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Hot Practice Areas: Geriatrics, Grass and Green Law

by Jay Reeves |

The weather outside is not the only thing that’s sizzling.

Certain practice areas – notably health care, energy and financial services – are red hot. Other areas like privacy law and intellectual property are heating up as well.

Meanwhile, the temperature is rising in emerging niches like robotics, privacy rights and even marijuana law.

Let’s take a midsummer look at where the legal action is.

The Big Three: Health, Money and Power

  • Health care law. Regardless of what you think about the Affordable Care Act, its wide scope will provide law work for years to come. Factor in an aging population, advancements in gerontology and new drugs hitting the market almost daily, and the future for this field looks bright indeed.

“Over half of the fastest growing occupations are in health care, so it’s no surprise that health lawyers are in demand in settings from government agencies to hospitals and law firms,” according to U.S. News and World Reports. “The work covers everything from elder care and embryonic stem cell research to Medicare fraud and implementation of the ACA.”

  • Financial services and banking law. One gauge of the interest in this area is the growth of LL.M programs and specialized studies at law schools nationwide. Take, for instance, New York Law School’s Center for Business and Financial Law, which trains future lawyers in: (a) deal-making and transactional skills; (b) financial services law and regulation; (c) startups and technology financing; (d) the interconnectivity of business and society; and (e) compliance across a range of industries.
  • Energy law. Observers say we are at a “renaissance moment” regarding energy. “Nearly every day, judges and regulators across the continent are making decisions on energy policy and infrastructure that will determine the energy future of the United States for decades to come,” writes James Coleman of The Energy Collective. “Increased production of tight oil and shale gas from the fracking boom and bitumen from the Canadian oil sands have created a strong demand for new modes of oil and gas transport.This demand has been matched by pushback from environmental groups seeking new legal tools to challenge these projects and avoid locking in fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Anyone with skin in the energy game – whether in traditional sources like electricity and coal, renewables like wind and solar, or even cities, governing entities and concerned citizens – will be lawyering up big-time.

Three Areas That Are Really Cooking

  • Intellectual property. In today’s economy, successful companies are more likely to produce something you hold in your head rather than your hand. As a result, they need lawyers to safeguard, market and transfer their intellectual property. “New developments in science and technology have created the need for lawyers with specialized backgrounds in these areas to help protect the intellectual capital of businesses, authors, inventors, musicians and other owners of creative works,” says law writer Sally Kane. “As long as invention and innovation exist, intellectual property lawyers, paralegals, and other professionals will be needed to procure the rights to new ideas and protect the ownership of existing creations.”

Meanwhile, trademark lawsuits are rising – as is patent litigation, driven by infringement claims from patent trolls.

  • Environmental law. Are you able to advise your client on green initiatives? Sustainability issues? How about the web of regulations covering greenhouse gas inventories? Green law is hot. Going green is becoming a global priority. Lawyers who know the issues and can provide expert advocacy will prosper.

  • Privacy law. In our post-Edward Snowden world, everyone is thinking about personal privacy, digital intrusion and cyber-snooping. As technology advances, these worries will grow – and courts and legislatures will continue to play catch-up.

Coming to a Rapid Boil

  • Intern rights. At present, the issue of unpaid or underpaid interns is a small subset of labor/employment law. But with lawsuits and legislation popping up everywhere from Oregon to Albany, it is bound to grow, predicts law management guru Bob Denney.
  • Robotics law. Holy R2-D2! Robots have arrived! “Robots are central to innovation and advanced manufacturing, and are rapidly moving beyond the factory and into our homes and transportation,” notes Legal Career Web. “As artificial intelligence enables robots to function autonomously, the need [will grow] for laws, regulations, and an ethical scheme that goes beyond Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.”
  • Marijuana and wine law. Two states have legalized recreational pot and 20 others have okayed it for medical purposes. Lawyers are lining up to handle issues involving sales, licensing, distribution and conflicts between federal and state laws.

Good news for lawyers who love a sweet Chardonnay: wine law – once confined to a geographic sliver of California – has spread across the country. Breakthroughs in viticulture and a demand for craft wines are fueling the surge.

And here’s a bonus trend: e-discovery law.

Today’s discovery battles are being fought over hard drives and meta-data, not hard copies and Xerox machines. E-discovery attorneys and their support teams are being called in to help corporations preserve, review and prioritize electronically stored information and tell them how to comply with discovery requests.

So if you’re having a slow summer, no sweat. New practice areas are percolating. Choose one and dive in.


Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact jay@lawyersmutualnc.com.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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