Aaron Mackey, Class of 2012
1) What brought you to law school?
I spent several years working as a journalist and had a passion for public records laws and the First Amendment. I had always thought about attending law school but got a real push after working with several lawyers who either represented journalists seeking access to public records or defended their rights. I knew going in to law school that I wanted to work on civil liberties issues and realized shortly after arriving that those issues were converging with our increasingly digital world.
2) Please describe the position(s) you held on BTLJ and when.
I was a transfer student who started as an Articles Editor in the fall 2010. In fall of 2011 I served as a Senior Articles Editor on the Executive Board.
3) Please describe your most memorable law school moment.
Only one? The BTLJ ed board trip to Tahoe in 2011 was one of my favorite memories – it was where I grew really close to everyone in BTLJ. If I have to pick a single memory, though, it is getting to argue a summary judgment motion for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) while I was a 3L in the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic. It’s rare for lawyers several years out of school to get a chance to appear in court, but the clinic gave me a wonderful opportunity.
4) Please describe your current professional position and your journey there.
I’m a Frank Stanton Legal Fellow at EFF working on transparency and civil liberties issues. It’s an amazing job because EFF is the premiere digital civil liberties organization and they let me work on really awesome issues. Along with other attorneys at EFF, I recently helped the public records website MuckRock.com defeat a prior restraint that required it to de-publish two documents. A court reversed the order, recognizing that it clearly violated the First Amendment. I’ve also worked with members of Congress who passed recent amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, the law that gives everyone the right to access government records. President Obama signed it into law in July.
Before EFF, I spent three years in Washington, D.C. working on similar issues. My first job out of law school was working at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) as the Jack Nelson Legal Fellow. My work at RCFP consisted of answering questions from journalists across the country who were trying to access public records from state or federal agencies and writing legal briefs on transparency issues, including several filed at the U.S. Supreme Court. After RCFP, I worked as a staff attorney/clinical teaching fellow at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation, a legal clinic that works on communications and technology law. Highlights included helping several local groups apply for radio licenses with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and representing individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing as they sought equal access to television and online video programming.
5) What are some lessons you learned from participating in BTLJ that are relevant to your professional life?
Collaboration is critical in any law practice. Working in BTLJ, you have to collaborate with so many people to identify publishable articles, edit them, cite check them, and produce them. BTLJ teaches you the importance of working together toward a common goal and valuing everyone’s contributions – from new 1L members who are helping track down sources or the senior editors who are picking the next great article.
I’ve found that the practice of law is no different – you rarely are working alone. Learning how to collaborate and share responsibility is key, and BTLJ students are a step ahead their peers in learning this skill.
6) What advice do you have for current law students?
Get as much practical experience as you can while also taking your fill of tech law courses. I am a huge fan of the Samuelson Clinic because it taught me how to be an advocate for my clients while thinking about lawyers’ role in society. The best part about Boalt is that it has the country’s premier tech law clinic on campus while also boasting some of the best doctrinal tech law/IP professors in the world. Take advantage of both substantive courses and experiential learning. If you can’t take the Samuelson Clinic, take one of the many other clinics or extern at a public interest organization or in a judge’s chambers. The sooner you learn how to take what you learn in the classroom and apply it to the practice of law, the quicker you’ll be able to adapt to being a lawyer.
7) What is one piece of advice you would give to new lawyers?
Ask questions and politely (but firmly) demand feedback. Your supervisors are going to be busy and may not have the time to give you feedback on your work – if it’s good enough to get by, you may never hear anything. Look for opportunities to schedule time after a deadline to receive concrete feedback. Everyone’s work can always improve, and it’s nice to know what worked and what didn’t in any given project. You should also take time to think critically about your own work and what could improve. The goal with all of the feedback and critical self-review is to improve as a lawyer.