implications: (1) effectively we motivate students to invest even more effort in their professional development during law school, (2) students who volunteer for extra work signal valuable information to employers, and (3) students who are organized enough to complete the certificate’s multitudinous requirements also signal valuable information to employers.

TEJD students will have a support team to help them complete the program’s requirements. First, every TEJD student will have a faculty or staff advisor who will counsel the student and help the student figure out how to tackle each milestone. Second, each student will be assigned two professional mentors, such as alumni or local practitioners, to provide additional perspectives and help integrate the student into the professional community. While other programs have mentorship or advisory programs, we think a system with an advisor + 2 mentors approach is among the most robust advisory programs in any law school.

Another major differentiator is that we’ll start working with TEJD students as soon as they are admitted. Then, during the 0L summer, we’ll have a group summer orientation to do some professional development and team-building. Also during the summer, the advisors and mentors will work with TEJD students to help each student develop a personal career plan. For many students, this will be the first time they have tried to formally articulate their professional development goals. We’re hoping that goal-setting at the outset of the students’ law school careers will help the students maximize the full value of their three years of law school.

In a sense, the program provides a “fast lane” for students who already know coming into law school that they want to become Silicon Valley legal “specialists.” As a law school, we think we can take students further towards their professional goals if they get started earlier.

With the assistance of many of my personal friends and long-time professional colleagues, I helped develop TEJD during my 2 years of partial leave from the law school from 2015-17. We got faculty approval in March 2017. My colleague Prof. Laura Norris has been appointed as the program’s Faculty Director. Prof. Norris is already a proven program-builder because she founded our Entrepreneurs’ Law Clinic from the ground up a few years ago. To assist Prof. Norris with the launch and ramp-up phases, I will be the program’s Assistant Director.

You can help the TEJD students in several ways, including offering campus tours or shadow days, sponsoring externships or clerkships, and acting as a mentor. If you would like to discuss those opportunities, please contact me. If you know of any prospective law students who might be interested in this program, we’d be grateful for your referrals.