Interview: Working in Tech Law with Jacqueline Spagnola

Written by Sallie Oliver, Guest Contributor

Jacqueline Spagnola is an intellectual property attorney with Cantor Fitzgerald. Spagnola has worked with DreamWorks, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music, Paramount Pictures, and CHANEL. Additionally, she has collaborated with Jonathan Askins at the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic. Guest contributor Sallie Oliver sat down for a conversation with Spagnola to get her thoughts on practicing in a field that blends technology and law.

Sallie Oliver (SO): What was it like for you when beginning to dive into “tech law” when you have many careers paths available? Why this field at this time?

Jacqueline Spagnola (JS): I believe that we are currently in the age of technology, which made technology law a very obvious career path to choose. Initially, I was enthralled with intellectual property law and the defending of intangible goods of such great value. Every single day new technology is being introduced into the world, which will directly affect the previous treatment of IP rights, and the need for new laws to continue to protect such rights excites me.

New technology in relation to data transfers on an international scale is also a very exciting issue [that] I have greatly focused on in my early career and has been a main reason why I chose to pursue an international career. I also feel that there is limitless possibility to make a career for yourself in this field since it is a very pressing and current issue. There is less disadvantage of being a junior attorney in a field that is still constantly developing since there are no “masters” or seasoned “experts.”

SO: Do you think emerging lawyers should be learning [programming languages like] Java in order to better communicate with this Digital Information or to edit smart contracts?

JS: I believe it would certainly give an advantage to technology attorneys since there is often a disconnect between attorneys and programmers/IT professionals when properly wording a contract to include the desired terms. Java is [a programming] language, which is translated to attorneys who then attempt to translate that conversation into the legal language. Here is the risk of misinterpretation and loopholes in contracts where precision in drafting is paramount.

SO: How can someone interested in tech+law work smarter to keep up with current trends?

JS: I try to stay abreast of new legal trends by following the sources themselves. I am constantly following new technology blogs and inventions and forming my own opinion and reading other influential opinions on the potential legal implications.

I also follow certain groups on interest on LinkedIn and read up on the articles [that]interest me. The absolute best way to keep up with current trends, however, is to engage in conversation as often as possible and listen to pressing issues from other professionals at Legal Meetups.

Interview: Amaresh Srikanthan on the Benefits of Yoga

Written by Brittany Simington, Staff Writer

Between classes, outlining, exams, job hunting, and living in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world, law school can be pretty demanding. It can be easy to give into the stress of being in such a hectic environment. So, I spoke with resident yoga teacher Amaresh Srikanthan to get the scoop on how to manage stress.

Brittany Simington (BS): When did you start practicing yoga?

Amaresh Srikanthan (AS): I started practicing around 2011 when I was living in Washington DC. I was feeling burned out by my job at a litigation firm and my regular boxing workout wasn’t cutting it anymore. I wanted something to give me a sense of mental clarity and mindfulness. A few of my roommates recommended yoga.  I went for one class and I was hooked. I started going every day and got my teaching certification a year later.

BS: What are the potential benefits of doing yoga while in law school?

AS: One of the goals of yoga is the stilling of our mind’s fluctuations. At the beginning of my classes, I ask students to sit cross-legged, close their eyes, and place their hands gently on their laps. I then ask them to focus on and lengthen their breath, noticing the quality of their inhales and exhales. Focusing on the breath allows us to draw our attention inwards, and observe what’s going through our minds while remaining in a passive mental state towards the external world. By going through a physical practice while maintaining focus on our breath and our visual gaze, yoga teaches us how to be mindful while placing our bodies through some measure of physical stress. After practicing for some time, a yogi will begin to notice that they are more observant over their own minds. Yoga cultivates mindfulness and teaches us how to maintain a sense of peace in a stressful, busy environment.

BS: Given how busy law students can be, how long is the shortest amount of time someone can do yoga in a day and still experience benefits?

AS: I would recommend setting aside ten minutes in the morning when you wake up.  Once you wake up, before you check your phone or your computer, sit in a comfortable cross-legged position on the floor, close your eyes, and breathe. At first, there will be a highway of thoughts running through your head, but just remain focused on your breath.  Observe your thoughts and let them pass. Lengthen your inhales and your exhales, and quieten the mind. Keep consistent with this practice, and you’ll notice a new sense of mental calmness as you go about your day.

BS: What are the top three studios in the city?

AS: I don’t really think I could list the top three since it’s usually a matter of opinion, but I have been going to a studio called The Shala for the last two and a half years. They have a location at Union Square and one at Fort Greene in Brooklyn. They teach Ashtanga classes and Vinyasa classes that are based on the Ashtanga tradition. As an Ashtanga (a systematic sequence of predetermined flowing postures linked together through breathing techniques) yogi, I really enjoy the depth of their practice and the quality of teaching I get there. My girlfriend has also been taking me to a studio in Bed-Stuy called Sacred Brooklyn. It’s a really interesting studio – a lot of the teachers come from dance backgrounds and incorporate that experience into their [routines].

BS: Do you know any websites or blogs people could check out for the yogis who want to practice at home?

AS: I don’t really use online yoga classes, but I have heard good things about Do Yoga With Me and YogaGlo. These sites offer good classes for a yogi who wants to practice at home.  However, I’d really recommend that new yogis go to at least a few classes before starting these videos.  There’s really no substitute for a knowledgeable teacher who can give you hands-on adjustments and tips as your body begins to figure out the asana practice.  It can really help you get the most out of practice and also help you avoid injury.

Interview: Kenji Yoshino on Scalia’s Legacy, State of SCOTUS

Written by Sarah Higgins, Staff Writer, and Naeem Crawford-Muhammad, Editor-in-Chief

The sudden death of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia has sent shockwaves throughout the legal and political landscapes of the United States. While only time will tell how history will remember Justice Scalia, Sarah Higgins and Naeem Crawford-Muhammad of The Commentator sat down with Kenji Yoshino, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law, to get his perspective on the life and legacy of Justice Scalia, and the current state of the Supreme Court.

Sarah Higgins (SH): Have you ever personally interacted with Justice Scalia, and if so, in what capacity?

Kenji Yoshino (KY): I was fortunate enough to be on a panel with Justice Scalia for PBS NewsHour about what it means to be an American. The panel had three left-leaning people, including myself, and three conservatives, including Justice Scalia.

The idea of the panel was to figure out where could we find common ground, and one of the pieces of common ground was the degree of gratitude we all felt in being Americans. But the real pleasure of the event was dinner afterwards. I had heard rumors about Justice Scalia’s charm, his ebullience, and his outgoing nature, and those were all on full display.

SH: Can you describe in more detail how Justice Scalia interacted with you personally?

KY: He was very engaged. It was funny because he said to me, “I heard about you and I expected you to be a lot more liberal/crazy, and you seem perfectly reasonable.” And I said, “well I am a liberal but I was raised by conservative parents. I think the difference between a good conservative and a good liberal is just how broadly you draw your circumference of concern. My parents were immigrants and drew their circumference of concern around the family and would have done anything for the family. Whereas the luxury of the education and the opportunities they gave me allowed me to care more about people to whom I am not related.”

He reacted very positively to that and said, “I knew you had conservative parents because that’s why you turned out so well.” And I said, “well hold on there because you are suggesting that if I have kids that they won’t turn out that well.” He laughed and thought that was very funny.

He is also a great lover of literature, so we talked about a Charles Dickens character, Mrs. Jellyby [from the novel Bleak House], who keeps writing checks to missionaries in different parts of the world, while her own children were being neglected. We agreed that whether you are a conservative or a liberal, caring more for humanity in general than the human beings around you can’t be the right model. Overall, it was a very wonderful, lively dinner.

SH: Now, we are going to shift to talk about the Supreme Court itself. Do you know if the Court is scheduled to issue any more rulings for this current term?

KY: Well, we presume that they will. They have recently heard arguments today [March 1, 2016] on the abortion case [Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt] that will revisit what the undue burden standard means. This, in my view, is the most important reproductive rights case that we have had since 1992 [Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey].

The Court has dodged the question of what is an undue burden is [in terms of abortions] until this current case. I assume that if they felt that they couldn’t function as an eight-member Court, they would have set the case for re-argument. So, the fact that they are hearing it suggests to me that they are quite willing to go it as an eight-member Court for as long as they need to.

The Court could have DIGed [dismissed as improvidently granted] some of these cases, meaning they decided that they shouldn’t have granted certiorari and will dissolve the grant of cert. If you DIG a case, it is as if the Court never granted cert in the first place. This can happen at any time, so we could imagine that in the upcoming affirmative action case [Fisher v. University of Texas], the Court could say that they don’t want to create such a monumental precedent without a full nine-member Court.

SH: What would the Court do in an instance where there was an even 4-4 split amongst the justices?

KY: It is well-settled practice that a 4-4 split is called, “affirmance by an equally divided Court.” Any time there is a tie, the Court generates no precedent, and whatever the Circuit below decided remains the law, but only for that Circuit. In the abortion case, [Hellerstedt], the Fifth Circuit upheld the restrictions on a woman’s right to abortion, so if the Court splits 4-4 in this case, then the Fifth Circuit decision will hold and be binding law, but only in the Fifth Circuit, and won’t create national precedent.

SH: How do you think Justice Scalia’s death has shifted the political and legal landscape of the country?

KY: I think it has been a seismic shift. I was reading an article….that said that Senators are refusing to meet with President Obama with regard to appointing a Justice. This notion that the American people should be allowed to decide who their next Justice is going to be seems to me to be very wrongheaded, given that the American people decided to give President Obama that power when they elected him.

The idea that a president’s power to nominate a candidate would expire simply because it’s his last year in office would make no sense if we applied it to any of the other powers that the executive has. For example, is the president no longer permitted to act as Commander in Chief just because it’s his last year of office?

In fairness to the Senate, what they are saying is that this isn’t a unilateral decision, and that they have the power to give their advice and consent with regard to the nominee, and ultimately they have to confirm. Over the course of our nation’s history there have been twenty-four times in which a president has nominated and the Senate has confirmed a Supreme Court Justice in the last year of the president’s term. So, the current Senate really can’t cite to past practice.

What must be going on here is that the Senate, for completely political reasons, which I resist as a constitutionalist, is saying this would so dramatically alter the balance of the Court that they want to hold out hope that a Republican president will be elected, so they are going to prevent President Obama from creating a fifth liberal vote on the Court.

Naeem Crawford-Muhammad (NCM): Earlier this week [Associate] Justice Clarence Thomas spoke in oral arguments for Voisine v. United States, which was the first time he has spoken in over a decade. What do you think this signals for his role in the Court?

KY: I want to put an asterisk on this. He did break his silence once in 2012, but only to take a dig at [Justice Thomas’ and my] alma mater, Yale Law School, to say that a degree from Yale isn’t worth the paper that it’s printed on. But you are quite right that this is the first time in a decade that he asked substantive questions.

Justice Thomas has been elliptical as to why he remains silent on the Court. On his early days on the Court, he has said it was because he was self-conscious of his Gullah dialect. His later reasoning has been that oral arguments are for the litigants and that his colleagues interrupted them too much, and he was there to listen to them talk.

I am speculating, but I think that one of the reasons that he may becoming more vocal now, based on the timing of Justice Scalia’s death and his questioning in oral arguments, is that maybe he feels that he needs to be the torchbearer now for the Originalist, conservative voice that Justice Scalia was. Without being overly sentimental about it, there is sense in which he is carrying on his fellow traveler’s and friend’s legacy now that Justice Scalia is unable to speak.

NCM:  [Is there] anyone affiliated with NYU Law that you think could be a possible nominee by President Obama?

KY: Raymond Lohier, an NYU Alum who sits on the Second Circuit, has been discussed by SCOTUS Blog, which I think is one of the most reliable places to look. I think that he would be a possible choice.

Editor’s note: The Commentator also reached out to Professors Rachel Barkow and Scott Hemphill, who clerked for Justice Scalia, but they were unavailable for comment.