By Dylan Moses ’24

On March 15th, 2019, a terrorist named Brenton Tarrant walked into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and live streamed his hateful atrocities for millions to see. At the time, I was part of a team at Facebook that was responsible for managing the fallout from high-profile violations of the platform’s terms of service, and this was one of the platform’s most serious incidents in its history.

I normally relished working on these high-profile content policy escalations, which often involved “deplatforming” conspiracy theorists and hate groups. But this incident was different. The horror of the live carnage displaced any pride I had once felt. Instead, I was left wondering how a company could develop a product ripe for amplifying terrorism and not be held liable for the foreseeable misuse of that product online. I then left the world of online trust and safety behind to pursue a legal education, convinced that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (Section 230) – the law shielding Internet companies from liability for hosting third-party content – needed to be rethought to encourage these organizations to build better, safer Internet platforms. 

I started off at UC Berkeley Law, joining journals where I had the opportunity to write about the legal and policy challenges of regulating Internet companies. There I wrote about Snapchat’s liability for negligently designing their algorithms in a way that rewarded dangerous behavior; and Facebook’s potential criminal liability for the real-world consequences of the deadly transactions happening on their platform. With each publication, I felt more empowered. Between interviews with journalists and conversations with practitioners, I found an audience willing to listen in a way that my previous employers never had. The law provided me with a framework and the voice to think about creative solutions to some of the most pressing technology challenges of our time.

While I loved my time at Berkeley, I knew I wanted to get practical experience working on issues at the intersection of cybersecurity, the First Amendment, and Section 230. At the end of my first year, after conversations with my professors and mentors, I decided to transfer to Harvard for an opportunity to work at the Cyberlaw Clinic and was paired up with the inimitable Kendra Albert. And hands down, it is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my career.

I was thrilled to work with Kendra, a public interest technology lawyer, largely because of their background in cybersecurity and online freedom of expression. Over the course of that semester, we teamed up on a number of projects. One project involved helping a cybersecurity researcher navigate conversations with the MBTA after he discovered a vulnerability with the CharlieCard that could allow almost anyone to ride the T for free. On another, we counseled a firm that specialized in high-touch support for people who faced online harassment on the implications of copyright law for their services. And finally, knowing my interest in social media and the First Amendment, Kendra tasked me with writing a research proposal on whether the Clinic should write an amicus brief for the NetChoice cases currently before the Supreme Court; which was a great opportunity to really dig into what appellate work could look like in this space.

But beyond the work, I valued my time at the Clinic for the training it gave me in the craft of lawyering. I walked into the Clinic pretty confident (…maybe a little overconfident) that I knew enough about tech to get me through my assignments. That, along with my tendency to rely on my gut and my generally care-free demeanor, didn’t bode well for turning out high-quality legal work. After some pretty direct feedback from Kendra, I quickly realized that the skills that had gotten me to that point in my career weren’t the ones that were going to help me excel as an attorney. While clinical work can sometimes feel like a pedagogical exercise, we should never treat it that way. The work is real. The clients are real. And it is our responsibility as (student) attorneys to give our clients the best legal advice to help them with their situation. For me, that meant getting comfortable with getting in the weeds on the legal doctrines underpinning our advice and moving away from only relying on my gut to providing a thoughtful analysis of the facts, the law, and how we planned to help our clients move forward.

All of this played out during my summer associateship. That summer, I joined a law firm where I focused exclusively on Section 230 and online First Amendment issues, product counseling on new generative AI products, and some criminal defense work. In the very first week, the head partner of my group came to me in the early afternoon and tasked me with the usual “Hey, I’m walking into a status conference meeting tomorrow and I need you to do some light research on this topic.” The research was anything but light. It involved a deep constitutional analysis of copyright law and statutory damages that kept me in the office well past 9 PM. However, I was incredibly well-prepared for it given the work I had done at the Cyberlaw Clinic just a few months before. I sent the work product with my recommendations back to the partner and a senior associate working on the case, and though it wasn’t the answer they were hoping for, it helped them shift their strategy to meet their client’s needs during the meeting the next day. After that, I continued getting similarly tough (and substantive) assignments for the rest of the summer, and I’m confident that the training I received from Kendra and the Clinic were instrumental to my success. 

In my final semester at HLS, I was invited to join the Clinic as a Teaching Fellow. In that role, I helped the Clinic think through which pro bono cases the Clinic would take on. The opportunity offered fascinating insight into how a small law firm, with limited resources, prioritizes its docket: What are the merits of the case? Is there enough student interest around a matter like this? Do we have enough bandwidth? I truly felt like I was part of the team and was able to help out by drafting memos recommending which projects to take on and working with Kendra on some product counseling for shaping a client’s terms of service for their website. 

My most meaningful experience came on the last day of the semester when a student pitched their research to the clinical team on whether we should engage in an amicus brief on a controversial topic for many of our clients.  When I was sitting in the room, I didn’t feel like I was a student anymore. I felt more like I was a member of the Jedi Council.  Like a colleague encouraged and empowered to offer my thoughts and was able to substantively engage in the merits of the decision as to whether or not we should proceed. It was a truly dope experience and the ultimate crescendo to my time at HLS.

I’m truly indebted to the Cyberlaw Clinic for everything that it’s given me. It’s (sometimes literally) been a home for me where I could practice my legal skills, experiment with different approaches in a low stakes environment, and helped me think about the attorney I want to be. And, in particular, I’m grateful to the Clinic for the mentorship and friendship that I gained with the Clinical team, and Kendra most of all. They provided me with a masterclass in how the law and technology should be used to benefit the public. 

And it’s a lesson I know I’ll take with me for the rest of my career.

Filed in: Clinical Student Voices

Tags: Class of 2024, Cyberlaw Clinic

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