The legal profession will see new areas of law continue to emerge in 2020, along with several more traditional areas of law on the rise.
These growth areas in the law will also keep the number of active attorneys in the U.S. on the increase. The ABA’s National Lawyer Population Survey found that this number has rose by 15.2% over the past 10 years. In 2019, the total number of lawyers in the United States was approximately 1.35 million.
What will all these lawyers do? Perhaps they will practice in one or more of the following growth areas:
Baby Boomers—those Americans born between 1946 and 1964—are retiring at a rate of roughly 10,000 a day. As our population grows older, and we live longer, elder law becomes an important service.
Elder law attorneys advocate and protect the rights and wellbeing of seniors, especially when they have serious medical issues and low incomes.
These seniors and retirees will have questions about many of the important aspects of growing older. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are all topics that elder law attorneys discuss with their clients. Elder law also includes long-term care planning and long-term insurance, as paying for nursing homes, in-home aides, and hospital stays are expensive. Those with little savings who become seriously ill or injured may need an elder law attorney’s help with the Medicaid application process (and how it can impact their healthy spouse’s assets).
Elder law attorneys also assist with estate planning, which can include drafting wills, trusts, healthcare directives, and other essential legal documents.
With Baby Boomers retiring in such large numbers, there will be a greater demand on healthcare.
Healthcare law concerns issues that affect hospitals and hospital systems, other healthcare providers (such as nursing homes, urgent care facilities, and HMOs), public and private insurers, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, and the individual physicians who see patients.
Insurance coverage issues and the Affordable Care Act will continue to debated in this election year, and seniors will have questions about Medicare. They’ll also be looking for legal and tax advice on programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
Labor and Employment
As long as people go to work and are employed, legal issues will continue to crop up requiring help from labor and employment attorneys. There are numerous employment issues that confront attorneys who work in this practice area, which easily make employment law a growth area. Workplace legal issues include benefits topics like equal pay, parental leave, paid vacation, overtime, non-compete agreements, and background screening.
The misclassification of employees as independent contractors has also become a hot issue, as has employee use of social media. Some of these attorneys specialize in union issues like collective bargaining, work stoppages, and union organizing.
Other employment law issues include harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. In fact, retaliation claims account for nearly half of all EEOC claims. Retaliation can take the form of demotion, job or shift reassignment, poor performance evaluations, discipline, pay reduction, and termination.
Another cause of the continued growth of employment law is the recent sexual harassment cases brought forward in the #Metoo movement. This social movement against sexual violence and sexual assault advocates for women who survived sexual violence and encourages them to speak out about their experience. Cases brought by women against notable individuals for rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct have increased the number of claims being brought in the past few years. This trend is expected to continue.
Privacy & Cybersecurity Law
Privacy and cybersecurity attorneys consult with companies on how to create a culture of security and privacy through regulatory compliance programs. These attorneys assist their clients with how to implement strategies to meet legal requirements, represent clients before regulatory agencies, and serve as crisis managers during incident response to mitigate loss and make sure the company adheres to the law.
The headlines show just how important this area of law can be: the average cost of a business data breach is roughly $150 million. Because of the potential for financial and commercial ruin, companies must be extremely diligent in protecting their data and, in the event of a cyberbreach, respond quickly to mitigate the damage.
Bankruptcy law is also a fast-growing practice area in the legal industry.
The total U.S. consumer debt reached record $14 trillion in the first quarter of 2019—more than the $13 trillion of debt in credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and other personal liabilities in 2008. And at the end of the first three months of 2019, student loan debt reached a total of $1.486 trillion. With these insurmountable debts, many consumers turn to a bankruptcy attorney. Bankruptcy attorneys help their clients with the legal procedures to decrease or eliminate debt or to move ahead with bankruptcy protection.
The practice of law continues to change with the times. Other emerging legal concentrations include intellectual property (patents, trademarks, and copyrights), issues connected with the legal marijuana industry, and cryptocurrency (Bitcoin and the Blockchain).