29th May 2024

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Hot and emerging practice areas

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Elder law and labor law are among the hottest legal specialties; litigation is in high demand.

Litigation is hot right now — ghost pepper caliente with 1 million Scoville heat units (SHU). For the novice spicy foodie, the Scoville scale measures the heat of chili peppers and other substances. For comparison, the jalapeño registers at about 8,000 SHU, while the habanero comes in at 350,000.

Knowing the heat measurement for certain foods or sauces lets the food connoisseur choose what to eat or what to add to a recipe. It’s all about the secret sauce, ranging from mild to hot, extra hot and caliente.

In the business world — including the legal profession — your “secret sauce” is the thing you do that’s unique, different and special. What’s your secret sauce? What attributes do you have that draw you to certain areas of law?

According to Clio, the leader in cloudbased legal technology, emerging specialties develop from trends and shifts in the economic, technological and global landscape. Some areas are hotter than others because of disruptors in the legal industry such as artificial intelligence and the political scene.

In a Clio business post titled “The Highest-growth Legal Practice Areas in 2024 and Beyond,” Lisa Dimyadi said the demand for legal services has increased since the pandemic.

Legal industry insiders, such as SeltzerFontaine, have deemed elder law, labor law, privacy and cybersecurity, cannabis, energy and environmental, intellectual property, and health law as the hot and emerging legal specialties of 2024.

The demand in these areas is not only shaping the trajectory of new lawyers entering the field but also presenting seasoned practitioners with opportunities to adapt and expand their practice areas.

Litigation in these areas and others is on the rise. If you have the secret sauce for being a trial attorney, you’re in luck.

Charles Volkert is the global solutions leader for Protiviti Legal Consulting, a subsidiary of Robert Half. He said that in the past nine months, there has been an increase in the number of clients needing litigation-based assistance.

“The current demand for client solutions is in e-discovery, data sampling, forensic investigation and large-scale documentation review for corporate clients and law firms,” Volkert said. “Litigation is certainly back and busy with a backlog of court cases. Legal professionals with experience in civil, class action and commercial litigation are expected to be in high demand in 2024 and beyond.”

Valerie Fontaine is one of the founders of SeltzerFontaine, a legal job search and recruiting firm in Los Angeles. She said staying current on trends and changes affecting the legal profession is essential to understanding which legal specialties are in demand.

“Litigation is always hot in one flavor or another,” Fontaine said. “It’s an ongoing legal practice area.”

These emerging areas offer more than simply litigation. What’s your passion? Your flavor? How much heat can you handle? Knowing your secret sauce will help you determine your legal specialty.

Elder Law

Elder law is gaining traction as a specialized field focusing on the needs of older adults. It covers issues such as retirement, health care, guardianship and estate planning.

What sets it apart is the close involvement of lawyers in their clients’ daily lives, including care and will drafting. This requires empathy and patience. With a large aging population, there’s growing demand for lawyers specializing in elder law, making it an important area for new practitioners to consider.

Fontaine said elder law is hot because baby boomers are getting older and need what this specialty has to offer.

“It’s the graying of America,” she said. “The thing about elder law is that it touches on virtually everything: wills and trusts, succession, probate, people getting their benefits, health care and real estate, if downsizing or moving into managed care. This will be a hot specialty for years to come.”

Labor Law

Labor law is currently in the spotlight because of America’s labor shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey said nearly 100 million people left their jobs in 2021 and 2022. Demands for better pay and improved working conditions continue to drive the trend, increasing the need for legal assistance in negotiations.

Dealing with unions and unionized employees is a major part of labor law. It’s not a surprise, given recent cases involving automakers, writers, actors, UPS and the Teamsters Union.

“The labor climate right now is experiencing unionizing,” Fontaine said, noting that as a result, labor lawyers are in high demand.

Privacy & Cybersecurity Law

In today’s digital age, keeping personal information safe is a major concern. That’s where privacy and cybersecurity law come in. This area of law is becoming more and more important as technology continues to advance.

Think about all the devices we use every day, including smartphones, smart TVs and the internet. Every time we use them, data about us is being collected. It’s crucial to make sure that information is protected from hackers and cybercriminals.

“Privacy and cybersecurity laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act, are rules that aim to do just that,” Volkert said. “Laws vary depending on where you are, but they all have the same goal: to keep your information safe online.”

Lawyers who specialize in privacy and cybersecurity help companies follow these laws and update their policies to keep up with changes in technology.

Lawyers need to understand numerous regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the U.S. health care system, to ensure their clients are following the rules and keeping people’s information safe.

As technology continues to evolve, the need for legal experts in this field will only grow. This specialty also touches on other digital areas as well, such as software protection and ecommerce.

Cannabis Law

With the increasing legalization of cannabis, a budding frontier (pun intended) is opening in the legal world. This specialized field requires understanding and navigating the complex regulations surrounding marijuana legalization.

Attorneys specializing in cannabis law play a crucial role in advising clients on licensing, compliance and business transactions within this evolving industry as marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law, despite some states that have legalized medical or recreational use.

Cannabis law is quickly gaining prominence and is expected to grow if federal legislation is passed that provides protection to financial institutions serving state-legal cannabis businesses. As the landscape continues to shift with state legalization of marijuana, the demand for experts in cannabis law will grow too.

Energy & Environmental Law

Amid growing climate concerns, environmental law is getting more attention. Companies striving for sustainability are seeking legal advice on eco-friendly practices, fueling demand for environmental law experts.

Lawyers in this field are vital for crafting policies and tackling ecological challenges. From agriculture to sustainability, environmental law offers a blend of specialties, ensuring a steady workload.

Energy and natural resources law is another rising star. It focuses on renewable and non-renewable energy sources. As innovation in alternative energy heats up, so does the demand for legal expertise in this field.

Intellectual Property Law

In the realm of intellectual property, where copyrights, licensing and safeguarding of innovative creations converge, the digital age presents both challenges and opportunities. Emerging trends such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) add complexity to the landscape.

Technology companies increasingly seek legal counsel to navigate the intricacies of IP, acquisitions and sales in the digital sphere. Mastery of trademark, copyright and patent law can unlock a promising legal career in this domain.

Health Law

Health law is a rapidly growing field, especially considering recent global health challenges. Lawyers in this specialty handle regulatory compliance, patients’ rights and bioethics. Opportunities are abundant in many areas, from workers’ compensation to personal injury and patient advocacy.

Since 2020, health law has seen a significant surge in demand because of an increased focus on health and hygiene. This practice area involves representing both patients seeking better health care and health care organizations aiming to provide quality service while navigating regulatory complexities.

Health law attorneys advocate for high-quality patient care, improved access to health care and reduced costs. With the ongoing effects of the pandemic and the emergence of long COVID, the need for legal assistance in obtaining affordable and accessible health care is more critical than ever.

A successful lawyer in this field will be someone who understands health care regulations, communicates effectively, and shows empathy toward clients who are facing both medical and legal issues. Does this describe your secret sauce?

Evergreen practices

Evergreen practice areas are often more people- centric than business-centric. Think of regular people with everyday needs who require legal assistance for personal injury, product liability or medical malpractice.

Another evergreen practice area is criminal defense. Crime happens every day. Legal representation for the alleged offenders is always needed. Family law, domestic relations and wealth management are all areas of legal practice that remain evergreen.

“Following the pandemic, divorce rates increased,” Fontaine said. “The ongoing quarantine with one’s partner increased tensions, leading to divorce and child custody disputes.”

She said elder law, which is already a hot specialty, will become evergreen as the population continues to grow older.

“Elder law covers a wide range of legal areas, including Medicare, Social Security, veterans’ benefits, guardianship, disability rights, estate planning, taxes, housing needs, health care financing, age discrimination and elder abuse,” Fontaine said. “Few lawyers specialize in all these areas, so elder law practitioners typically focus on specific aspects and collaborate with other professionals when needed.”

Business-centric evergreen practices include some of the hottest practice area specialties in 2024.

Health Care: With ever-changing regulations, continuing innovation and advancement in medical equipment, procedures and technology, health care is a reliably busy practice area.

Intellectual Property: IP specialists are in constant demand, as the continual creation of content and nonstop technological and scientific advances need protection.

Labor and Employment: Although the practice changes with new laws and economic cycles, there’s always a demand. Changes in legislation give rise to litigation over issues such as employee classification, wage/hour/lunch breaks, pay transparency and inequality, and various types of discrimination. Remote working introduces new complexities. The issues may evolve, but the practice area is currently hot and will be evergreen.

Privacy and Cybersecurity: This is a relatively new but extremely hot practice area. Technology is increasingly involved in all areas of our lives, from smart homes, smart cars and wearable devices to businesses and organizations collecting a seemingly endless amount of data about us and our activities. Consequently, privacy and cybersecurity measures are critical to protect individuals and businesses from hackers and the misuse of information. It appears that this practice area will remain in strong demand for quite some time.

Noteworthy areas

Artificial Intelligence: As AI technology grows, the demand for AI law experts is rising. This field covers legal aspects such as intellectual property, data privacy, liability, ethics, regulations and AI-specific contracts. AI’s effects are ongoing. Copyright infringement, highlighted by cases such as The New York Times suing OpenAI, is a significant concern. As AI’s capabilities become clearer, more legal questions will emerge.

“Using AI chat to help create closing arguments was the topic of a recent conversation with a law firm colleague,” Volkert said. “I asked if a public or private AI chat was being used. You could hear a pin drop. The AI chat was not private, and client information was now not secure.”

If you are coming out of law school or looking to advance your legal career, gain as much knowledge as possible about AI and related tools, Volkert said.

Transactional Law: Fontaine said transactional law was hot during the pandemic and then cooled. However, there is a small uptick in demand for corporate work involving private equity and venture capital fund formation.

Real Estate: With high inflation and the economy in flux, it’s not surprising that real estate is quiet right now. Factors at play include a decrease in development and leasing after the pandemic, Fontaine said.

Bankruptcy: Fontaine said it’s surprising that we’re not seeing more demand for bankruptcy specialists, noting this may change after the upcoming election.

Entertainment and Media Law: The constant creation of fresh content leads to a constant demand for media lawyers in sectors such as entertainment, communication and advertising. Factors such as licensing, legal compliance, IP and the influence of GenAI contribute to this demand.

“For the law student seeking a specialty in entertainment law, know it’s simply business law, and in most cases, litigation,” Fontaine said. “It’s a ‘who you know’ kind of biz, and if you’re wanting to pursue entertainment law, take the route of being a corporate or finance lawyer and find your way into the niche.”

Tax Law: Fontaine said not many lawyers are specializing in tax law. If a law student has a bent toward finance or has a CPA, she said, pursuing an LL.M. in taxation could be a smart move.

Evolving specialties

Legal specialties span numerous industries and include the use of drones, smart technology and automation. Pairing emerging specialties with traditional legal practices can allow flexibility in the legal profession. With your secret sauce, your choice of practice area will have its own range of sweet, tangy and fiery flavors.

See the article in the Spring 2024 issue of The National Jurist.

Extra info: Know your strengths to create your secret sauce

An 8% increase in the employment of lawyers is projected for the decade spanning 2022 to 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is good news. Take the time to inventory your interests, strengths, weaknesses and experiences. Analyze what makes you unique in your endeavor to be a lawyer. All the ingredients of who you are make up your secret sauce. If you’re lacking a component to excel in a certain specialty, there are resources available to help create your flavor profile.

Law students seeking litigation experience should consider interning in a prosecutor’s office. Here, you’ll get a chance to observe a variety of court proceedings, such as bond hearings and trials, while gaining practical insight into legal advocacy and courtroom procedures. By witnessing various types of advocacy, you can identify what feels right for you. Even if criminal law isn’t your focus, this experience will add to your legal background.

Other real-world litigation experiences for law students might include judicial internships, clinical courses with government agencies or moot court/mock trial teams, all of which can offer invaluable courtroom exposure.

Jim Walsh is the assistant dean of career services at Temple University Beasley School of law. He recommends using on-campus resources such as career services to learn about available externships and other ways to gain experience as you plan your legal career.

“Seek one-on-one advisers, use the resource library and participate in the programs of intertest on campus,” Walsh said. “The legal landscape changes, so keep current on industry news and advancements in technology to align your interests with emerging specialties.”

Clients want lawyers who are driving solutions, said Charles Volkert, global solutions leader for Protiviti Legal Consulting.

“Be solution oriented,” Volkert said. “Access the legal environment of your specialty and collaborate with colleagues to provide insights and innovative ways to solve and offer solutions.”

How do you get experience solving problems? He recommends seeking mentors from innovative legal firms or working as a legal assistant for an in-house counsel.

Today’s legal profession offers diverse and dynamic career paths. Whether in emerging fields or traditional roles, lawyers and other legal professionals have the opportunity to make significant contributions to society and enjoy rewarding careers.

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