There will always be a demand for traditional areas of law such as conveyance, personal injury, wills, trust and probate, family, employment and commercial but with increasing competition along with continued pressure on fees it might be worth considering some of the emerging areas of law that could compliment your existing offering. 

Any new area of work undertaken by your practice creates some additional risks to your business and should therefore be carefully considered before undertaking such work. After assessment of the risks, planning, including risk mitigation, then why should you not undertake this work?

This article covers some of the new areas of law that we have seen recently and may give you something to think about.

Space law

As the race to own space continues scientists and governments are still talking about the need for responsible behavior in space exploration.  As a result solicitors focusing on space spend a lot of their time determining what international agreements should be and how private property and territory rights should work in regards to outer space. 

Such agreements cover issues like rules for exploration, weapons use, damage for liability, rescue efforts for astronauts in distress, environmental regulations and records of space activity. 

Apportioning limited space in space is already an area of international friction and where there is friction there is often a requirement for a good solicitor.  There are only a fixed number of spots available for satellites that are in geostationary orbit. Many countries on the equator believe that they have the right to control the space above their countries. As more countries want to launch geostationary satellites, conflicts will likely continue. Space solicitors must figure out how to resolve these conflicts as they grapple with the ethical questions that govern who should have top priority. In light of this, could there be an opportunity for a practice with dispute resolution or perhaps a litigation expertise?

Because of the nature of space law, space solicitors engage in a great deal of lobbying and policymaking. They might spend the bulk of their time drafting proposals or advocating for certain policies but at some point a procurement contract is likely to be needed. Therefore for those talented negotiators, contract drafting expertise with an interest in space and politics this may be an area for you.

Further the skills and knowledge developed by specialising in Trade Law, Aviation, Marine and also Public Law might also provide a solid footing for becoming an expert in all things space.  Of course, those working in space law must also understand enough science to give their clients educated advice.

Genetics

As developments in human genetics proceed, the regulation of genetic research and its applications is set to represent one of the major legal challenges of the next century.  Advances in genetic technologies over the last two decades have created possibilities for the identification and manipulation of human traits that have never existed before. 

With this knowledge comes new questions of law and policy. This could include the patentability of genes and other biological materials, liability for failures to detect or warn of genetic disorders. It may provide challenge to the traditional rules on paternity; it could propose new ways of determining criminal responsibility and justifications for punishment, the legitimacy of alterations in the human germ line, and possibilities of discrimination on the basis of latent traits.

We can already extract detailed information on traits (e.g. health, personality) from individuals' genetics data and genomic sequencing is becoming routine. Genetic data breaches are common and unavoidable and it is unlikely that anonymity will protect privacy.  Genetic data is valuable throughout a person's life and as a result the potential misuse of genetics data are numerous.

So many Industries could be affected including medicine, commerce and insurance; it could potentially affect areas of law such as employment, family and have an impact upon the criminal justice system.  Learning how much information we can extract from genomic data, how to prepare for the genomic era, the legal protection in place, ethical implications, what individuals and societies can do to protect from misuses and how to improve chances of benefiting from genetic science can help protect from misuses and benefit from advancements.

Gaming law

Gaming law regulates the gaming and gambling industry and whilst this area of law is not new it is evolving as we become more reliant on technology.  Furthermore, demand is set to increase with advertisements and Apps on our hand held devices for betting, bingo etc. 

It is not a branch of law in the traditional sense but rather a collection of several areas of law that include criminal law, regulatory law, constitutional law, administrative law, company law, contract law, licensing and competition law.

Gaming law relates to everything from the legality of gambling to the fairness of gaming terms and conditions.  If you already have established expertise in these areas then it may be worth adding gaming law to your repertoire. 

Energy law

Energy is the largest and one of the most dynamic and fast changing sectors. It raises many challenges both politically and technically, from traditional exploration and production of fossil fuels to mining extraction methods (hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking'), renewables and climate change.

The practice of energy law includes contracts for siting, extraction, licenses for the acquisition and ownership rights in oil and gas both under the soil before discovery and after its capture, and adjudication regarding those rights.

In markets where upstream oil and gas assets are reaching the end of their productive life, such as the UK North Sea, decommissioning and safe abandonment of operations and infrastructure is a major concern for operators.  As a result oil and gas companies are facing the challenge of understanding and complying with their obligations from a legal standpoint. 

Brexit may also have legal implications for energy law in the UK as a lot of legislation is based on EU directives. It remains to be seen whether the UK government will adopt EU regulations relating to energy following Brexit. It is possible that the UK may want to deregulate certain aspects of the regulations that are particularly onerous.  Experts in energy law will be crucial. 

The need for green energy, requires innovative technical, commercial and legal answers.

Blockchain

Blockchain is frequently in the news, but still primarily as the underlying software used for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

Blockchain involves recording information in a way that creates trust in the information recorded.  This provides value to users because it creates a transparent chain of data, eliminating the need for intermediaries and other third parties, while being both safe and cost efficient. Therefore, utilising Blockchain may be of interest to some of your clients. 

Many businesses have yet to realise its full potential along with the extensive ways in which Blockchain can be used to make processes more efficient or to develop new service offerings.  Momentum is gathering as its applications are becoming more widely understood.

Participants in Blockchain need to be aware of the legal ramifications of the solution they are using including public law, private law, criminal law and financial and regulatory law. Solutions are being explored as solicitors wrestle with the legal implications of Blockchain.

Conclusion

As most of these areas of law are relatively new, there will naturally be some knowledge gap in the legal profession and if there is an increasing demand for advice and expertise in these areas then this naturally presents an opportunity.

As with any change to the core activities undertaken by your firm and the associated risks it is important that you consult with your Insurance representative so that they can highlight and discuss with you any potential impact on your Professional Indemnity cover.  Early engagement with your insurers may also be prudent.

If you require any assistance or are considering entering into new areas of law please contact your Lockton representative, if you are not already a Lockton client please contact myself or any of the Lockton solicitors team who will be happy to assist you in your enquiry.