By: Alexandra Noonan, J.D. ’19

Alexandra Noonan, J.D. ’19

I have had two wonderful opportunities to work with the Cyberlaw Clinic. Reflecting back on my time at Harvard Law School, both of these opportunities shaped me as a lawyer and as an advocate.

I originally decided to participate in the clinic because its work aligned with my interests and values. I entered HLS very interested in intellectual property, digital civil liberties, and privacy and wanted a chance to learn about these areas in a hands-on way. During my first project, I worked primarily on my client-counseling skills as my partner and I helped a city develop its first data privacy policy. Professor Susan Crawford supervised us but let us define the scope of the project, work directly with our clients, and interview other city officials all over the world.

It was during my advanced clinical with the Cyberlaw Clinic  that I developed enough ownership in my work to consider myself an advocate. Over the 2019 winter term, I drafted an amicus brief for a group of former United States Magistrate Judges advocating for the unsealing of government surveillance orders  and applications. Jason Leopold, a BuzzFeed News journalist, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press appealed a district court decision granting the parties only limited access to the old sealed applications and orders for pen registers, trap and trace devices, and other types of surveillance for which Leopold had petitioned. As amici, the United States Magistrate Judges wanted to help the D.C. Circuit understand why unsealing these old surveillance applications and orders would not place undue administrative burdens on the judges who would actually process them. They also wanted to explain why focusing on administrative burdens place undue limits on the public’s common law right of access to judicial records.

This project was my first opportunity to write a brief from start to finish. Although I had assisted with parts of briefs in the past, this was my first opportunity to define the main arguments and structure, draft the brief in full, and refine it with my clients. In just a few weeks, I learned everything about sealed surveillance applications and orders, from the law governing their approval and use to what judges on the ground do when they receive them. Each of my clients had tens of years of experience on  the bench and with sealed orders, but they were extremely gracious and appreciative of my work. At the same time, my supervisors Kendra Albert and Mason Kortz helped me work on  structuring an amicus brief and improving my prose, even though we were up against a very tight deadline. I have worked on a lot of projects in my time at HLS, but this one in particular took me from law student to lawyer.

I am so grateful for my time in the Cyberlaw Clinic and for the incredible instruction I received there. The projects I have worked on were exactly the kind of work I had hoped to do when I decided to attend HLS. Although I plan to practice patent litigation next year at a law firm, the skills that I have acquired in the clinic have helped me become a more confident lawyer and more effective advocate.