During her undergraduate studies at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (formerly the Woodrow Wilson School), Michelle Molner ‘19 J.D. focused on the technical side of public policy. Taking a hands-on approach to her studies, she worked on cybersecurity issues that governmental agencies—like the Department of Homeland Security—were actively facing and drafted policy proposals to ultimately present to such agencies. After graduating from Princeton in 2016, Molner sought a way to marry her interests in technology with her skills in research and writing and chose to pursue a career in law.
Molner intentionally chose NDLS because of its emphasis on community. As an undergraduate, Molner appreciated having consistent access to extracurricular offerings such as plays, concerts, and speakers. Notre Dame’s singular campus layout and numerous event offerings allowed her to feel that same sense of connectedness while in law school.
As an academic foundation, Molner took a variety of intellectual property and privacy classes and wrote about the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) for the Notre Dame Journal of Legislation. She selected IP classes that focused on practical lessons beyond just blackletter law and challenged her to think about legal strategy, procedure, and future developments in the law, such as Professor Mark McKenna’s privacy class and Professor Barry Irwin’s patent litigation and entertainment law courses.
Wanting to gain practical skills as early as possible, she sought out opportunities for experiential learning. During her 2L year, Molner interned at Thor Motor Coach through the Corporate Counsel Externship Program. During her 3L year, she participated in the IP & Entrepreneurship Clinic. These experiences helped make theoretical classroom concepts more concrete and enable students to have a tangible impact on clients’ progress and success. Molner offers as an example, “theoretically understanding the term of a patent is one thing but being asked to actually calculate the term is very different.” Molner encourages all students to seek out experiential learning opportunities as a way to gain practical experience and better prepare for real-world practice.
During her 1L summer, Molner interned with the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California. The internship offered a chance to work on cybersecurity, privacy, and international law issues in a fun and intellectually stimulating environment. Molner highly recommends government internships for a student’s 1L summer, because grappling with high-level policy issues that have lasting impacts is a formative and rewarding experience.
Following a successful 2L summer at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in the Bay Area, Molner decided to return to Orrick after graduation. Molner currently focuses on litigation and counseling matters related to intellectual property, trade secrets, cybersecurity, and data privacy. In particular, she enjoys the intellectual rigor that comes with new issues unfolding in the privacy and cyber space. For example, she has counseled on Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act as applied to facial recognition research and regularly examines new data sharing practices for liability under California’s CCPA, Europe’s GDRP, and other international privacy frameworks. These feel like the kinds of curious, forward-thinking issues she grappled with in law school, but now there’s the added benefit of contributing tangible solutions for her clients.
Reflecting on her experiences in law school and her time at Orrick thus far, Molner has a few pieces of advice for students. First, she encourages individuals to explore, be curious, and dig into interests. Different opportunities will arise and “the more open-minded you are to exploring your interests, the more likely it is that you will find something you are passionate about and want to pursue permanently.” Second, it is okay not to know what you want to do yet. Things will change from the first day of law school to the last; from your first internship to successive internships; from your first year in practice to your fifth year. Molner says, “your career is meant to be dynamic.” Third, when it comes to networking both in school and in practice, “talk to everyone who will talk to you.” Talk to people in the industry you want to work in; cold call everyone’s contact you can get ahold of; talk to friends or family who are lawyers, if you have them. She notes, “people are eager to share their experiences, and you will benefit immensely from hearing these experiences.”
In her free time, Molner enjoys anything that gets her outside. She particularly enjoys hiking and camping, playing tennis, and boxing, and is trying to get back into sailing at the moment, to take full advantage of the Bay. She makes sure to stay connected with close friends from Notre Dame who are near and far, and to be active in regional Notre Dame alumni events.
Molner received impactful mentorship from professors at Notre Dame, and she still returns to them for advice. She deeply values the Notre Dame alumni community and is always eager to pay forward the support, mentorship, and guidance she was offered as a student. She loves connecting with students and helping support them in whatever capacity possible.