Maine Law offers new privacy certificate

Beginning this fall, University of Maine School of Law will offer an information-privacy law certificate. Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Wriggins said the new effort recognizes a considerable increased demand for information privacy professionals, including lawyers.

"And we anticipate that demand will continue to increase,” Wriggins said. 

The first certificate the law school has offered, this is a “very exciting example” of the school collaborating with the business community, Wriggins added. As part of the requirement to qualify for the certificate, a student must have taken one of the IAPP’s designated certification exams successfully and must gain experience related to privacy issues, whether via a job or an externship. Santa Clara University launched a similar program in 2014.

“Maine Law has had a strength in information privacy and law for awhile now, connected in large part to [IAPP CEO and President] Trevor Hughes and the IAPP,” Wriggins said. “And given the increasing importance of issues having to do with information privacy and law, we decided as a faculty to institutionalize the focus that we already had and also build on it by offering an information privacy law certificate.” 

As a Maine Law alum, Hughes has involved the school from the beginning of the IAPP's efforts, and Maine Law has offered a summer Information-Privacy Institute for the last five years, directed by IAPP Research Director Rita Heimes. The institute gathers nationally and internationally known scholars and offers students the chance to hear from such speakers on the latest and most relevant topics in the field, Wriggins said. 

Now, the school is broadening its offerings and allowing students to come away with something that recognizes their focus on information privacy.

“Our goal is to provide a strong background in information privacy, while also focusing on cybersecurity as well, because those areas are incredibly important." - UMaine School of Law Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Wriggins 

“Our goal is to provide a strong background in information privacy, while also focusing on cybersecurity as well, because those areas are incredibly important,” she said. She added the school hopes the privacy certificate will give students a competitive advantage in the workforce. 

“We have students who have graduated from here who’ve had amazing opportunities internationally and nationally in areas related to data privacy and data security, and we’re hoping to expand those sorts of opportunities,” she said. 

Ken Mortensen, a Maine Law alum who teaches as an adjunct there as well as at Boston University, said obtaining an information privacy certificate will give students a leg up. 

"It's absolutely a competitive edge — obviously it's a competitive edge — but you also now have that level of expertise, and, as a student that should give you confidence now that you know you have the right training for this particular field," he said. "I've hired a lot of Maine Law grads because I knew they had a privacy program, but with a certificate it would make it an easier sell as an employer to say, 'I'm picking from people who have this specialty, and that's the specialty I want to have in-house.'" 

Ginny Lee is director of global privacy at Starbucks and a 2005 Maine law alum. She said privacy was so new when she was in law school that specialized training wouldn't have even been considered necessary from an employer's perspective. 

"It was sort of the thing you got thrown. 'Work on this privacy thing,'" Lee said. "Now, there are so many opportunities for lawyers, and they are so diverse, that I think having a certification program really helps."

She said signing up for the program indicates a certain level of commitment to this particular body of law, that it's not just a "passing fancy." 

"One of the problems we have with privacy law now is it's a hot area," Lee said. "Lawyers are struggling to find work and find a niche, and a lot are saying, 'Oh, I'll be a privacy attorney,' ... But don't have any real depth of knowledge about privacy work. The certificate is going to prove they've taken that extended amount of time to study what's out there. As an employer, I'm going to look at that as an indication of how serious someone is about being in this profession." 

"As an employer, I'm going to look at that as an indication of how serious someone is about being in this profession." -Starbucks Director of Global Privacy Ginny Lee

Anthony Matyjaszewski is director of compliance for the Network Advertising Initiative, and also a 2011 Maine Law alum. His experience, like Lee indicated, is that the marketplace is becoming increasingly crowded. 

"There are more and more privacy pros out there, as evidenced by the dramatic growth of the IAPP," he said. "I think that includes privacy lawyers, and so with more programs potentially training privacy lawyers, aside from some of the big famous schools, I think the certificate can help clarify to potential employers, in addition to other credentials, that a graduate from Maine Law is perhaps better qualified than some competitors for a position." 

Mortensen said the decision to offer the information privacy certificate is a good economic decision for Maine Law, as well. 

"From the law school side of things, it's a smart competitive advantage for them in terms of getting students," he said. "You’re seeing law school enrollment significantly decline, as students are seeing how much it costs. If I’m a student picking some place to go, I'm going to go to one that, one, will create the ability for me to get a job when I get out, and, two, has the practice skills I want to be at." 

Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, has some experience with this. He supervises the school's privacy law certificate program. The reason for it was rumblings from both students and employers about the growing need for privacy expertise. The school, at the time, had all the right elements but hadn't put them together in a way that "made it easy for students to demonstrate their expertise and to communicate that to employers," he said. 

So far, the program saw three students in 2015, and five in 2016. At this early point, the evidence of success is anecdotal, but he said what he's seeing is the program's externship requirements leading students to full-time jobs out of the gate. But he said the market is very active right now, probably the most active among prospective markets for Santa Clara law students, analogous to patent prosecutor certifications, a market that's been strong for decades.

"Privacy is at least as strong, if not stronger," he said.

Goldman said, as the trailblazers in offering a privacy-certificate, he's happy to hear about Maine Law's decision to do so as well.

"I'm super excited other schools are recognizing the value of launching a similar program," he said. 

At this point, the program looks poised to succeed. Wriggins said there are already existing second- and third-year students interested in obtaining the certificate, as well as prospective students.

Written By

Angelique Carson, CIPP/US


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