A Hub for Law, Science, and Technology in the School of Public Policy

Posted January 13, 2021

Emma Menardi knew she wanted to go to law school long before the first day she set foot on Georgia Tech's campus. 

“The Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts is really focused on interdisciplinarity, and I’m interested in the ways social sciences and historical perspectives influence the law,” said Menardi, a second-year double major in public policy and history, technology, and science. “My big interest is civil rights law, so being in Atlanta made perfect sense.”

For students like Menardi, who is from Johns Creek, the Law, Science, and Technology (LST) program in the School of Public Policy is a crucial link to the world of law at an institution better known for producing engineers than future lawyers.

She and others recognize that Georgia Tech is uniquely positioned to mold the type of future lawyer who can combine technical know-how, problem-solving skills, and an analytical mindset to succeed in the legal field where others might not. It’s that unique combination of traits that makes Yellow Jackets suited to tackling issues at the intersection of law, science, technology, and policy.

“Georgia Tech is uniquely positioned to prepare students for legal careers in a world where technology is an ever-increasing force in law. We have a real opportunity to make an impact.”

– LST Director Chad Slieper

Just ask Duke Hatcher, a fifth-year computer science student from Orlando, Fla., who is currently working as an intern at Alston & Bird, an Atlanta law firm that counts the late golfing legend and Georgia Tech alumnus Bobby Jones, ME 1922, among its founding partners. Hatcher hopes to attend law school and then practice privacy law.

“Technology is involved in every industry, and we as the human race are generating data at unprecedented levels. This means that every day there are new challenges, unexplored legal issues, and new cases to be heard. It isn’t often that you can truly help create and shape the law, but privacy is such a field,” Hatcher said.

From Tech to Attorney

LST Director Chad Slieper, PP 02, is in the second year of an effort to expand and revitalize the 21-year-old program. He worked to bring pre-law advising back to the School of Public Policy and has expanded course offerings, internship opportunities, and alumni engagement. Students have revived the dormant chapter of the pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta. The program also supervises the nationally recognized Georgia Tech Mock Trial Team.

Slieper also is working on making the program a campus hub for discussing issues at the intersection of law, science, and technology.

“From climate change to pandemics, law both affects, and is affected by, how we approach novel issues in science and technology,” Slieper says. “The LST program encourages students and faculty to explore the intersection of these topics.”

He knows from experience how such issues play out in the legal field. He graduated from Tech with a bachelor’s in public policy and then went on to Emory University School of Law and pursued a career in professional ethics in the healthcare and legal industries. He returned to the Institute in 2019 to lead the LST program. He teaches courses, advises students, and helps program events, including routine opportunities for students to hear from attorneys and talk to law-school admissions counselors.

Marilyn Brown, acting chair in the School of Public Policy, says LST’s work is a vital part of the school’s mission to help find policy solutions to public issues related to science and technological innovation.

“The LST program is part of what makes this school unique, and I’m thrilled to see how it has expanded to serve more students, including graduate students, and that it has branched out to cover important new topics such as environmental law and bioethics,” Brown says. “Public policy and law naturally go hand-in-hand, and LST helps Georgia Tech students get the kind of working understanding of the legal process that will serve them well in any career they pursue, whether that career is in law or not.”

Smooth Path to Law School 

Georgia Tech’s pre-law program helps current students get to law school, but it’s played a role in helping alumni get there, too.

Watson Griffith, BA 15, who attends UCLA School of Law on a full scholarship, credits his acceptance at a top law school to Slieper’s assistance. Griffith had already graduated and spent time in the Peace Corps before deciding to attend law school. He had no idea what help his alma mater might be able to provide when he called Slieper.

“He and a friend in law school were the only two people I talked to about my application. The assistance I got from Georgia Tech was so instrumental,” Griffith says.

Slieper also sends out a regular newsletter containing crucial information about internship opportunities in the legal field that give students experience and help fortify law school applications.

Shekinah Hall, PP 19, had five internships during her undergraduate study at Georgia Tech. She learned of three of them through LST—including one that led to her current job at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“It was incredible to get different perspectives to round out what I was learning in classes,” says Hall, who is working on her law school application. “So, between that and my participation in Georgia Tech’s Mock Trial Team, I got such a well-rounded experience coming out of undergrad.”

From Tech to the Courtroom and Back Again

The involvement of alumni who have gone on to practice law has always been a crucial part of Georgia Tech’s program, says Roberta Berry, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and director of the Georgia Tech Honors Program.

Berry took over the nascent pre-law program after the sudden death of its founder, William Read, who also created a certificate in pre-law. Berry recruited a handful of alumni lawyers to come back to campus to teach classes and work with students.

“There was great enthusiasm then for giving back, especially with the sense at the time that law was an unusual thing to be pursuing at Tech,” Berry says.

One alumna who has stayed with the program is Katie Tinsley, BC 08, an attorney with J.E. Dunn Construction. She returned to Georgia Tech to teach a course on judicial process with another Atlanta attorney. They are two of more than a dozen part-time  lecturers in the LST program. Many are Georgia Tech alumni.

Tinsley said the LST program and the classes that students take as part of the minor help many of them cement their desire for a law career.

“But we also always have students who will acknowledge that they no longer want to go to law school and we’re almost equally excited by that response as we are by those who want to continue,” she says. “What a waste it is for someone to go to law school for three years and practice law for a couple of years and then realize they’re not happy. That’s not good for anybody.”

This personal, hands-on support is important, says Berry, who continued to lead the program until 2005 and worked with Slieper, then a student, to develop what is now known as the minor in Law, Science, and Technology.

“Unless you have a lawyer in the family or have some other connection, you have no idea what the possibilities are,” Berry says.

Next Up on the Docket

Slieper hopes to continue expanding the LST program’s course offerings, which includes options for students interested in an area of law who don’t necessarily plan to go to law school.

“Historically, many of our courses focus on topics of interest to future litigators,” Slieper says. “Offerings we develop in the future will seek to round that out with a focus on topics of interest to students who may not want to be litigators. This might include ethics and compliance, transactions, and negotiations.”

Slieper sees a bright future for the LST program and what it can accomplish.

“Georgia Tech is uniquely positioned to prepare students for legal careers in a world where technology is an ever-increasing force in law,” he said. “We have a real opportunity to make an impact.”

This article first appeared in Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine.

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Georgia Tech alumni Shekinah Hall, and Watson Griffith, and current students Emma Menardi and Duke Hatcher, are among students and graduates who have benefited from the Law, Science, and Technology program in the School of Public Policy.

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Michael Pearson