In Memoriam: Honoring Professor Dan Burk (1962-2024)

This episode of UCI Law Talks was recorded with Professor Dan Burk on January 17, 2024, and sadly, less than three weeks later, on February 4, Dan passed away. As you will hear in this episode, and as profoundly poignant as it is, Dan spoke warmly about his 15 years in Irvine, the wonderful colleagues and students at UCI, his career and the early days of the founding of UCI Law. 

In this last recorded conversation with Dan, these were his final words for us: “Take some risks but never risk quality. You might want to choose a topic that’s a little offbeat. You might want to work in an environment that’s a little bit different. But you always do quality lawyering. You always do quality scholarship, and that’s not something that I’m willing to take a risk with and I don’t think others should either.” 

Rest in peace, Dan. 

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UCI Law Talks · In Memoriam: Honoring Professor Dan Burk (1962-2024)


  • Austen Parrish

    UCI Law Dean and Chancellor’s Professor of Law
    Expertise: Transnational Law and Litigation, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Federal Courts

    Austen Parrish assumed the role of Dean and Chancellor's Professor of Law of the University of California, Irvine School of Law in August 2022, becoming its third dean. He previously served as the Dean and James H. Rudy Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. In 2018 and again in 2021, he was named a Wells Scholars Professor for his work with Indiana University’s prestigious Wells Scholars program. In 2019, he was bestowed with IU’s Bicentennial Medal and, in 2022, he was awarded the Provost’s Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Office of the Provost, recognizing outstanding and transformative contributions to Indiana University Bloomington. He serves on the board of directors of AccessLex Institute and is an elected member of the American Law Institute. Prior to academia, Parrish practiced law at O'Melveny & Myers LLP in Los Angeles. He earned his law degree from Columbia University.

  • Dan L. Burk

    (In Memoriam 1962-2024)
    Distinguished and Chancellor's Professor of Law 
    University of California, Irvine School of Law

    Dan L. Burk was Distinguished and Chancellor's Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine, where he was a founding member of the law faculty. An internationally prominent authority on issues related to high technology, he lectured, taught, and wrote in the areas of patent, copyright, electronic commerce, and biotechnology law. He was consistently ranked among the leading intellectual property scholars in the American legal academy. He had been a leading figure in debates over gene patenting, digital copyright, and computer trespass.

Podcast Transcript

Austen Parrish 0:00
Welcome to UCI Law Talks. I'm Austen Parrish. This episode was recorded with Dan Burk on January 17, 2024. Sadly, less than three weeks later, on February 4, Dan passed away. Dan had been battling cancer. And before we recorded this podcast episode, Dan told me that his prognosis was not what he had hoped. Although he was in good spirits, you approach death much as you approach life in a very open, clear, and direct way. As you'll hear in this episode, and as profoundly pointed as it is, Dan spoke warmly about his 15 years in Irvine, his wonderful colleagues at UCI, his career, and the early days of founding UCI Law. He was delighted about the upcoming February 9 UCI Law event celebrating his life's work. In this last recorded conversation with Dan, these were his final words for us, and I quote, "take some risks but never risk quality. You might want to choose a topic that's a little offbeat. You might want to work in an environment that's a little bit different. But always do quality learning. You always do quality scholarship. And that's not something that I'm willing to take a risk with. And I don't think others should either." This passing was a tremendous loss to our community. He will be missed. I hope you enjoy this episode with Dan Burk. Rest in peace, Dan.
Intro 1:27
Welcome to UCI Law Talks from the University of California, Irvine School of Law. For all our latest news, follow UCI Law on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Austen Parrish 1:42
Well, thank you for joining us on today's podcast. My name is Austen Parrish. I'm the dean and chancellor's professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. This is UCI Law Talks, the podcast where you learn more about the amazing anteater community that is UCI Law. Today, we're doing a special podcast connected with the law school celebration of the 15th anniversary of the law school's founding. Today, I'm very fortunate to be joined by Professor Dan Burk. Dan is a distinguished and chancellor's professor of law here at UC Irvine, an award-winning teacher and scholar. He is a founding member of our faculty and one of the nation's leading intellectual property scholars. He is globally recognized for his expertise on topics related to law and emerging technologies in the areas of patent copyright, electronic commerce and biotechnology law. He's taught intellectual property around the world, including the University of Toronto, Humboldt University Bocconi University, since Poe University of Lucerne, and the University of Haifa, among others. Hey Dan, so great to have you join us for this episode of UCI Law Talks. 
Dan Burk
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. 
Austeb Parrish
One of the purposes of the podcast is to enable law students in the community to get a glimpse into the legal profession and the varied ways that law graduates use their law degrees. Can you take us back and get us started? When you were in law school did you know you wanted to become a law professor?
Dan Burk 2:58
So Austen, No, I didn't know I was going to be a law professor. And in fact, I had no intention of being a lawyer. Originally, I was in science. I was in a Ph.D. in molecular biology program. And I wasn't really very good at it. Experimental science is kind of like cooking. It's kind of being a chef, you know, there's some people, they go in the kitchen and their souffle always rises and their moraine is perfect. And, and that wasn't me, my souffles would fall, I would have to repeat an experiment three or four times to get coherent results. So I said, Alright, this is not working. What else can I do with this graduate degree in science? And I was at Northwestern in Chicago. And I opened up the newspaper and we still had paper newspapers. That time, the Chicago Tribune, and there's a story about the first criminal trial to convict someone using forensic DNA evidence. It's called DNA fingerprinting. And it was a great trial, and there was a conviction. And the reporter talked to the jury, pulled the jury afterwards. And the foreman of the jury said, yes, we convicted on the DNA evidence. It's scientific. It's infallible. Wait a minute. I've been doing that in my lab. And I know for our faculty, not infallible. Maybe these lawyers need a little bit of help here. And if you know Northwestern, you know, the main campus is in Evanston, which is where I lived. But my laboratory was on the Lakeshore, with the lakefront campus, which is the medical school and the law school at the time, the American Bar Foundation was was centered there. So I would take the L down everyday to my lab, and you meet the same people, there's kind of the same commuters and I struck a conversation with a woman who worked at the American Bar Foundation, and she found out about my interests and she said, Oh, well, you might like this and she pulled out something called Jura metrics, the Journal of Law science and technology, which is the publication of the ABS science and technology section, coming out of Arizona State University. And I said, Okay, that's, that's what I'm looking for. So off, I went to law school. And the plan was to find some way to use my science degree, you know, to do criminal defense or patent law or something like that. And just to give you a sense, you know, at the time, you know, I interviewed for summer jobs or summer clerkships. One of the interviews, I remember was with a great firm Fennemore Craig. And I was interviewing with one of the partners, and he says, So you're a scientist? I said, Yeah, that's right. At least before I came to law school, he goes, What are you doing here? But why would you? Why would you come to law? And so I tried to explain this to him. My students don't get that question anymore. We have graduates of UCI with Ph.D.s and a neuroscience and biology and, and everybody knows, you know why they're there. But at the time, it was kind of a mystery. So I was just going to, you know, find a good area of practice, that's what I was going to do. But I discovered there's something about the legal profession, which is that you have a client, you know, and you have an ethical obligation to that client, you have financial obligation, because law isn't business. And there are some things your client doesn't want you to say. There's some things your client would rather have you not talked about, or is adverse to their future interests or their positions. So that's a little bit of an impediment in freely exploring policy and technology, and so on. One place where that doesn't happen is here and the Academy, right, my client right now, so to speak, is the public, right, the taxpayers of California pay me to come up with the best analysis, the best policy prescriptions, the very best solutions I can come up with, some of them might like it, some of them might not. But that's what academic freedom is for. And so this is a place where you really have the most freedom imaginable to explore new solutions and new ideas for society. And so I said, Okay, that's where I need to be. And so I took a hard right turn, changed my CV and developed some different credentials and moved towards the academy. But that was, that was in no way. Part of the original plan, it was a complete surprise to everyone.
Austen Parrish 7:10
Well, I have to say, I think we're fortunate the souffles were falling, because you've had an amazing career. And, you know, you're right, when you say that it, it strikes me at the time how people perceive it unusual for people with STEM backgrounds, and how common it is now, in fact, I would say maybe one of the one of the pathways to success is to have a STEM background, and then to go into law these days. Did you agree with that? Or am I you know, this book better than I do?
Dan Burk 7:34
No, I think you're absolutely correct. And, you know, sometimes we have a student who's surprised, right? You know, they'll be sort of STEM adverse, and they look around, they go, where can I go?, Oh, I can go to law school. And they show up here. And then they discover, you know, well, we really want to do torts, medical malpractice, or whatever, you're gonna learn something about pharmaceuticals and medical standards and mechanical engineering, you think you're gonna do environmental law, that's all about ecosystems and chemistry and biology. You want to go to intellectual property? That's certainly very heavily technology-oriented. And occasionally, we have a student who's kind of dismayed that I came here to get away from math. And if it, well, first of all, you can't really get away from math in our society. And you definitely can't do it in law, because, yes, you'll have experts who will help you figure things out, that you've got to know enough to, to be able to supervise your experts, we can help reorient, but the majority of students, I think, have figured this out exactly what you said, which is, you know, a strong science and technology background creates so many opportunities, and a lot of them show up again and say, well, I'm going to do intellectual property. And I say, that's great. It's a great career. I love it. But don't overlook, you know, don't overlook environmental law. That's heavy on the science too. Don't overlook various types of tort practice. Don't overlook criminal law, right? I mean, there are lots of places you can put this expertise to work. And I think we have students who do that.
Austen Parrish
Now, I think that's right. Well, you said you made this this hard turn and entered into academia. Looking back and give us a little bit of the highlights of your academic career. What are the milestones that you're most proud of, or things that stick out most in your memory once you made that decision to go the academic route?
Dan Burk
Well, so, you know, my, my sense is that to be successful in anything, whether it's business or politics or law is you have to be willing to take some risks. And you have to be willing to take the right risks, right? Again, just at the time I entered the academy, someone doing lawn science was kind of odd. Now, there are quite a number of schools that have programs devoted to that. But at the time, that was a little bit risky. And periodically, I would go beyond that. I mean, you sort of look for the opportunities that are, you know, high payoff opportunities, right. So to give you a concrete example, I believe. I was the first, or if not the first one of the first, to write about gender in the patent system. There was already a group that was kind of looking at gender and copyright and trademark, but nobody was really taking on patents. So I started working in that area, I got a lot of pushback, you know, people said, well, patents are just about, you know, they're totally neutral. They're about technology, they're about innovation. This is not like it's reproductive rights, or family law, or employment law, where there's, you know, some kind of discrimination against women 10-15 years on, that conversation has completely changed, people have realized that there is a huge, we're calling gender gap in the patent system, there are very comparatively few patents issued to women. And the same is true by the way of racial and ethnic minorities. There aren't very many black inventors, there aren't very many Latino inventors. But for half the population, women do not engage in the patent system, there are relatively few female patent attorneys, this has become a source of some alarm, the United States Patent Office has new programs and initiatives to try and correct that the World Intellectual Property Organization is involved. Other overseas patent offices are involved a small group of us completely changed that conversation. And, you know, had an impact, which is what we would all like our scholarship to do, right? You know, you write it, you hope it makes the world a little bit better. We're hoping that the recognition that this problem now has is gonna make things a little bit better. So you know, that was risky, and there was a little bit of a cost to it. But that's something that I think has changed things. And so I've tried to look for those kinds of opportunities, if that makes sense.
Austen Parrish 11:42
And I you know, you can see that looking back, it's hard to see it in the moment about how those nuggets of ideas take on and people and society changes. And before you know it, people are seeing it the way you're seeing it, or the other time, like you've had such a rich, rich body of scholarship with books and law review articles and, and essays and I was reading through your CV as we're getting prepared for this interview. And it's long, it's a long CV. Are there other places where you're particularly proud, where you look back and say, you know, what, I made an impact there, I changed the conversation, or this was something that hadn't really been thought of. And when you look back on sort of your highlights of of your writings, which ones stand up to you?
Dan Burk 12:23
Well, so again, as you know, they're sort of different levels, that academics try to operate at the law in gender patents in gender example, was kind of a policy level, you know, we'd like to change institutions and sort of chang social dialogue in such a way to make things better. There are discussions within the law, you know, sort of, you know, very picayune, specialized discussions that lawyers have. And I've had, I think, at least a couple of opportunities to really change the discussion among patent attorneys. Some of the work I've done with Mark Lemley, at Stanford, on the question of, can you tailor patent law? Can you adapt patent law to different industries, because the whole idea is to promote innovation, but promoting innovation and software, it's not like promoting innovation in biotech. Right now, software, you can come up with a pretty good product, a couple of teenagers in the basement, and, you know, biotech or things like pharmaceuticals, right? You're gonna have to invest. Last I checked about $200 million to get the thing to market because of the FDA approvals and oversight that exists. So those are very different kinds of incentives that you would want to have. And we argued the patent law does that, that there are actually a flexibilities or what we call policy levers, that the courts in particular can alter, and say, okay, you know, without creating a special body of biotechnology law, we can shift the patent discussion in a way that it works for biotech, in a different case, we can shift it in a way that works for software or works for semiconductors. Again, that's something we got a lot of pushback on early on. They said no, no, it's uniform. It's one system. We got one statute that applies the same to everybody. You know, again, you know, 15 years on, I think that is our thesis is commonly accepted. Yes, the courts can do this, the patent office can do this, they should do this. And the question, maybe now is how they do this. So that's kind of a more of a more of a legalistic, you know, doctrinal success that we had early on in the history of the internet, and again, had both some policy and some doctrinal successes, particularly thinking about the problem of jurisdiction. Once you have this internet business, so again, you know, those are the kinds of targets of opportunity that I look for, and that's what I advise junior scholars to do. So you know, you've got to look around. Do you need to make a choice about where you're going to put your effort? And, you know, there's sort of an art to identifying? Yes, this is the, this is the spot where I can push a little bit, and things will open up.
Austen Parrish 15:13
You would establish your research reputation, both nationally and globally, long before you came to Irvine. We were only founded, you know, it's our 15th year anniversary from the formal founding. You're a founding member of the school. You're one of the original cohort that started law school and built it from scratch. What brought you to Irvine? And what were those early days like?
Dan Burk 15:33
They were hard. It's a great question. So, you know, at the time I was teaching at University of Minnesota, in grade school, fabulous colleagues, lovd the community. I was vaguely aware that there was a UC campus in Irvine hadn't really heard much about it. I was vaguely aware that somebody named Erwin Chemerinsky had been hired to start a law school at this campus that I basically didn't know anything about, as with most news, or community gossip, I thought, Okay, well, that's interesting. And then I got an email from Erwin Chemerinsky, who said, you know, I'm recruiting for this new law school, I'm trying to found a new faculty. And, you know, this, this campus has been working for 20 or 25 years to get a law school, California, the regents, the legislature finally signed off on that, he said, but from from the very earliest discussions, intellectual property was supposed to be a major component. So if you look back at the, the plans for the campus, you know, when the campus was founded, they actually brought that to the law school. And they've been talking even that long ago about about intellectual property. They said so I hope you'll consider joining us. And my initial reaction, I was perfectly happy where I am not really interested in moving, but my spouse said she wants me to at least go out and take a look at it, you know, go meet the guy. It's January in Minnesota, we can get a few days of sun, you know, and kind of look around. And I said, Okay, fine. So I flew out and I met Erwin Chemerinsky, you know, saw all over the campus. And he said something that really struck home. During our conversation, he said, he said, come join us. And we will build something that will outlast either you or me. And that kind of that kind of struck me, right. Because as academics, we have our sort of preset goals, you know, you want to get tenure, you want to get promoted, you don't want to get a chair or whatever. But that opportunity doesn't happen very often. Right, to found a new law school. And in particular, the foundeingof law school, at a really high functioning level. I mean, there were a number of law schools that were founded around that time, a couple of which have since closed their doors. Usually, the way you found the new law school is you scramble up some resources and kind of start at the bottom of the food chain. And then over the next 20 or 50 years, you hope you can kind of claw your way up to more of a national reputation. But the plan here from day one was, we're not doing that, this is University of California. We want to start in the top tier, and that had never been done before. And that was, that was interesting. So I said, All right. Well, this doesn't happen very often. This may be singular, right, might never happen again. So let's let's give it a whirl. And, you know, as one of our former colleagues, Jennifer said, I don't think any of us realize quite how much work it was going to be. As I said, there were several law schools that were founded at about the same time, right around the time, one was Drexel in Philadelphia, a little bit before us. And the plan there at Drexel was, everybody showed up on the same day, new faculty, new students, beginning of the semester, and I'm told by colleagues there wasn't there myself, but they said it was complete pandemonium, like nobody knew where the classrooms were, nobody knew exactly what was supposed to, you know, where's the registrar? What what do I do about this? And to their credit, the, you know, the the leadership here at UCI, Michael Drake, who was now is the president of the system, and Michael Gottfredson, who was the provost at the time. They said, Yeah, we don't need that, we don't need pandemonium. So they brought about eight of us in ahead of time that  year ahead. They said your job is to figure out the curriculum, recruit the first class of students, recruit the next batch of faculty because as we gain students, we need more instructors and to sort of get everything organized, when we open our doors next year. And we had five faculty meetings a week, initially, because that's what we're here to do. And I say to their credit, because you know, understand that meant that they were hiring staff, they were paying faculty salaries, you know, they were renovating you know, putting a pretty good amount of resources into getting this going with no tuition income, because there are no students you have to pay any tuition.
But you know, they, they felt like that was the right way to do it. And I think that was the right way to do it. I think it would have been much less successful otherwise. Yeah, it was, it was a lot of work. A lot of it was education, sort of mutual education. We had to explain to the campus what law schools are what they do, we still have to do that. Occasionally. When I flew out to originally interview with Erwin Chemerinsky, I met with the Vice Provost for Academic Personnel. And you've heard (?). Literally the first words out of his mouth, after: welcome, come in, sit down in his office. He was looking at some stuff on his desk. And he looked up at me and he said, you really don't publish in peer-reviewed journals? And I said, well, actually, I do sometimes publish in peer-reviewed journals. Because I have the science thing. I'm kind of odd that way. But, but it is certainly true that the majority of my publications are not in peer-reviewed journals. Most of my colleagues don't publish in peer-reviewed journals. And he said how can you have an academic unit that doesn't publish in peer-reviewed journals? So we had that conversation about that peculiarity of the legal academy, and many, many others over the over the years trying to educate the campus, how we do things, and they're trying to educate us as to what their expectations are, and how they would like to do things, has been an ongoing conversation. But in the early years, that was a very intense conversation to try and, you know, sort of figure each other out.
Austen Parrish 21:25
Well, but you know, as you say, the vision though, was right. Like I saw a statistic that I think there's been, it's a little more than this, but at least 25 law schools created in the last 30 years. And there's only one that's been highly ranked or highly considered out of that. And only one other that's actually even made it into, let's say, the top half of law schools in the nation. And so that vision was extraordinary.
Yeah, I think I can't imagine telling faculty that we need to have five faculty meetings a week. That would not be well received these days. Looking from, you know, looking back at that history, it was really remarkable. Can you emphasize a couple of things that you think were distinct about UCI Law in the way that education was conceived, the way that education was going to be taught that sort of still is part of the DNA, and still makes the place special compared to many law schools in the United States?
Dan Burk 22:19
One of the things that Erwin would say pretty frequently, which I think he was absolutely correct on, what he said, we need to be innovative enough to justify a new law school without being so innovative, that employers are scared away from our students. Because, you know, there have been a number of attempts to reform legal education, good example, CUNY New York, right, where they decided they were going to get rid of grades, because grades don't really reflect the person. And those of us who give grades know that that's often very true. And so instead, the instructors, the faculty, were to write a short paragraph about how each student performed in the class, which would be more reflective of the strengths and weaknesses of the student rather than this kind of, you know, canned label that you put on them. Partners at law firms hate that. They do not want to read a paragraph, you know, you walk in, they say, okay, but did she get an A? Or did she get a B? I mean, that's all I have time for. I don't have time to read a paragraph about every one of your students. Again, you know, being innovative enough to justify a new law school, but not hitting the applecart, some of our students would suffer. Because of that we considered whether we could get rid of grades to the extent that, you know, Yale and Stanford have just said: pass, fail, honors. We decided that as a new school, we had to give more information to employers than that. So we we use the more traditional, more traditional grading scale. But one of the first things that we did in these five faculty meetings a week was we sat down and we said, okay, you know, there's a pretty standard curriculum for the American Law School, first year. Now you're going to take constitutional law, you're going to take criminal law you're going to torts... why do we do that? The conclusion we came to is that each of those topics introduces a different type of analysis or a different approach to social questions to legal problems, right. Interpreting a statute is one way you can do things, creating common laws, another way you can do things. And so we said, Well, why don't we just, why don't why don't we go with that? I mean, so we changed the names on some of our classes, which again, confused employers a little bit. We had to we had to do some backpedaling on that. But we said, okay, you know, this class is about statutory interpretation. That's a skill lawyers need to have. That's a way of analyzing the law, which is quite different than procedure, right? Lawyers think about procedure in ways that nobody else in the world does. It's what drives people crazy about lawyers.
But you know, that is a distinct way of looking at things and coming from completely different set of disciplines from biochemistry and molecular biology, I can tell you that there is something called thinking like a lawyer. People make fun of that. But you know, that is a discipline. And it is a particular way of thinking about solving problems.You know, I taught at Stanford for a little while, in the first year, legal writing, and for me criminal law, and there were about five of us. In that fellowship, each of us would get our own constituency, troubled first-year students, you know. The students of color would go to my African American colleague, and the office to my right, the LGBTQ students would go to the colleague onmy left. I got the engineers, that was my minority constituency, right. And they would come in, and they would be really struggling, because they would be thinking about law like an engineer. And they would analyze the problem and say, Okay, this is the solution. And I'd say, well, the reason you didn't do so well in the exam is that that is a solution. Part of what your professor is looking for is, if that solution doesn't work, or your client doesn't like that solution, you know, what would be the next step or what would be the alternatives? In a sense, you're in a type of risk management, right? Once they figure that out, they did fine. But originally, they wanted, you know, preferably a hard number. Engineers love tax, because you can get some numbers, you know, we realized, you know, that that's what we're trying to teach you the first year, each of those classes that we have, does it in a slightly different way. And so we tailored that curriculum to do that, which I don't think had really been done before. I think a number of people have imitated it now. And we've made some other similar kinds of choices, to address particular issues and legal education, that we hope are innovative, that, again, that we hope didn't scare off the entire practice community.
Austen Parrish 26:50
And that makes sense. I've been struck, you know, this, sort of, at the time, this, this idea of teaching about the legal profession, the idea of having a strong experiential component, making sure that students were doing real live client interviews, and getting introduced to broad learning skills. This idea of being deeply connected to the community and learning through doing lots of schools of imitated at the depth of how was done here, even from the start seems extraordinary. And then I've been struck about how much you know, being part of an R1 research institution has sort of made a difference to the DNA, you know, the number of centers and institute's and you've been involved in a lot of those to, to sort of connect the theory and to the practice it can you talk a little bit about that some of the IP initiatives and the AI initiatives and, and the institutes and centers that you've been involved with?
Dan Burk 27:37
So that was something really, very exciting to us when we arrived here, because, as I mentioned a few minutes ago, you know, there was always some plan to have a law school at UCI. And this campus was lousy with J.D.S, they just weren't into law school, they were in social ecology, or they were in anthropology or they were somewhere else. And part of what the leadership of the campus at the time, one thing to do was to have a focal point, to pull all this talent together in a very interdisciplinary way that you're talking about. So you know, so we arrived on campus, and we're having five faculty meetings a day, or 5 meetings a week, trying to hire some new faculty and trying to recruit students. And we had people practically lined up, because they'd been waiting for 5-10 years to collaborate. And you know, they came from economics, and they came from psychology, and they said, you know, we've got this project, can you  work with us on this project? Can you collaborate with us? And we said, we'd love to, maybe next year, after we get some students, you know, like, don't go away. We want we want to work with you, but we can't do it right away. So the use of this campus was really ready to engage. So yes, I mean, in my particular area, I've had some fabulous interactions, particularly with something most people might not recognize, which is informatics. There's a little cluster of social scientists in the computer science school here. And they work on policy problems. And they work on, you know, sort of technology problems. And they are amazing. And there's some of the top people in in the United States, really in the world. I went to a conference in Copenhagen once. And the keynote speaker was fabulous researcher, Mimi Ito. And she got up and started the keynote presentation. Dr. Mimi Ito from University of California, Irvine. I'm like what? I didn't know she was on our campus. I mean, so yeah, they are looking at the problems associated with AI. They've been looking at problems, sort of underlying AI, which in the vernacular was called algorithmic living. Now, how do humans interact with algorithms? And we've got some great social science on that, which the legal academy and the legal profession and the policymakers in Washington are for some reason not paying any attention to at all, you know, sort of elevating that to a level where people think about, you know, hey, we've actually got data about what's going to happen with AI, how people are going to interact with it. That's a fabulous group. I've had some great collaborations over the business school. I've had some collaborations, obviously,  in the sciences and molecular biology. And I think that's true, our faculty general, any member of our faculty who wants to reach out, there's somebody on campus who wants to work with them more often they come to us, because they haven't they have something going on some type of project that's happening. I've taught at a number of schools, and the barriers here to cross disciplinary collaboration, I think are much lower than you would find at most universities. Usually, there's no reward in your department for you know, for working with those lawyers, or you want to do that, right. But here, I think it's actually encouraged campus level. And certainly, certainly that is, was one of our goals, when we got here founding the school was to have a very interdisciplinary faculty to have that input, and then to find a way to help students to put that to work, you know, actually in the practice, right, otherwise, you know, a couple of pointy headed academics talking in an ivory tower, right? And I think we've been fairly successful at that, helping students say, okay, you know, this is what we know about, you know, this particular social situation, or this what we know, from criminology, and let's use that in the clinic that's used in the courtroom. I think that's distinctive, and I think we've been pretty successful with that.
Austen Parrish 31:32
My sense is that employers are looking for that, too. They want what you said earlier, you know, the basic skills of how to think like a lawyer, they want strong writers, they want critical thinkers, but the most challenging legal problems, they want that sort of thinking out of the box with that broader perspective. And so I think it's a value add, I, you know, you mentioned our students. If you told me that 20 years ago that Orange County was going to be sort of the hotbed for first-generation students going to law school. And this is the place where you see the traditional American dream and people's family had never gone to college, and now they were in law school, and then went on and became leaders in Southern California and beyond. Twenty years ago, I would have said really? And it is stunning. I think last year, we had 30 percent of our entering class, were first-gen students, but you've taught a number of schools. You mentioned Stanford, you mentioned Minnesota. I think at the start of the interview, I listed a bunch of the international schools, really top ones throughout the world. What do you think of our students? How do they compare? And what do you think of them over the last, I guess, 15 years since you've been here?
Dan Burk 32:32
So our students, our students are great. You know, in particular, in the early years, the faculty came here for the reason I said that I came here, which was, you know, this is something new, this is something exciting chance to build something. And the students took the same risk, right, this was not a an accredited school, you know. We had to dangle a few carrots. But we got fabulous students who could have gone to Columbia or UCLA or really, pretty much anywhere, because they wanted to build something. You look at those first graduating classes in particular, you know, not only did they participate in building the institution, the law school, but they then took that out into the community, and did some truly amazing things with it. I ran into one of our first students a few weeks back, a guy named Sam Lamb, who was a great student. He was Mr. Pro bono, right? He went out and he did just enormous amounts of volunteer, legal work. And I ran into him at a bar function a while back and they said, oh, Professor Burk, it's great to see you. Because, you know, I really wish I had taken patent law. He said, yeah, cause I'm doing patent litigation now at Jones Day. I said well you do have a degree in physics. I went, I looked him up. And, you know, he's there in the biography as a patent litigator, I'm sure he's, he's now moved on, right. He's now actually in-house at a computer gamingopportunity. But you know, I'm sure he was a great lawyer, I'm sure he's a great litigator. And then all over that biography page was all of the pro bono, LGBTQ, you know, lambda pink triangle, work he was doing that, and the firm was very proud of that. So the litigation is paying the bills, and allowing him to go and really help underserved communities. And this is something I tried to communicate, you want to change the world, that's great. You want to engage in public interest, that's great. You can do that in a lot of places. Right? You know, you can certainly do it at a full-time public interest, position. If you can find one, there aren't that many. But you know, if everybody who cares, leaves, you know, the corporate and big law setting, then that just leaves the bad actors, right. And then things just get worse. We need you in places where you might not think about going because again, those are those windows of opportunity where you can push on something and really change character of a law firm, character of a practice community. The idea that business law and public interest law don't mix is something that, that I put push back on quite a bit. Most of my students want to do, quote, business law and, quote, they're going to do intellectual property of some sort. I say, okay, take that and run with it. What can you do when you get there, sort of implement this UCI value.
Austen Parrish 35:23
We've talked about this before. But I so much agree with that. I think the best lawyers in the world are ones who are deeply committed, connected to their communities in different ways. And so I've been amazed about the alums, I've met with how much they've sort of been able to walk both working at the very highest levels of the profession, whether that's in private practice, or in government or public interest, or were in corporations doing entrepreneurship, but still saying staying deeply connected. And as you say, that could be volunteering, serving on boards, working with local bar associations, working with local churches, working with nonprofits, with hospitals, but it's stunning. And I think that leads to a better lawyer, actually, and somebody who's going to bring in business for the largest firms and largest company. So it's, I think it's, it's sort of a way to do well by the community, but also do well by yourself on your career.
Well, Dan, you know, this is part of our 15th year celebration. Before we end, I know in February, we're going to host a symposium to celebrate your work on the research side, your scholarly contributions over your career, and the impact of that work. Can you talk a little bit about that, that conference we're holding and who's gonna join us?
Dan Burk 36:31
Yeah. So you know, this has been largely organized by our colleague, Tony Reese, who is a copyright expert here at UCI Law, with some assistance from Mark Lemley up at Stanford. You know, as my British friends say I'm really gobsmacked. They really have a an all-star lineup of people who are coming to talk about things I've written, probably mostly complimentary, but I hope that there are some brave souls who venture to tell me that I screwed some things up, or I missed something. Because that's how we all learn. But they're going to look at some of the topics that we've talked about, they're going to look at, certainly the patents and gender question. Some of the readings I've had in the so-called cyber law or internet law area. UCI prides itself on being kind of a law and society faculty with expertise. And so I've done a fair amount of that, and there's going to be a number of people talk about patents and society, which, again, for some reasons, seems to be mostly overlooked. There are some folks doing it, but not very many of us. And so, so we're gonna kind of walk through these different phases that we've talked about, what impact they think it's had, what impact has had on their work. And as I said, I hope they'll give some suggestions for the next stage to improve it, but,  they're really coming from all over the country and all over the world. And I'm just, I'm delighted that Mark and Tony put this together. And I'm really looking forward to what these folks have to say.
Austen Parrish 38:07
Well, it is it's an amazing all-star lineup, and that's a testament to your work and your influence, Dan. And you know, it's been aan mazing 15 years for the law school. And you know, I think a lot of that was the vision of the founders, there's a lot we owe the founding faculty and yourself that has had a major impact on the school's trajectory. So thank you for joining us on this special 15th year anniversary celebration podcast for UCI Law Talks. Before we conclude, is there any other topics or words of wisdom you wanted to leave with our listeners?
Dan Burk 38:38
As I said before, you know, take some risks, but never risk quality. You might want to choose a topic that's a little offbeat, you might want to work in a environment that's a little a little bit different. But you always do quality lawyering, you always do quality scholarship. That's not something that I'm willing to take a risk with. And I don't think others should either.
Austen Parrish 39:00
Great advice for young academics and law students alike. Dan, thanks so much for joining us on this special edition of UCI Law Talks.
Dan Burk 39:08
It's been a real pleasure.
Outro 39:15
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