6 Questions With Professor Sonia Katyal

Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship professor gives you an inside look into legal studies

When you enroll in Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship, you’ll learn about the role law plays in the construction and growth of entrepreneurial enterprises. You’ll study the theory behind entrepreneurship, paying attention to the various kinds of entrepreneurship that exist in our world and the theory and research behind the entrepreneurial venture. In class, you’ll discuss the role law plays in developing business, marketing, organizational and financial plans.

And leading you through this exciting class is faculty member Sonia Katyal, the Chancellor's Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. She joined the Berkeley Law faculty in fall 2015 from Fordham Law School, where she served as the associate dean for research and the Joseph M. McLaughlin Professor of Law. Her scholarly work focuses on the intersection of technology, intellectual property and civil rights (including anti-discrimination, privacy and freedom of speech).

Professor Katyal’s current projects focus on:

  • the intersection between Internet access and civil/human rights, with a special emphasis on the right to information
  • algorithmic transparency and discrimination
  • source code and the impact of trade secrecy
  • a variety of projects on the intersection between gender and the commons

Before entering academia, Professor Katyal was an associate specializing in intellectual property litigation in the San Francisco office of Covington & Burling. Professor Katyal also clerked for the Honorable Carlos Moreno (later a California Supreme Court Justice) in the Central District of California and the Honorable Dorothy Nelson in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Phew—that’s quite a résumé. But let’s find out the person who will be teaching you Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship.

1. In addition to the Legal Studies Berkeley Global Access Program, you also teach for the Law School’s LLM program. What do you find most fascinating in teaching international students?

Teaching international students is one of the highlights of my portfolio at Berkeley. The students are bright, engaging, and full of excitement and curiosity. They also come from a wide range of countries. It’s an honor to teach them every year, and to stay in touch and hear about all their great projects when they return.

Also, I think I learn just as much from them as they learn from me. One thing I’ve learned from my students is how different things such as how comparative advertising and product placement are regulated in other countries and how other countries can serve as a model for our own approach to these issues.



Teaching international students is one of the highlights of my portfolio at Berkeley.



2. How can students interested in our Legal Studies program incorporate what they learn about U.S. law into their future careers?

In this increasingly global world, a well-trained lawyer—or a future legal scholar—needs to understand U.S. law because it often serves as a powerful backbone for both private and public law. Many foreign courts and judges look to judgments in the United States, and our lawyers and judges are often the vanguard for addressing social change and human rights.

I think one great example of this dialectic is how the U.S. was, for a time, way behind human-rights tribunals based in Europe, the United Kingdom and South Africa when it came to issues of LGBT equality. Then, with the outcome in Lawrence v. Texas—the landmark 2003 U.S. case that finally reversed sodomy laws in the United States—the U.S. Supreme Court cited a number of foreign courts in justifying its holding, demonstrating how the U.S. was out of step with the rest of the Western world. And now, Lawrence can serve as a guidepost for other nations that still have these laws on the books and that look for guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court. This demonstrates a powerful, global trend toward social justice.



A well-trained lawyer—or a future legal scholar—needs to understand U.S. law because it often serves as a powerful backbone for both private and public law.



3. How would you describe your teaching style? What can students expect in your classroom? What is expected of them?

I teach largely Socratically and encourage participation in discussion. I love talking about current events in the U.S. and in other places, and I love to hear about how other countries address similar issues to those we face in the United States.

4. Your scholarly work focuses on the interaction of technology, intellectual property and civil rights. How does this translate to your class?

Technology knows no borders. Neither does human rights. So if you want to learn about technology and human rights, the place to do it is at Berkeley, where we excel at teaching our students about the changing world of human rights and its intersection with technology's demands. Here at Berkeley, we care just as much about social justice as we care about innovation. It’s an exciting time to be here.




Technology knows no borders. Neither does human rights.


5. Tell me about your work as co-director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

As a co-director, I work with a number of other faculty members and our amazing executive director, Jim Dempsey, in planning a series of high-profile events and conferences on cutting-edge topics that relate to law and technology. We address everything from machine learning to patents to privacy to entertainment/media law.

We think of BCLT as a family that you never leave: We have tremendously engaged alums from all over the world as well as our faculty who help us create a sustained vibrancy in the law and tech space.

We routinely ask for student volunteers during our events, and many of our alums come back for our cutting-edge conferences and conversations. Once you become part of BCLT, you become part of an international family of people intricately involved in the rapid flows and changes that technology brings to law, and law brings to technology.

6. What is the one thing an international student must experience to really feel like a Berkeley student?

For me, I love going to farmers’ markets: My favorite one is on Saturdays at the Grand Lake Theatre. Also, you haven't lived in Berkeley unless you've eaten tacos from a food truck.