Friday, April 4, 2014

No More Making Fun of International Space Law

So there I was, bored last Sunday morning, looking for something to write about.  I pulled up Google and tried the usual search terms.  A personal favorite of mine, "Indiana Tech Law School," turned up nothing again - they're keeping a rather low profile recently - so I turned my attention to space law, an oft-cited exciting new area of law that is exploding with opportunities for law grads.  Could space law be the new international law, the hot practice area of the 2000s which failed to materialize?

And I found not just space law, but international space law.

Yup, I stumbled upon the website for the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, an organization that has pages devoted to international space law.  So no more teasing people who want to get into this hot area of practice.  It's legit.  International space law.  Who'd have thought it even possible?

And then there's organizations such as the International Institute of Space Law, which seems to be more concerned with padding the resumes of the space lawyers involved than with actually doing much space lawyering.

According to this article, space law is poised to become the savior of the entire legal profession:

America's struggling legal business, once a high-flying profession whose leaders could bill $1,000 per hour, may be turning the corner, thanks to developments both earthly and unearthly.
Reading on:

In addition, the industry is now preparing for the rise of increased demand for a new kind of legal service ... a demand that comes from outer space. 

Consider this: Commercial spaceflights may take off from the New Mexico desert next year with Virgin Galactic, and Planetary Resources is planning to mine near-Earth asteroids for minerals in less than 10 years. Which jurisdiction adjudicates a mishap in orbit? What if two satellites collide? Who pays the bill? And who exactly has an enforceable claim to minerals on an asteroid? Which parties bear responsibility if mining debris in orbit crashes into a satellite or falls to Earth and trashes a building or kills people?

The prospect of such disputes -- which are closer than many realize -- is fueling the creation of space law and programs that focus on space law.


Er, okay?  Then there's this article:

Ambulance chasing only gets you so far. Hitching a ride, metaphorically speaking, on rockets funded by private corporations seeking fortunes beyond Earth's atmosphere is where it's at for eager legal pioneers.

There are stellar opportunities for lawyers specializing in space exploration. Space law is quickly becoming an integral part of the evolving aerospace industry. These lawyers exist in a tightly knit industry that deals with all kinds of practical issues and some that seem cribbed from science fiction. Depending on whether the space lawyer is in private practice or academia, he or she could handle anything from liability laws pertaining to litigious space tourists to the legal framework surrounding human encounters with E.T.


...and so on and so forth.

So how can students get a foot in the door of this practice area?  Well, there's a handy little document published on the UNOOSA site which details the opportunities for education in this area of law.  They could study at places such as GWU, with its tuition of a mere $44,000.  Maybe that hotbed of advanced science and forward thinking, Mississippi, where the JD with a concentration in "Remote Sensing, Air, and Space Law" (wow!) is a drop in the bucket at almost $21,000 per year.

Nebraska?  You can get a JSD in space law for a total tuition cost of $60,000.  And in Houston, the one semester program costs $17,000.  Houston, you have a problem!

So once you've spent your fifty or sixty grand (maybe twice that at some places when all is said and done) on your qualification in space law from a US university, five to ten times more expensive than comparable qualifications from overseas, let's take a look at some of the opportunities that await.

After much searching, just about the only thing about space law that I couldn't find were job openings for space lawyers.  Surely I must be mistaken?  Not trying hard enough perhaps?

Looking in Martindale for space lawyers, there are about 130 in the US.  The vast majority of these lawyers practiced space law in conjunction with many other areas of law - presumably ones that made money and allowed them the luxury of pretending to be space lawyers on the side.

"Wait," I hear the law schools cry.  "There's clearly a huge unmet need for space lawyers.  See how few of them there are?"

Don't fall into the trap.  There are only 130 space lawyers in the US because there's not enough work for more than 130 space lawyers.  I bet there's not enough work to support 13 full-time space lawyers, let alone 130, given the fact that most of them list many other practice areas in their bios.  (Note that there are many lawyers who work for space-related agencies and companies - NASA, Hughes, Intelsat, SpaceX, etc. - but they are not space lawyers; they are corporate lawyers, litigators, compliance attorneys, HR practitioners, the usual in-house types.  Working for a space-related company is not the same as being a space lawyer.)

To put this into perspective, other pie-in-the-sky vanity practice areas had the following hits in Martindale:

Entertainment - 7,464
Sports - 2,846
International - 16,952
Animal - 1,190
Restaurant - 405
Art - 325

And to put those figures into perspective, here's the Martindale numbers for some normal practice areas (all of which half of all law grads can't even get into):

Corporate - 106,972
Real estate - 113,733
Litigation - 243,788


For every space lawyer out there, there's an astronomical 1,000 real estate lawyers, and 2,000 litigators.  And 57 entertainment lawyers.

Attending law school with the goal of obtaining any law job is risky, given the fact that half of all law grads end up as unemployed lawyers.  Trying to narrow that down and obtain a job in a particular area of law is even riskier, whether it's litigation or corporate work, or some finer subcategory thereof.  But spending $50K on a higher law degree to obtain a job in a practice area that even art and animal lawyers consider to be a niche?  An area of law that is 1,000 times less common than real estate law, and 2,000 times less common than litigation?  Insanity.  Utter insanity, especially when considering the out-of-this-world cost of a US degree in space law.

As an interesting footnote to all of this, on my travels I did find one attorney listed on Martindale whose practice is like a law applicant's dream career.  Richard F. Martz, Jr., of Niceville, FL, manages to practice not only space law, but international law, arts and cultural heritage law, entertainment and music law, and sports law.  Clearly, a very, very busy man, probably very rich too with all those music stars and Oscar winners in his lobby each morning.  I can imagine being his secretary:

"Sorry, Mr. Joel, Richard is busy this morning with Tiger Woods.  And this afternoon he's booked up with Kevin Spacey and LeBron James.  Tomorrow?  Let me see...he can fit you in between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton at nine thirty, or at four in the afternoon right before Neil Armstrong.  Does that work?"

44 comments:

  1. May The Force be with you.

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  2. Assuming a demand for "international space law" ever does materialize, here's how it will play out. The CEO of Space Time Inc. will call the partner at Cravaddentell who handled the company's IP work and ask him for help with a mid-space collision matter. The Cravaddentell partner, who knows nothing about either space law or international law, will say, "Sure! We'll run a conflict check and then follow up with you for the details." The partner then checks the firm directory to see if the firm has a space lawyer. Finding none, he emails the senior associate or service partner whom he considers the smartest and most reliable, and they have a quick pow-wow during which the partner tells his subordinate to find out everything he can about this kind of thing. The subordinate does so ... the firm handles the matter reasonably well, while learning along the way ... and when it's over, Cravaddentell is now one of the leading firms in the international space law area.

    Meanwhile, several hundred international space law certificate holders continue reviewing documents in Cleveland or answering phones in Houston or serving espresso in Vegas, waiting for their specialization to finally pay off.

    - One of the Lucky Ones

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    1. Excellent comment. That is precisely how the system works, and everyone thinking about law school - especially those who think they'll outsmart the system by finding a niche - should take heed. Space law, like so many other new areas of law, is often relevant only to large corporate clients or the wealthy, and they already have trusted lawyers and favored law firms. The major players in space aren't going to send this kind of work to the guy with the six-credit law school specialization in the subject.

      I'm a big believer in the idea that law is law, and once you've mastered one subcategory, you can easily apply those skills to any other subcategories. (Perhaps there's two major areas, transactional and litigation, but even those are blended these days.). And this means that a competent transactional attorney can practice space law very easily given a primer and a few hours, likewise a competent litigator can apply his skills to space litigation with very little prep. Law school specialization are pure marketing for the law schools, and have little to no bearing on employability of their grads.

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    2. Cheers, mate! Keep up the good work!

      - One of the Lucky Ones

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    3. That was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

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    4. One of the Lucky Ones is right on the money.That is how it currently goes down and it sure isn't going to change anytime soon.

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    5. You guys all think this is comment is brilliant, but it's actually just common sense from someone who has actual experience in our profession. Not to detract from him, because I 100% agree with him. Law schools have been relying on the naïveté and ignorance of applicants for years, specifically lower ranked law schools.

      It is true that a smart lawyer can adapt to any practice area he or she wants to, in most cases. I can find you hundreds of biglaw partners out there who started their careers as prosecutors or public defenders, for example. It is for that very reason that the Houston grad studying "space law" is a fool. If you really want to practice space law, you should check the name of your law school to see if it's in the top 20, realistically assess your odds of landing a biglaw associate position in a major market city like NYC or SF, and then make sure that biglaw firm has major international offices. The firm having a large international law practice is also a must. You also have to get hired into that actual practice of course, and report to partners who are in it.

      The odds of you practicing space law, when you consider all of this, aren't even all that high if you're a Yale law grad. Houston? Good luck.

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  3. Great OP, and One of the Lucky Ones is prescient. This is exactly how it will go down.

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    1. I was once able to ask the General Counsel of a very large, well known insurance company whether people in corporations tended to give work to biglaw as a kind of CYA tactic. If the deal went south or the case was lost whoever hired the lawyer could say "But I gave the file to [insert name of white shoe firm]! What else could I have done? He said yes, that was how it worked. Good luck, TTT lemmings.

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    2. @ 7:21 am -- What the GC told you is 100% consistent with my experience. Firm brands are hugely important in the market for high-end legal work. Price is a much, much less significant consideration. (I have to admit that one of the ways in which I've been lucky is to be a beneficiary of a strong brand.)

      - One of the Lucky Ones

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    3. Yes, 7:21, that's how it works. An old saying: "No one ever got fired for specifying IBM" (as the supplier).

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  4. This reminds of the Peter Sellers movie "Heavens Above", where they end up launching the guy off in a rocket and making him Bishop of Outer Space. Makes about as much sense as getting a degree in space law.

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  5. "For every space lawyer out there, there's an astronomical 1,000 real estate lawyers …"

    Beautiful.

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  6. Space law... I didn't realize that this was a thing. I thought it was a joke. It even sounds absurd. A literal pie in the sky "niche." Anyone dumb enough to buy that hook line and sinker deserves the debt that they fall into.
    I can't wait for scholarshit articles about the undeserved middle-class market for space law. Did Newt Gingrich come up with this along with the moon base that he was touting during his presidential run?

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    1. Oh, indeed, there's a vast unmet demand for legal services in this area. Why, poor people rarely get representation in lawsuits related to property in the Andromeda galaxy.

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  7. For an amusing video, do a search on Youtube for "Space law" and Mark Sundahl. There's an exciting Space law certificate at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law!

    The video is very instructive. You can see this clown Sundahl smirking throughout the entire video. He's struggling to contain his mirth and contempt for those who will get this certificate. The left corner of his mouth is always twisting up as he tries to hide his smirk. "Trillions of dollars of valuable metals!"

    It's called duping delight and no he's not fooling me.

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    1. Prof. Sundahl should be ashamed of himself.

      I wonder how his rosy prospects for the future of space law have been adjusted by the recent rift in NATO-Russian relations. If the US opts to give Russia's Mir the finger, that alone could put a huge dent in the demand for space law experts that would take decades to recover from. I'm sure Sundahl is all over this.

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  8. Didn't you people see "Gravity"? Space debris is a huge hazard! Just ask George Clooney. And Sandra Bullock is lucky to be alive! We need international space environmental lawyers and we need them now!

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  9. Unfortunately many foolish 0L lemmings who will sign up for a Space Law JD will wind up being compensated with the equivalent of Romulan ale.

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  10. Imagining The Open ToadApril 4, 2014 at 2:14 PM

    "For every space lawyer out there, there's an astronomical 1,000 real estate lawyers"

    Loved the pun!

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  11. Imagining The Open ToadApril 4, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    International Space Law is for Pikers. Come to ITOT Law's Cool and get a highly respected, highly valuable, and highly versatile LLM in either of the following:

    - Interplanetary Space Law: Learn how to properly calculate damages suffered by the Martians due to the United States' unprovoked invasion of Martian airspace and the planetary surface itself.

    - Interstellar Space Law: Similar to Intergalactic Space Law (offered by our sister Law's Cool, ITOF Law's Cool) but with a stellar concentration in the issues one might expect to result when star's collide.

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    1. Which toilet will be the first to have graduates called to the Martian bar?

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    2. You mean the Mars Bar.

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  12. I think Mr. Cooper is an old and settled in kind of kook, and has too much time on his hands, and is grasping for material and going far afield.

    But the old ones deserve respect, and even in outer space I guess, where all of the non relevant issues go.

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    1. So what brings you here, professor? Could it be that you have too much time on your own hands?

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  13. The lemmings won't pay attention.

    After all, the latest episode of "Suits" and the "The Good Wife" or reruns of "Law and Order" or "The Practice" are on the air. All the lawyers are making millions and banging supermodels on those shows.

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  14. Do you want to know why there were no international space lawyers in Star Trek? They were unemployed in the future too.
    Seriously though, there will be employment at the International Space House of Pancakes.

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    1. It's true! Captain Kirk and Spock never consulted the services of a space attorney. They most likely had automated systems that provided all the legal consulting.

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  15. Most of those supposedly challenging legal questions are answered by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty or else by garden-variety private international law.

    Which law governs damages that occur in outer space? Well, which law governs damages that occur in Madagascar when a resident of Scotland runs into a resident of Yunnan with a car bearing Pennsylvania license plates? The same sort of analysis applies. The only difference is that in space there is, of course, no lex loci delicti—and that fact actually simplifies the analysis.

    I'm planning a whopping class-action lawsuit for damages resulting from the forecast supernova of the Sun. Maybe those razor-sharp legal minds at Indiana Tech and Appalachian will be prescient enough to give me a retainer.

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  16. You dont check Martindale for space lawyers, you look at Martiandale

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  17. Law profs think that students will be able to work for either humans, dolphins, or ET. Space law is a snug fit for producing practice-ready, well-rounded, diverse, global leaders for the 22nd century. And it only costs $200,000 to "launch" your career! Ad astra, per aspera!

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  18. These popular "specialties" are totally bogus. No law school offers a "specialty" in traffic tickets, insurance claims, divorces, or other humdrum areas of law for which lawyers actually are hired. That stuff could never be sold; after all, every lemming is far too good to dirty its paws with such lowly fare. Instead, law schools invariably tout "environmental law", "international law", "space law", "sports law", "entertainment law", "animal-rights law", and other flashy but non-existent domains.

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    1. You are absolutely correct, and that hadn't crossed my mind before. There are no specialty programs for the things that lawyers actually do. You'd have a hard time even finding a specialty program for litigation or transactional law (although I suppose one could tailor one's course choices to those relevant to one's career goals), let alone any of the mundane subcategories of law that 99.9% of lawyers spend their time on. Specialty programs tend to be in areas of law that people wish they could practice, but which don't actually exist.

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    2. Maritime/admiralty is something you can specialize in and practice exclusively if you choose.

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    3. Continuing my comment above (4:44):

      Not for nothing do we call these people special snowflakes. They fancy themselves far to worthy to do anything that lacks pizzazz, celebrity, and high status. Traffic tickets? Insurance claims? Divorces? Evictions? Those are all fine for the dull people who go in for such stuff. I, however, I am destined for grander things. While the little people—I don't actually know any of them, but they must exist somewhere—are doing something mundane, I, of course, will be rubbing elbows with famous people, dallying with diplomats at five-star European hotels, and saving puppies and the environment from bad guys.

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    4. Over on lawschool lemmings you see the phrase "dream job" repeated over and over. I'm not sure what they imagine the practice of law to be like, but if they describe it as their "dream", you can bet they imagine it won't be dull stuff like doing traffic tickets or insurance claims for not much money.

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    5. "Not for nothing do we call these people special snowflakes. They fancy themselves far to worthy to do anything that lacks pizzazz, celebrity, and high status. Traffic tickets? Insurance claims? Divorces? Evictions? Those are all fine for the dull people who go in for such stuff. I, however, I am destined for grander things. While the little people—I don't actually know any of them, but they must exist somewhere—are doing something mundane, I, of course, will be rubbing elbows with famous people, dallying with diplomats at five-star European hotels, and saving puppies and the environment from bad guys."

      That's not the issue; the issue is that grads are trying to compete in such things when they have $200K in debt *and* no experience *and* no connections *and* no training the matters.

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  19. Entertaining. Excellent post.

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  20. The scam is tragic and funny at the same time. It's also evil on so many levels.

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  21. "Not for nothing do we call these people special snowflakes. They fancy themselves far to worthy to do anything that lacks pizzazz, celebrity, and high status. Traffic tickets? Insurance claims? Divorces? Evictions? Those are all fine for the dull people who go in for such stuff. I, however, I am destined for grander things. While the little people—I don't actually know any of them, but they must exist somewhere—are doing something mundane, I, of course, will be rubbing elbows with famous people, dallying with diplomats at five-star European hotels, and saving puppies and the environment from bad guys."

    I have linkedin connections with Georgetown, GW, and Michigan law school students and recent graduates. Lots of these young people’s profile is like this: internship with DoJ, DoD, ACLU,or some sort of prestigious federal agencies/non-profit. All fantasy stuffs and will probably WOW someone who doesn’t know a thing about legal industry. Most of these young people have three to five of these types of internships on their profiles. Yet somehow they can’t land a good job with these awesome experiences.
    Yup, that’s right. Chase your dreams, do what you like, if you try hard to enough, you will get what you want. These are the boomer hippie mentality that got these young people into trouble. They are too good to get their hands dirty and they want grander things like working on national issues as 25~27 years with no job experience.
    Now they became “career interns” or “career fellows” and their legal career are over before they even begin. Sad, but true.

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  22. Ahh, Houston cashing in on the proximity fallacy. Since our law school is physically located close to something, it obviously gives one a leg up in that field, right? This is what schools like American and George Washington do. "You'll be within steps of the halls of Congress, and even the Supreme Court."

    It's a bit like deluding yourself that if you attend a basketball camp in Miami, you'll become the next Lebron James. Lebron has eaten breakfast at that very restaurant three blocks from here!

    Of course, Universities often hold football and basketball camps on this kind of premise, that you'll meet Coach K or Nick Saban, and play on the same field or court as the legends you've seen on tv. Why, if you do well enough, they might even offer you a scholarship on the spot! (Nevermind those 30 guys that they've invited to camp specifically to evaluate).

    The difference, of course, is if you're foolish enough to fall for the sports camp pitch, you're only out a few hundred dollars and a week of your time. If you fall for international space law, it's three years and a few HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars.

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    1. A very good and perceptive post.


      Other proximity traps:

      Santa Clara (Silicon Valley)

      Seattle, USF, Southwestern (Pacific Rim)

      Tulane, Houston, Texas Tech (Oil Fields)

      NYLS (Wall Street)

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    2. Im glad you mention Santa Clara which is a steaming, rotten cesspool. Santa Clara Law needs to be shut down or demolished with a giant wrecking ball operated by a big fat construction worker!

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