Berkman Center lawyer to run new cyberlaw clinic for BU, MIT students

The BU Law School tower, center.
The BU Law School tower, center.

MIT and Boston University are bolstering their partnership that gives legal advice to entrepreneurs and high-tech researchers.

First Amendment and technology law expert Andy Sellars has been hired to direct BU’s new Technology and Cyberlaw Clinic. Sellars previously worked at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

The new clinic is part of a broader effort to link BU’s law program with projects and businesses that emerge from students at MIT and BU.

Last year, the two schools established an Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property Clinic to help student entrepreneurs deal with legal trouble or work through common legal questions, such as how to incorporate a business and protect their intellectual property.

The new Technology and Cyberlaw Clinic will help students tackle regulatory and legal hurdles that might trip up their cutting-edge research projects — something that MIT students in particular have run into before.

Last year, an MIT student settled with New Jersey regulators after the state accused him of violating computer privacy laws. The student had developed experimental software that would use some of a website visitor’s processing power to “mine” for bitcoin, the digital alternative currency.

In 2008, the MBTA sued three MIT students who said they had discovered security flaws in T passes that could provide riders with “free rides for life.” A federal judge stopped the students from presenting their academic paper at a security conference, a move that riled up civil liberties and free speech advocates.

Worries about legal problems have become more prominent for researchers over the past 20 years or so, Sellars said, as laws governing computer-related crimes collide with the rapid pace of change in the technology industry.

“Some of these laws are quite broad and can be brought to bear against what would otherwise be protected and innocuous activity,” he said.

The clinics can also help law students stand out in the legal industry, which has become more competitive since the Great Recession. Federal employment figures show that legal services jobs grew less than 1 percent in the past year, employing about 1.12 million people nationwide compared with the pre-recession peak of about 1.18 million.

“Employers want and expect graduates to hit the ground running today in a way that they didn’t used to,” said Stacey L. Dogan, a BU law professor who serves on the clinics’ oversight board.

BU’s law school has about 700 students pursuing three-year law degrees, and roughly 300 more seeking legal master’s degrees.