Why Pre-law? Why at WPI?
There are lots of reasons to think about a career in law. And there are a lot of roles for lawyers. Lawyers are lawgivers - they assist in writing the rules that govern society. Lawyers are facilitators - they help people and businesses achieve their own goals by explaining the laws and by negotiating contracts. And lawyers excel in conflict resolution - whether by trial or negotiated settlements, lawyers are resolving conflicts that arise in business settings, in families, in employment, in housing and the list goes on and on.
In a complex society like ours, lawyers are found everywhere. They work in governmental agencies to guide their decisions. They lobby for interest groups who are trying to influence government. They work for cities and towns to find ways to preserve open space or provide affordable housing. They work as prosecutors to ensure public safety. In corporations, lawyers work to ensure compliance with environmental laws and employment regulations, or they may guide a stock issuance or a business merger. And of course, they work in law firms, assisting the public when accidents happen, when products harm a user, when people seek help with all manner of grievances.
So why study pre-law at WPI? Because students trained as scientists and engineers can find rewarding careers where law and technology meet. Intellectual property law creates rights in technology. Environmental law specifies methods for handling hazardous wastes. Telecommunications law controls access to radio frequencies used by satellites or cell phones. Drug law defines the testing protocols to be followed before a new drug is deemed to be safe. And new technologies are always stimulating changes in the law as we try to reap their benefits, yet control their potential harm.
Careers in Technology Law
WPI grads have a special advantage as lawyers. Science and engineering students make up a very small portion of those who apply to law school each year. For example in 2001, less than 2% of law school applicants specified a major in Biology, 0.6% listed Chemistry, 0.2% listed Physics, and 0.3% identified their major as Computer Science (Law School Admissions Council data published by NAPLA, 2002).
Law schools don't really judge applicants by their major and they accept students with all sorts of majors. But in some areas of law, those with an undergraduate education in science or engineering are at a distinct advantage! For example, to practice in the patent bar, one must have an undergraduate degree in science or technology. Some environmental lawyers have degrees in public policy, but with a background in environmental science, a lawyer can effectively communicate with air chemists and represent them in formulating air quality standards. A lawyer with a background in biochemistry is better prepared to represent a client who suffers an adverse reaction from a pharmaceutical. A lawyer who studied computer networking is in a better position to defend a bank when a customer claims that security measures were inadequate to protect that customer's account information.
As technology advances and penetrates every aspect of our lives, the need for technically trained lawyers easily outpaces the supply. The supply of attorneys trained in intellectual property law (patent, trademark, copyright), in particular, is never adequate to meet the need. In fact, a small number of Intellectual Property Law firms pay their technically trained employees to go to law school!