Law and paralegal students are typically introduced to the main areas of law practice in the early stages of their studies. From there, interested students might pursue more specific areas such as Intellectual Property, Negotiable Instruments, Estate and Trusts, Administrative Law, Corporations, and Bankruptcy to name a few.
But today’s array of emerging technological, economic, environmental, and social trends will generate law and policy issues requiring legal services that yesterday’s education may not have fully prepared us for.
Let’s look at some of the new areas of law that weren’t around 20 years ago, and the key drivers of their emergence.
Changes in society
The changes in our society and lifestyles have created more areas that must be regulated. With regulation comes violations, which begets litigation.
With any of these new areas of law, attorneys need to be aware of the legislative process and rulemaking procedures in their states and locales. In addition, some of their previous coursework may be tapped to provide a background for these new areas.
Below are some examples of societal changes that have created new areas of practice for attorneys.
Now a growing area of expertise (no pun intended!), the medical use of cannabis is legal (with a doctor’s recommendation) in 33 states, D.C., and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. Attorneys practicing in this area need to understand local government RFPs and bidding, licensure, federal agency requirements, zoning, and administrative law.
Recently, Marijuana producer Tilray announced that it was teaming up with the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, to research cannabis-infused non-alcoholic drinks for the Canadian market. Is the U.S. next?
Ridesharing is now a popular alternative to driving, public transportation, and taxis. Uber, Lyft, and other companies have become prevalent enough in recent years to warrant laws that dictate their use. An ancillary to ridesharing is the renting of electric scooters.
Some municipalities and college campuses want them banned, while other places want to restrict their use. Municipal law, zoning, and administrative law are a few of the traditional practice areas that may be drawn upon to start a specialization in this area.
Even our country’s obsession with sports has spawned new practice areas. Litigation has focused on the NCAA rules for drafting teenagers out of high school, along with academic violations—both for athletes and institutions. In addition, we now have industries entirely centered on sports fantasy leagues, online sports betting, and E-sports.
Lottery law and e-commerce law have also become common disciplines in the past few years.
Plus, museum law is a newly-minted area of expertise. Museums are regulated by many different types of laws regulating nearly every aspect of their organization and operation. These can include business, governance, nonprofit and charitable organizations, intellectual and cultural property, and funding.
In addition, you can add to the list practice areas that focus on private artificial islands, cultured meat regulation, arctic circle transportation and minerals, and many more. Each has its practice beginnings in one or more of the core law school subjects.
There are a host of new industries today that we didn’t have in years past. Some were created with technology, and others find their beginnings in great ideas for new services and products.
The list seems to be endless, but here are a few:
- private space exploration and space trash
- genealogy technology (e.g., 23andMe genetic testing)
- implantable microchips
- green energy practice
Technology is a big driver
Of course, technology has played the primary role in creating new areas of legal practice. Arguably every one of these new technologies has legal implications in intellectual property, such as patents and trade secrets. And with all technology, privacy concerns are important. Biometric privacy is an emerging practice that deals with how companies can collect sensitive information from a person’s body.
Here are a handful of the other new areas of legal expertise.
First is smart technology, which may one day run every aspect of your daily life. AI, or artificial intelligence, is another area that is moving at light speed — the ability of machines to learn and “think” will provide a multitude of issues for our society.
Other technologies that may create their own areas of practice include facial recognition, CRISPR, crowdsourcing, data privacy regulation (GDPR), social media, augmented reality, and Alexa and other cloud-based voice assistant competitors.
Fintech, or financial technology, has grown rapidly in the past 10 years since Bitcoin was introduced. Cryptocurrency, blockchain, and initial coin offerings (ICOs) each raise legal issues in financial services, privacy law, business startups, and federal regulation.
There are a great many brand-new areas of practice of which you may not be aware, and perhaps one or more of them will be your new specialty!
As you can see the opportunities to leverage your core competencies as a lawyer or legal support professional to become an emerging law specialist are endless!