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Center for Law, Science & Innovation names new executive director

February 07, 2012

Joshua Abbott, a former Washington, D.C., attorney whose interests and background are in science, economics and regulatory policy, has been named executive director of the Center for Law, Science & Innovation at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Abbott joined the center – the first and largest academic center focused on the intersection of law and science – in January. He previously practiced law at Wiley Rein LLP, where he represented telecommunications and information technology clients, conducted class-action antitrust litigation, and advised clients on legislative, regulatory and policy trends in various technology sectors.

“Josh brings enormous expertise, energy and talent to the center,” said ASU Regents’ Professor Gary Marchant, the center’s faculty director. “I expect to see a significant ramp-up in the activities and profile of the center with Josh on board.

“From the information and communications technology issues that Josh was working on in his law firm, to nanotechnology regulation, personalized medicine, sustainability, public health and intellectual property, the issues that the center is working on need the type of attention and renewed emphasis that Josh will bring to the job.”

Abbott, an alumnus of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University (BYU), said he was attracted to the center because it focuses on practical ways to develop legal and policy frameworks for new and advancing technologies to benefit society.

“It hits on all the things that are interesting to me – research, the chance to work with students, involvement in policy debates, and being in a richly engaging academic atmosphere,” Abbott said. “I couldn’t imagine a better, more attractive place for me.”

Abbott, who comes from a family of scientists and engineers, became interested in economics after a two-year church mission to Brazil gave him a glimpse into extreme poverty. He wanted to understand why many smart, hard-working Brazilians had so few economic opportunities.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in economics from BYU, Abbott decided that combining economics and law would best equip him to achieve his career goals of improving standards of living in the United States and abroad, through sound public policies.

Following graduation from law school and a clerkship with Michael J. Wilkins, associate chief justice on the Utah Supreme Court, Abbott landed a position at Wiley Rein. There, he gained experience in many areas: antitrust and class-action litigation, international telecommunications, internal and government investigations, and federal grant programs. He also was assigned to regulatory matters involving policy debates over competition and communication technology issues.

“Wiley Rein is a great firm, and I was privileged to work with the international telecom group – the coolest, most interesting area that dealt with the most pressing issues among the biggest players in telecom and the technological geeky stuff,” he said. “This is where I became interested in law and technology, because it’s constantly changing and the lawyers are always trying to figure out ways to solve new challenges. I could see that it would always be interesting and fun.”

Before that, Abbott hadn’t been persuaded that a law career could be satisfying. But now, it became clear that creating innovative policies to advance cutting-edge technologies would be fulfilling and important. He was reminded of the Brazilian bean farmers during his mission years before, whose lives and livelihoods had been transformed when they obtained cell phones and, for the first time, gained access to the world beyond their local rural areas.

“The parts of my schooling and job that I enjoyed the most were learning new things, discovery, research, expanding my view of how the world works, and the second part of that was talking with people, collaborating, getting excited about new things I learned, and then sharing it with others and seeing them get excited too,” he said.

At the same time, Abbott, who, with his wife, Megan, has four young children, began to consider opportunities beyond private practice, especially in policy, research and education. With the majority of their family and friends in the western United States, the Abbotts came to Phoenix last summer and soon learned about the center’s job opening.

Abbott is excited about raising the profile of the center, and contributing to an enduring institution that will expand its contribution to national and international policy debates that are critical to many emerging technologies.

“Technology and science are moving so fast, and people are searching for new frameworks to implement and regulate them, to get them out there so they can benefit the public,” Abbott said. “There are ways to facilitate that innovation, and if I can, with the center, promote sound public policies that foster the practical application of science and innovation, that’s what I would find very fulfilling.”