Founded in 1999, the first-of-its-kind clinical program based at the Berkman Klein Center celebrates two decades of perpetual adaptation reports Harvard Law Today.

It was 1999 and the dot-com bubble was about to burst. Corporations were scrambling to address new legal challenges online. Napster was testing the music industry. And at Harvard Law School, what is currently known as the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society was creating a clinical teaching program specializing in cyberlaw.

This clinical program, initially formed for a handful of students from Jonathan Zittrain’s Internet Law class, became the foundation of the Cyberlaw Clinic. It was the first of its kind, and the 2019–2020 academic year marks its 20th anniversary.

Credit: Phil FarnsworthThe early days-circa 1999:  The Berkman Center for Internet & Society began as a seminar in the late 1990s. “People who knew something talked together, totally informally,” recalled Professor Charles Nesson ’63, in an interview in the Summer 1999 issue of the Harvard Law Bulletin. That first cohort included Jonathan Zittrain ’95 and Lawrence Lessig, now the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, soon joined by the likes of Wendy Seltzer ’99 (far left), now strategy lead and counsel to the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT; Chris Kelly (not pictured), formerly Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, now an investor; and Alexander MacGillivray ’00 (far right), who served as general counsel of Twitter and later as deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer during the Obama Administration.

“As public interest technology became a more and more important theme in our society, it became clear that we needed to be training lawyers to do this important work. Nobody else was doing it, and I think it was really one of the most important things that the Berkman Klein Center did in its early days because it really did help to support a growing area of practice,” says John Palfrey ’01, then-executive director of the Berkman Klein Center and current president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “People who have been trained in the clinic have now gone on to extremely important roles in private practice, in governments, in non-profit practice. And we’re really super excited to see how it’s grown and evolved over 20 years, which seems impossible, but it’s true.”

Jonathan Zittrain teaching

Initially formed for a handful of students from an Internet Law class taught by Jonathan Zittrain (pictured here in 2007), a burgeoning clinical teaching program focusing on cyberlaw officially grew to become the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Klein Center.

The clinic provides high-quality, pro bono legal services to clients on issues relating to the internet, technology, and intellectual property. Students earn course credit by working on real-world litigation, client counseling, advocacy, and contractual projects under the supervision of experienced attorneys.

Over the past two decades, students have supported clients on issues such as copyright, online speech, litigation, intellectual property, privacy, online safety, free speech and media law, digital civil liberties, government innovation, communications infrastructure, regulatory compliance, and more.


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