Constant change is sort of the status quo in the legal world, as new technologies, regulations and issues spring up seemingly daily. However, some fields are seeing more activity—and more advances—than others. Here’s an overview of seven specialties that are keeping the legal community in business.
The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) changed the health care game for many people and businesses. “Whenever major ‘disruptive’ legislation such as the Affordable Care Act becomes law, lawyers in the affected specialty spend an inordinate amount of time advising clients on new opportunities and challenges that the legislation may present,” says Alan C. Sklar of Las Vegas law firm Sklar Williams PLLC. “To date, the bulk of our work arising from the ACA has been in the formation and organization of clients that are designated—or are seeking designation as—Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.”
Legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana continues to spread across the nation. Applying for a license to operate a marijuana-related business can involve thousands of pages of paperwork. “It’s remarkable how something the people of Nevada made constitutional sat untouched for 14 years and then with a sudden dump of nutrient-rich convolution seemingly grew an instant bumper crop of (sometimes contradictory) regulations from all quarters,” says Dayvid Figler, a Las Vegas lawyer who has worked on several successful marijuana applications. “This degree of regulation is akin to opening a pawnshop with gambling in a day-care center that serves alcohol.”
The energy sector has always dealt with regulation and legislation, but the steady development of new methods and technologies has increased legal activity. Leases and royalties for those that own oil-producing land have been complicated by horizontal drilling, fracking and other new extraction methods—not to mention the challenges posed by communities that oppose fracking. Renewable energy has seen job growth in all areas, especially the legal side of the field: Many states require energy providers to work toward increasing their volume of renewable energy, which requires legal help whether companies intend to comply with regulations or challenge them.
The concept of “fair use” continues to evolve in our post-modern sample-and-satirize, appropriate-and-adapt era. There are still no hard-and-fast rules, which is why Google Books can scan an entire novel without the author’s permission, but a musician can’t sample four notes of a song without receiving full licensing permission. Copyright infringement is also becoming increasingly complex in our Internet-linked global economy. There have been numerous legal challenges involving technology and software patents, and ongoing questions about the boundaries of patentable subject matter.
As our economy increasingly moves toward using “contract workers” rather than employees, legal disputes have risen about how a person qualifies as one or the other—and wrongly categorizing workers can lead to problems later on. Both FedEx and Sapphire Gentleman’s Club have recently lost class-action suits for mislabeling employees as independent contractors. Another question is the status of unpaid interns, and what duties they can perform and how many hours they can work before being considered employees. Other 21st-century legal ambiguities in the labor world involve employees using social media and personal devices to conduct employer business.
As the baby boomer generation continues to get older, the legal issues associated with aging become more important. Families attempt to navigate both the health care and financial systems, trying to find a way to hold onto at least some of their loved one’s assets without sacrificing care. The best way to do this: Be proactive. “A big part of elder law is doing what you can to plan ahead, as there are more options when you have more time,” says Kim Boyer of Durham, Jones & Pinegar, a Las Vegas firm specializing in elder law. “You can get proper estate-planning documents to plan for a possible nursing-home stay, as well as create specific asset-protection trusts,” she explains.
Emails, databases and other electronic records have become increasingly valuable as evidence in court cases: E-discovery is the process by which legal teams can find the one incriminating message or Web search among all the terabytes of data on a server. Electronic discovery affects cases in many fields of law; simply put, if parties are using electronic communications or data storage, e-discovery will be part of the pre-trial discovery process. What is available for search and how it will be searched—coding or keywords, specialized software, etc.— is something both parties have to determine with the help of e-discovery legal professionals.