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It's logical to assume that cyberlaw as a legal specialty has gone the way of Internet-based IPOs. Some might think the boom-gone-bust that was dot-com magic has left cyberlaw attorneys with nothing to do but dust off worthless stock options. But the death of cyberlaw has been greatly exaggerated. While some firms or individual practitioners have downsized or de-emphasized the area, others have stuck to their high-tech guns - and thrived.
"It depends whether your practice was in IPOs or intellectual property, but intellectual property hasn't gone away, and the need for people to do that sort of thing hasn't gone away," said Al Hammond, a law professor at the University of Santa Clara in Santa Clara, Calif. "It's more prudent to think about cyberlaw expanding - there are actually more opportunities, rather than less."
Cyberlaw is technically a sub-specialty of intellectual property law. Its basis is the Internet, and anything related to it.
Many of the companies who created the Internet buzz have struggled or disappeared, but the Net continues to re-invent itself with new uses and applications. That proliferation of uses - and its incredible worldwide access - continues to create opportunities for cyberlaw attorneys.
Anthony J. DeGidio Jr., a cyberlaw specialist attorney in Toledo, Ohio, said his practice involves litigation, trademark and domain name disputes, e-commerce, some criminal cases such as pornography, and First Amendment issues.
"The Internet touches almost every area of the law in some sense," DeGidio said. Howard Friedman, director of the Cyber Securities Law Institute at the University of Toledo School of Law in Toledo, Ohio agrees.
"Cybertech is finding its way into lots of different areas that traditional uses of the Internet did not previously involve," he said.
If there has been a trend in cyberlaw practice, it has perhaps been most noticeable in large firms. Many who boasted sizable cyberlaw sections a few years ago have shifted associates into more lucrative practice areas.
"I've seen my Internet practice go away - I don't even spend much time doing it any more," said Ralph Losey of Katz, Kutter, Alderman, Bryant & Yon in Orlando, Fla. "It may be better in other parts of the country - Orlando is not exactly a high-tech center - but there's not a big local client base here like there is in places like Silicon Valley." On the other hand, a number of medium-sized specialist firms and sole practitioners seem to be right at home in cyberspace. Their clients are primarily small- to medium-sized businesses and individuals. Major corporations tend to use in-house or retained counsel for cyberlaw issues, even though they may not be well versed in the field, according to Losey.
Stephen Anderson is a principal in Newport Beach, Calif.-based Anderson & Shippey, a thriving cyberlaw specialist firm with other offices in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Anderson said his firm has found a profitable niche.
"[Cyberlaw] is still somewhat growing, but very slowly at this point," Anderson said. "Probably the market is collapsing in some areas, but our firm is prospering because of our specialization and the fact we market our services extensively."
DeGidio was previously an associate in a large firm, but went out on his own when he realized his cyberlaw business would support him quite nicely. He also markets his niche expertise aggressively - on a Web site at the address www.cyberlawyer.com. DeGidio said the dot-com demise affected large firms, but there is still plenty of need for his expertise.
"From a big-firm perspective, it's not so much worth it, but it's fine for me," he said.
This story appeared in the October 2002 edition of The National Jurist, www.nationaljurist.com.
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