Avi Muchnick '04, founder and chief product officer of Aviary
Booting Up: New York's 2nd Tech Boom Reprograms the Legal Field
By Susan Karwoska for Cardozo Life
A stone’s throw from the Cardozo Law campus, in an area of New York City still known for its meatpacking plants, rail yards and other vestiges of the city’s industrial past, Google’s new east coast headquarters has brought a decidedly 21st-century presence to the neighborhood, from the free local wireless it provides to the of-the-minute design of its offices. Occupying a full city block, the massive building looks like nothing so much as a ship that’s just come in.
Google’s dramatic growth in the Big Apple in the last ten years has been a major driver of the city’s burgeoning tech industry. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is throwing considerable weight behind the effort to make sure this growth continues, offering up forward-looking initiatives to support and develop the city’s tech ecosystem.
Add to this a ready supply of venture capital as well as New York’s status as a world-class city, and it’s clear why New York has become fertile ground for a new generation of tech innovators. This tech renaissance promises to create new employment opportunities in every sector of the city’s economy, including the legal industry—good news in the field’s otherwise soft job market for those prepared to take advantage of it.
“This is an extraordinarily interesting time, full of ferment and opportunity,” says Cardozo professor Susan Crawford. “Because everything is so intangible in the digital world, its legal status really matters. Lawyers have a large role to play when you’re making arguments about intangible property or intangible relationships. It’s very difficult to point to a new piece of software and say ‘that’s mine,’ or ‘that’s his.’ Explaining what these intangibles are becomes the province of the lawyer, and lawyers are very good at telling stories.”
“The technology boom in New York City is going to be great for the legal industry here too,” says Avi Muchnick ’04, who has a leg in both the legal and tech worlds as a Cardozo graduate and the founder and chief product officer of Aviary, a successful New York-based photo-editing software startup. In 2007, when he was still at Cardozo, Muchnick used seed funding from Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, to get Aviary off the ground. Six years later, Muchnick claims 50 million monthly users for his software and says that four billion photos have been edited using Aviary in a 12-month period.
“It’s clear—software is eating the world, and that means that there’s going to be a lot more intellectual property work out there to deal with this shift,” says Aaron Wright ’05, an associate in the content media and entertainment group at Jenner and Block and a former software developer who, like Muchnick, began a startup while still at Cardozo.
Wright was editor of the Cardozo Law Review when he and a few other Review staff members started a sports Web site that was later sold to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Wales then hired Wright and his codevelopers to help build Wikia, a for-profit sister company to Wikipedia, which they saw grow from a small enterprise into what Wright says is now "one of the largest Web sites on the planet."
As much as he enjoyed his time in the tech world, Wright says, he wanted in on the legal side of the business. “I realized I wanted to go back to practicing law, so I thought about the future of the legal profession, and I looked around the city and realized that New York is going to be the hotbed for future tech startups. Everyone was talking about California, but I had a good feeling about what was happening here. There was a lot of energy, and I decided that I wanted to be a part of that.”
New York City is quickly developing into an epicenter of tech innovation with its own east coast slant, attracting local outposts of California tech giants like Google, Twitter, Facebook and eBay, and fostering homegrown startups like Foursquare, Buzzfeed, Gilt Groupe and Etsy. The New York startups often take the city’s traditional industries—such as fashion, finance, media, advertising and publishing—into the digital age. According to seedtable.com, in the last year alone, 127 startups were founded in the city—just a few shy of California’s total. “If the field continues to grow the way it’s been growing, that’s going to create a lot of legal work and a lot of opportunities for lawyers here,” says Cardozo Dean Matthew Diller. “We want to produce the New York lawyers who have the right mindset to do this work.”
Read the rest of "Booting Up" in the upcoming issue of Cardozo Life!