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2014: The Year of New Law, No Hashtag

In May of 2014, Jordan Furlong published a comprehensive list of the universe of NewLaw business models – some that increase lawyers’ efficiencies, others that marginalize or eliminate the need for lawyers. But even though 2014 may have been a watershed for #newlaw, it was an even bigger year for new law, no hashtag.

What I mean by new law, no hashtag is law uninvented. Precedent not yet written. The kind of law where an old fogey like me doesn’t have any inherent substantive advantage over a newbie just out of school.

In all of my years of blogging, I can hardly recall a year with so many emerging issues on the horizon. Some arise out of new technology developments – like the legal issues associated with wearable tech or drones (which also raise ethics issues ) for lawyers. Others have resulted from policy changes, such as liberalized marijuana law or legalization of same sex marriage.

There have been zeitgeist changes too such that we’re more comfortable with the sharing and crowdsourcing. The freelance economy raises a whole new set of employment issues – and as Uber has disrupted traditional regulated taxi services, it’s become a veritable first year issue spotting exam on criminal law and liability, insurance law, price gauging and regulation.

This is law at the inception – a place where big data can show trends but there’s still room for judgment and passion and creativity in filling the gaps or minimizing uncertainty.  As a bit coin (another new law area that exploded this  year) market participant observed:

 Because of the legal uncertainties surrounding bitcoin, companies in this space will need to use attorneys more intensively than if they were in a more conventional line of business – for a while.”

As lawyers, new law calls on all our skills. Today’s lawyers need analytical abilities to figure out how to put these round pegs into existing square holes. They need first rate contract skills, to figure out how to draft agreements that can minimize regulatory uncertainty as laws change over time. Lawyers must to understand the legislative process and lobbying and the Administrative Procedure Act and rule making in the event that they’re called upon to write and implement new laws and regulations. Do we really need T-shaped lawyers – bean counters who can manage projects and use tech to design systems? Well, sure – they can implement the systems that new lawyers create. Which would you rather be?