Christina Gagnier leads the Intellectual Property, Internet & Technology practice at Gagnier Margossian LLP, with a specialization in social media, copyright and information privacy. Gagnier serves as the Chief Executive Officer of TRAIL, managing platforms like JobScout and HealthScout. She also blogs in the Technology section of The Huffington Post, and serves as the host for TechWire on the California Channel.
LI: What from your background led you to be so active in the tech start-up community?
CG: I got interested in Internet law when I was an undergraduate at UC Irvine. I distinctly remember taking an Internet, Business and Law class and becoming fascinated by what I knew was not only going to be an industry increasingly critical to our economy in the future, but also an area of the law that would have to be created and shaped.
As someone generally involved in the technology space, it is hard not to want to get involved, particularly with the amazing civic and education technology projects that are happening.
LI: In addition to being a partner at a successful IP firm, you’re also CEO of your own start-up, how is that going and where do you find the time?
CG: Currently, I lead the Internet, Intellectual Property and Technology Practice at Gagnier Margossian LLP. Along with my business partner, Stephanie Margossian, we started our firm as a public affairs shop with an $87.00 refund from an AT&T phone deposit. I distinctly remember using Craigslist as one of the first means to find clients. Fortunately, we have grown to serve clients around the globe from our offices in San Francisco and the Greater Los Angeles area.
I also serve as the CEO of TRAIL, an online education company dedicated to bringing people their first experience with the Internet. We partner with libraries, schools, social services offices, workforce development centers and other trusted public institutions to offer our courses and features online for free. TRAIL’s education modules, including JobScout and HealthScout, allow thousands of learners to become Internet savvy. With users in over 12 countries, TRAIL is on its way to becoming the “first stop” on the Internet.
Like any startup, we face our challenges, but it is nice to work in both the technology law space on digital issues and then spend time working to get people online for the first time.
LI: More and more young lawyers are looking to break into the legaltech and start-up world in lieu of a more traditional track. What advice do you have for attorneys who are considering this route?
CG: I actually wrote a piece for Above the Law on this very topic. It’s best to keep it simple and lean in the beginning. You should look realistically at your given area of practice and ensure that there will be opportunities for you to develop clients and grow.
LI: You just finished your campaign to become the United States Representative in California’s 35th Congressional District. Why on earth do you want to get into politics, and what did you learn from the experience?
CG: I ran for three reasons initially.
First, as a technology lawyer working in intellectual property, privacy and general consumer rights online, the laws that I have to deal with are terrible or non-existent. “Fake it until they make it (the law)” really should not be the mantra for lawyers trying to help companies figure out how to protect their users and do what they do well. It also should not be what drives my answer to an individual seeking justice after being harassed online. We need laws, they are not there and I thought I could be a voice in the room to help on the next frontier of consumer rights, the Internet.
Second, I am at the helm of an education technology company that teaches people how to use the Internet to find work. This has taken me across the country and crossing the paths of many people who find themselves disenfranchised by technology and unemployed. As we move further and further towards technology and modernization, this combination becomes toxic to a would-be jobseeker. Yet, I saw little being done at the state or federal level to tackle this skills gap. I was alarmed at the rate of youth unemployment, which is an epidemic our country is overlooking that is going to have a crippling effect on our country and entitlement programs.
Finally, my generation has so little representation in elected office. We are roughly twenty-five percent of the population, yet those under 40 constitute less than 5% of Congress. I welcome the inexperience challenges that are made to young people running for office. We trust twentysomethings with all of our personal and financial data, yet we do not trust under fortysomethings with our democracy.
As to lessons learned from the campaign trail, times are tough for individuals and families. While we may see monthly reports that the economy is recovering and unemployment is going down, these numbers are not truly reflective of the breadth and scope of the problem. A lot needs to be done in the Inland Empire to build back our economy, get our workers the skills to take the jobs of the future and make it a place where we can retain the talented young people who attend our local universities.
LI: What new projects or initiatives are on the horizon for you?
CG: I definitely saw a distinct need for conversations and programming around innovation in the Inland Empire region of California, so I will be announcing some new efforts around this soon.