California has always been on the cutting edge of the law. Whether it was the mining laws that sprung from the gold rush in its early days of statehood or its modern employee protections, California has long been known as a legally innovative state.
Add to that the state’s booming entertainment and technology industries (each of which require legions of attorneys) and you’ve got the makings of a legal wonderland.
Legal professionals who practice in California have the opportunity to be legal trend setters. In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of the Golden State’s hottest practice areas and explain how California is uniquely poised to offer remarkable opportunities for all legal professionals in these areas.
#1: Entertainment law
When people outside of California think of the state, most associate it with Hollywood, the film industry, and movie stars.
They’re not off-base.
Indeed, the California film industry alone generates $70 billion per year in employee wages. Obviously, the state is a hotbed of entertainment.
Any industry that moves that kind of money needs a lot of legal professionals.
That’s where entertainment law comes in.
Entertainment law is a great practice area for legal professionals who consider themselves Jacks of all trades. After all, an entertainment practice will touch on a variety of sub-specialities, including:
- Contract law and negotiation
- Labor and employment
- Intellectual property
- Federal Communications compliance
- Occupational Health & Safety Act compliance
- First Amendment law
- Talent representation
While many legal professionals are initially attracted to the glitz and glamor of working with the Hollywood elite, most find that the day to day practice of entertainment law is rather routine.
In fact, few entertainment lawyers actually work face-to-face with celebrities. In reality, much of the legal work celebrities need done is facilitated by agents and managers.
Nonetheless, the volume of work and sheer excitement of being a part of this industry will keep legal professionals busy within entertainment for the foreseeable future.
#2: Intellectual property
While no one can deny that a lot of intellectual property comes out of the entertainment industry, let’s not forget that California is also home to Silicon Valley — a place many consider to be the tech innovation capital of the world.
Given that these two IP juggernauts exist within the same state, it’s no wonder that intellectual property is one of California’s hottest practice areas.
Much like entertainment law, intellectual property practices offer a great breadth and depth of experience.
Obviously, things like patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets are at the forefront. In addition to helping clients develop, protect, and monetize those assets, however, legal professionals in the IP world will find themselves doing a lot of contract negotiation and drafting, as well as high-stakes litigation.
#3: Policy advocacy/lobbying
California has long been at the forefront of political activism.
In large part, this is due to the state’s ballot initiative process, which allows regular citizens to draft and propose laws for enactment within the state (as opposed to having the state legislature solely responsible for creating legislation).
Because of this system, California is often the first to adopt controversial laws, as it did in 1996 when the statewide initiative legalizing medical marijuana was adopted by voters — roughly 20 years before most other states dared to consider such a law.
In fact, California has been on the cutting edge of all kinds of laws, including:
- Cannabis regulations
- Labor, employment & wage laws
- Pandemic response regulations
Just because “regular people” can propose laws in California doesn’t mean that lawyers aren’t involved. To the contrary, policy advocacy and lobbying remain hot practice areas within the state.
Generally speaking, lobbyists focus their efforts on influencing legislators while policy advocates draft persuasive communications on various issues for a wider audience.
#4: Regulatory compliance
One of the consequences of California’s innovative legislative efforts is the need for first-cut regulations that will govern new laws and industries.
For example, because California was an early adopter of legalized cannabis, the state had to create agencies, regulations, and enforcement tactics that would oversee an entirely new industry. In this case, the Department of Cannabis Control was incepted, along with myriad regulatory schemes to dictate day-to-day practices.
Legal professionals who practice regulatory compliance help their clients stay in line with these types of regulations.
The truth is that regulatory schemes are often complex and confusing, and (at least in the case of brand new industries) the agencies charged with overseeing these industries may not know the laws all that well themselves.
Consequently, lawyers and other legal professionals who make it their business to understand these regulations will always be in great demand within the state.
#5: Water law
It doesn’t matter where you live, if you’ve been awake at all over the last decade, you are aware that California is in the midst of a massive water crisis. That makes water law – one of the oldest and more arcane specialties – a hot practice area in the Golden State.
Whether it comes to enforcing centuries-old regional water rights or developing new laws that dictate how each individual consumer can use water at their house, water law will continue to grow in importance.
Moreover, given the recent focus on climate change and resource allocation, legal professionals specializing in water law should be highly employable for decades to come.
The big picture: practicing law in California
California has always been rumored to be one of the most difficult states to obtain a law license.
Perhaps the state bar’s exclusivity is due, in part, to California’s constant legal innovation.
Practicing in California is not easy but, as noted earlier, the opportunity to become a legal trend setter will keep practitioners flocking to the state. Plus, the state’s booming population means that you’ll have plenty of clients for any practice area you choose.