If you can read Kant, you can read any Supreme Court decision.”
Alex Urbelis knew in high school that he wanted to be a technology lawyer. As a full-time undergraduate, the skilled programmer simultaneously worked almost full time at a software company. Seeing the tension technology stirs between free speech and the public interest, he recognized legal territory he wanted to explore. In addition to technical acumen, his philosophy major was an asset: "If you can read Kant, you can read any Supreme Court decision," he says.
Now as an associate in the New York firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Urbelis works on international and domestic commercial disputes with a team of attorneys focusing on the expansion of the Internet through "new gTLDs" or generic top-level domains, such as .com or .org. In 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to allow customization of Internet addresses to the right of the dot-for example, Vermont Law could apply to register .VLS in addition to vermontlaw.edu. Urbelis counsels businesses on how to expand and secure their Internet presence, and whether a new gTLD makes sense.
"It requires tremendous planning and costs $185,000 just to apply," he says. "Essentially, you become a registry operator, fusing your IT to the backbone of the industry, the Domain Name System." For some major brand owners, it's a good move. "There's greater security, and it's the equivalent of having a storefront on Fifth Avenue." He adds that Steptoe has attracted top government experts on data security to advise in this field. "To work with them is a real honor," he says.
His VLS experience prepared Urbelis well for this subtle, rigorous work. Beyond courses in Internet law, fair use, and trademark issues, he secured a rare 1L internship with the Army JAG Corps, did a full-time externship with a Vermont Supreme Court Justice, and took advantage of a research position at nearby Dartmouth's Institute for Security Technology Studies, a national center for cyber security and counterterrorism research and analysis. That work primed him for a graduate fellowship in the office of General Counsel at the CIA, where he provided legal advice to the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, now known as the National Counterterrorism Center. It was both highly selective-"I was the only person who hadn't gone to Harvard or Yale," he recalls-and fascinating.
Urbelis feels that VLS's public service reputation and the opportunities he took advantage of as a student played an important role in landing his job. "I interviewed with Steptoe's partner in charge of the pro bono program," he recalls. "My second day on the job he put me on a death penalty case before the Virginia Supreme Court, for which I was part of a team who drafted the petition for reconsideration and prepared the habeas groundwork." Urbelis recalls this was one of his last projects before taking leave from Steptoe to study for the BCL degree at New College of Oxford University. Unfortunately, he also learned how emotional such a case can be: Teresa Lewis, considered mentally challenged, was the first woman executed in that state in a century.
Looking ahead, he says, "My background and work experience have laid the groundwork for me to have a wonderful career here," adding that public service is also an option and a family tradition-his grandfather was a leader in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers' Union in New York City.
Urbelis thoroughly enjoyed VLS's rural setting and advises prospective VLS students not to underestimate its career-building potential. "It appears to be a rustic place," he says "but it's not far from other centers of learning that offer many chances to combine your legal education with another discipline." He adds, "With the practice of law becoming increasingly specialized and yet interdisciplinary, this type of collaboration can give VLS students a real edge in the job market."