Meet Our Graduate, Via Li (MSL ’15): Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Master of Science in Law


By Kelly Zimmerman

Law, Business, Tech After Law School Alumni MSL

To celebrate the 10th year of the Master of Science in Law (MSL) program—where STEM, law, and business converge—Northwestern Pritzker Law is highlighting alumni of the program from each graduating class since its 2014 launch. 

The Master of Science in Law was created at a moment of tremendous technological and workforce change, when professionals from diverse fields were being called upon to interact with increasingly complex issues involving regulation, product development, privacy, use of data, contracts, business development, entrepreneurship, and more. The Law School recognized that STEM professionals in particular were often in the thick of these intersectional legal and business issues, but few had the training to address and respond to these challenges.  

The launch of the MSL addressed this gap in the market, and the program has grown dramatically over the years – there are now approximately 200 students enrolled in the program annually. With both a full-time and part-time option, and the addition five years ago of an online format that caters to mid-career professionals, the MSL has sent more than 600 well-trained, interdisciplinary professionals into the market.   

Following the interests of its students, and always looking to be on the cutting edge, the MSL program now offers more than 80 classes focused at the intersection of law, business, and STEM – including foundational classes in contracts, regulation, business formation, securities, and intellectual property, and an interesting assortment of specialized electives in such areas as fintech, privacy, data security, biotech, food, AI, forensic science, environmental law, IP strategy and management, and many more.   

This week we highlight Via Li (MSL ‘15). She is currently the senior product manager at Ant Group, a digital technology and financial services company in China that is also under the umbrella of global tech giant Alibaba Group. We spoke with Li about how her MSL degree has impacted her career and her advice for future MSL candidates. 

The First of the First 

Via Li was one of the very first students to join the MSL program in its inaugural year. After a chance encounter with MSL Director Leslie Oster at a graduate school fair, Li decided to apply for the program. 

Li hails from Shanghai, China, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in software engineering. Part of her undergraduate experience involved overseas study at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terra Haute, Indiana, which is where she happened upon Professor Oster. 

“Leslie came up to me and said, ‘You are wearing a purple scarf. We should talk. I am from Northwestern,’” said Li, who had never even heard of Northwestern – or its standout purple school color – at the time. That simple introduction turned into what Li calls, “the best discussion of my life.” 

The timing of Li and Oster’s meeting was serendipitous. During a time when Li was trying to figure out her next steps and unsure of whether she wanted to pursue a career in coding, she was introduced to the idea of converging her hard skills in technology with a background in IP, patents, and regulatory matters.   

From Software Engineering to Tech-Driven Legal Liaison  

Choosing Northwestern Pritzker Law’s MSL program was a pivotal decision for Li. Since graduating from the program, she has worked as a product manager for several tech giants, including Didi, Alibaba, and Ant Group, bridging gaps and enhancing collaboration between organizational product teams and legal experts. In her career, she’s been able to initiate new software and technology, but also, thanks to her legal background, define when it’s worth pursing patent protection or other product development. 

Embracing Risk Management  

If you ask Li which MSL skill or concept most stands out to her as one that she uses in her day-to-day work, the answer is “risk management.” With this skill in her pocket, Li has been able to navigate complex regulatory terrain and identify common ground with her company’s legal team.  

When receiving pushback on a project due to a regulatory concern, Li says, she can quickly assess the issue, measure the risk of the project to the business, and then propose changes that allow her team to drive their tech projects forward while still mitigating risk. Understanding regulatory limitations and knowing how to work with them is a delicate balance, she says, one that is typically “really hard for product managers to understand.” But thanks to her degree, she is able to navigate regulatory hurdles while ensuring alignment with the legal requirements that impact her organization. 

Advice for Future Aspirants and Innovators 

“Don’t limit yourself.” That’s Li’s advice to future MSLs as she encourages them to think beyond the confines of traditional roles – whether they are in legal or in tech. “Do everything you can and try everything you can to make the program benefit you for more scenarios outside [of it].” Keep your expectations and imagination open to new possibilities. And in return, new doors may open.

Check out the MSL program’s blog, MSL 360.