When Maura Tuohy decided to go to law school, she already had an MBA under her belt and was Head of Global Social Strategy at Mozilla, the tech nonprofit. She knew the move could seem an odd choice for someone 12 years into a successful career in social and digital marketing. But Tuohy, who enrolled part-time in the MSL for Business and Technology Professionals this fall, realized that grasping the law was critical for making a broader impact in her evolving field.
“A lot of technologists aren’t really thinking about the legal and human applications of what they’re developing. At the end of this, I’m hoping that I can begin to bridge the legal understanding with communication to consumers, industry stakeholders, and internally within companies,” she says.
Tuohy hadn’t considered studying law in the past, but that changed last year when she joined Mozilla, which created the Firefox browser. Her communications role regularly brought her in touch with the organization’s legal and policy teams, as she strategized about how to translate the nonprofit’s viewpoint for an audience of 25 million. A law degree, she realized, would help her contribute on a new level to Mozilla’s advocacy on issues such as net neutrality, copyright reform and encryption.
When she researched continuing education programs, UC Hastings stood out for its focus on working professionals in the technology industry. Tuohy still works at Mozilla full time, getting up early to align with colleagues on the East Coast and in Europe. She’s taking two classes at UC Hastings this fall: Introduction to Law and Legal Research and Writing. She says her professors have gone out of their way to accommodate her schedule and interests.
“This is a program that requires students to develop an understanding of an approach to problems that is unfamiliar to most people in business and technology, to learn new skills rapidly and apply those skills to analytical exercises, and to navigate between the world of law and other pursuits,” says Prof. Lois Schwartz, who teaches one of Tuohy’s courses. “Maura seems able to do this effortlessly…Her intellectual curiosity and critical judgment make her such a ready candidate for this degree.”
Five weeks into the program, Tuohy is already putting her studies to use. When BEREC, a European regulatory commission, launched net neutrality guidelines in late August, she approached the document from a fresh perspective.
“In the past, I would’ve been very intimidated to dig into a 20-page ruling. But having spent the last couple of weeks reading dense case law, I felt more confident to take a stab at reading it and translating pieces back to the team,” she says.
Tuohy says her background also helps her contribute a fresh perspective to the UC Hastings community.
“Not only am I learning a ton, but I’m bringing a lot to the J.D. students who haven’t had extensive work experience. I also try to be a link to Silicon Valley and provide context for what’s going on in that world,” she says.
Tuohy grew up in San Francisco and spent four years as a ballet dancer in Kansas and New York after high school. In 2004, she enrolled in Indiana University Bloomington, where she majored in ballet and sociology. After a foot injury stalled her career as a dancer, Tuohy got into digital marketing, including five years working for digital ad tech firms in Australia. She joined Mozilla in 2015. After buying and selling customers’ online data for advertising purposes, she was drawn to an organization that valued protecting people’s privacy.
Tuohy expects to earn the MSL degree in four years (full-time students complete the program in one). Eventually, she hopes to become a “futurist” who helps shape emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
“We’re at a turning point in our society: We can either decide that we’re going to let corporate greed dictate the products we create or that we’re going to protect people and think ethically about technology. Frankly, the laws have not kept up with the pace of technology.”
Someday, she hopes to help change that.