JDs Who Code

ASPIRE scholars Brian Eschels '16, Kevin Kirby '17, and Joshua R. Fattal '19

It's not often that law students have a chance to code (and hack passwords) alongside computer science engineers, but that is just another typical day for the NYU Law students participating in the ASPIRE program.

ASPIRE, which stands for A Scholarship for Service Partnership for Interdisciplinary Research and Education, provides students selected for the program with a top-tier interdisciplinary cybersecurity education and hands-on experience working in government. The Law School’s ASPIRE scholars take a number of technical cybersecurity courses at NYU Tandon after the 1L year, for which they receive credit toward the JD degree. They are required to work at a state, local, or federal government agency for two years after graduation and to work as a government cybersecurity intern during the summer before the 3L year. Funded by the National Science Foundation, ASPIRE students receive full tuition support.

Diving into master’s level courses in network security is no easy feat. Kevin Kirby ’17, a former army engineer who had been deployed in Afghanistan, described his experience as “drinking from a fire hose,” but in a positive way—with opportunities to work on interesting projects, such as designing a web server. Kirby, whose ASPIRE internship was with the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, intends to pursue work in privacy and data security, especially concerning how companies safeguard consumer data.

Joshua R. Fattal ’18 said he found the interdisciplinary discussions between Law and Tandon students enlightening as they taught each other about different approaches to the same questions. For example, said Fattal, “Is code speech? Is there freedom of speech to write any code you want? Can a company be compelled to provide source code to the government?”

Brian Eschels ’16 taught himself to code in PYTHON and took exams that tested his ability to encrypt and decrypt using algorithms. During Tandon’s annual Cyber Security Awareness Week, Eschels organized a policy competition around the question of whether the US should institute a national “bug bounty” program to award individuals for reporting system vulnerabilities.

When the Pentagon announced a similar bug bounty program for its website not long afterward, Eschels was pleased to see that the agency’s policymakers had the same ideas as students. Eschels’s experience at ASPIRE led him to the Department of Homeland Security, where he will begin this fall as part of an honors program composed of four attorneys.

“There’s a big divide between the policymakers and the tech people. Policymakers tend to focus on legal frameworks and to reason by analogy when confronted with something new. Tech people are more in tune with the capabilities and vulnerabilities of software—meaning that they can see the shortcomings of the analogies—but are less familiar with how the policymaking process operates,” said Eschels. “There are relatively few people who are situated at the nexus between the disciplines, and I’m glad I’m here.”