Thanks to the fluctuating demand for legal services throughout the pandemic and subsequent recession, many areas of law experienced shifts in their growth trajectories. This sudden change jumpstarted many new and growing legal practice area. Also, the past year spotlighted more recession-proof legal practice areas.
We know that the pandemic helped contribute to these emerging areas of law. However, many other social, political, technological, and environmental factors in the background also affect the growth of different legal practice areas. Read on to learn more about the highest growth legal practice areas for 2021 and beyond.
What areas of law are growing?
The main areas of law that are growing are cybersecurity, cannabis, labor, elder law, energy, IP, and health.
These growth areas don’t only affect new lawyers who are interested in transitioning to these eight fields. They also impact more experienced lawyers whose current area of practice overlaps with these emerging areas of practice. For example, employment lawyers need to stay up to date on regulatory changes and laws related to labor law. The same goes for health lawyers and insurance lawyers.
Emerging areas of law driven by technology
As technology advances, the need for legal laws and regulations to keep people safe will also continue to grow. New technological discoveries happen very quickly, sometimes outpacing the timeline it takes to create proper regulatory standards. The demand for lawyers in this field is high as this timeline and process evolve.
Privacy and cybersecurity
Privacy and cybersecurity laws are complex and vary between states (e.g. CCPA laws). Lawyers in this field need to assess and audit current policies. Also, these lawyers reduce privacy and security risks to comply with applicable state and federal laws.
These laws also vary by industry, depending on who you’re doing business with. A good privacy and cybersecurity lawyer needs to understand how certain policies such as GDPR (Europe), HIPAA (US healthcare), FDIC (banking), and more can apply to their clients.
Liability issues from smart technology
Smart technology—such as speakers, wearables, digital assistants, smart appliances and more—is increasingly prevalent in peoples’ homes and work environments. These smart objects collect images, voice messages, and video recordings. Because of the data stored in these smart objects, some lawyers may opt to use this data as evidence in litigation or mediation cases.
Existing technology (like security cameras) can guide lawyers when presenting this type of evidence in court. But it’s important to build expertise and verifiability of data collected by these new types of smart technology.
Liability issues from biases in AI
According to a 2019 ABA article, AI has been found to treat women and people of color unfairly due to limitations in data sets behind the AI’s algorithm. Despite these issues, AI is becoming more common as companies automate and streamline their processes. Lawyers need to understand the nuances of AI and how there may be potential biases embedded in their underlying structure.
Like other technology mentioned on this list, laws surrounding drones and their operations rapidly change as they overlap with IP, safety, and privacy laws. Each state has different laws on drones. But a few universal ones include drone registration requirements, and drones being in the line of sight of the operator at all times. Lawyers need to understand different drone laws at both the federal and state level while keeping up with any potential changes.
Intellectual Property (IP)
Intellectual property cases can get complex and challenging depending on the medium and parties involved. For example, Non-fungible tokens or NFTs have taken this complexity to the next level.
NFTs are a unit of data based on blockchain technology that’s to record and track transactions and ownership of data. Typically, when a copyright owner sells their intellectual property to a third partner, the original owner doesn’t benefit from the increased valuation of that property. However, with NFTs, specific programs allow the original owner to continually benefit as the intellectual property is resold.
Currently, there are no regulations surrounding NFTs. But as they run counter to current IP laws (with ownership, in particular, being a flexible term), lawyers need to better equip themselves with knowledge of how NFTs are sold, bought, and transferred.
Labor law mediates the rights and responsibilities between workers, unions, employers, and government authorities. Another key attribute of labor laws—both federal and state governments set these laws. However, all state-level regulations must comply with the federal-wide National Labor Relations Act.
Unions usually hire labor attorneys themselves, or through corporations that hire unionized employees. Although labor law is often confused with employment law, the key difference is that labor law always involves unions and unionized employees.
With “The Great American Labor Shortage” causing 9.3 million job vacancies and subsequent demand for better pay, healthier working conditions, and more employee protections, labor law is an emerging area of law that will only continue to grow.
Elder law focuses on the needs of older adults, including but not limited to issues relating to retirement, long-term care planning, healthcare, guardianship, and financial and estate planning.
This particular area of law is unique as elder lawyers are more involved in the client’s day-to-day affairs—such as the actual care of seniors—and handling important legal matters like drafting wills. As a result of these ongoing, long-term client relationships, this area of law requires a high level of empathy and patience to handle the elders’ sensitive physical and emotional needs.
Elder law will keep developing and seeing demand for new lawyers as more and more adults reach retirement age.
Environmental law deals with laws and regulations around sustainability, air and water quality, hazardous wastes, agriculture, and biodiversity. This emerging area of law is broad and can require lawyers to act as advisors, compliance consultants, policy analysts, risk assessors, and plaintiffs in court.
Climate change has highlighted the need for urgent action on sustainable development and environmental protection. As we try to combat and minimize the impacts of global warming, the need for environmental lawyers will only continue to grow.
Health law is one of the emerging areas of law associated with the operation, provision, and delivery of health care services. Lawyers who work in health law advocate for high-quality patient care, promote better access to care, work to reduce healthcare costs, and protect consumers as they look for insurance and other types of coverage.
This emerging area of law has seen a surge in demand thanks to the 2020 pandemic and shows no signs of slowing down. With this heightened importance on health and hygiene, more people will be seeking legal advice and guidance on obtaining more affordable and accessible healthcare.
Cannabis law involves navigating changing policies around the legalization of marijuana. This area of law is nuanced and requires a thorough understanding of policy timelines. While marijuana was federally decriminalised in December 2020 and is currently legal in 18 states, federal law still classifies it as an illegal substance.
According to bills currently being drafted in Congress, the intent is to legalize marijuana across the country while establishing federal protections for financial institutions that provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses.
Cannabis law is a quickly emerging area of law that will continue to grow. As more businesses receive licenses to sell cannabis, more patients will get better access to medicinal marijuana. Also, other federally regulated bodies will provide more financial services such as loans and insurance to cannabis-related businesses.
Energy law includes the use, taxation, legal provision, and regulation of renewable and non-renewable energy. This emerging area of law is complex. Most energy lawyers act as in-house counsel for corporations to help clients stay compliant with current energy laws and regulations. They also often help with litigation and formal hearings if compliance issues arise with agreements relating to energy harvesting, production, and use.
The Department of Energy regulates federal energy laws, which can change quickly. The ability to learn and quickly adjust and audit current company policies is a must-have skill for this field. Also, the Department of Energy employs energy lawyers who can influence public policy and international relations.
Climate change policies directly affect this emerging area of law. The demand for energy lawyers will continue to surge as innovations in alternative energy continue to move forward.
Legal trends in 2021 and beyond
There currently are 1.3 million lawyers in the US, with job growth projected to increase up to 4%. As the emerging areas of law grow, the need for lawyers practicing in these specialized fields will also grow.
Prioritize clients to survive and ultimately succeed
No matter what area of law you practice, every lawyer needs to be deeply empathetic towards clients and their needs. Clients are often confused and nervous when dealing with something they’re unfamiliar with.
They’ll count on you to be the expert. Lawyers like yourself need to lead changes and innovation in your practice. Think about “What will this mean for my client?”. Keeping your clients’ needs top of mind will ensure that you’re successful no matter how the legal industry changes and evolves.
Find the fit between product and market
Before you dive into a new practice area, do your research and understand what clients are looking for. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is offering a service that isn’t necessary or will quickly become obsolete. For example, offering advisory and consulting services on the legalization of marijuana to dispensaries in Oregon, since most dispensaries are already well-established and understand the industry.
The future of law firms will be cloud-based by design
Earlier, we referenced how technology causes changes to certain types of law. But technology can also change how law firms operate. 59% of lawyers use web-based software solutions like Clio practice management software to help with client intake, invoicing, building, document storage, and more.
These technological changes help lawyers spend less time on non-billable tasks by streamlining workflows and automating manual processes. Cloud-based software will become more prevalent, and the future of law firms will be more efficient and location-agnostic.
Final thoughts on the emerging areas of law
As the legal industry continues to evolve and change, lawyers need to stay updated with new emerging areas of law. Keeping up with the latest trends in the legal industry may seem daunting for lawyers.
However, innovation never happens in a vacuum. These eight practice areas will continue to grow, build upon, and branch off. Lawyers need to understand the basics and foundations of how social, political, technological, and environmental factors can affect the law. By also keeping up with changing regulations, lawyers can adapt to any situation.