07 August 2019

Four areas of law you may have missed

Published on 07 August 2019
Four areas of law you may have missed

Interested in expanding your legal horizons? Looking to explore new areas of practice? As innovation and technology continue to make their mark on the legal profession, new areas of law and legal practice are emerging. 

Insights considers four emerging areas of law you may have missed, and what opportunities exist to get involved.

Space Law

Space, the final frontier, soon to be home to Donald Trump’s long trumpeted ‘Space Force’ – is also a brave new frontier of law. Commercial space exploration and the push for an ever more connected world has left our atmosphere rather congested with space traffic – particularly satellites. The law governing space, however, tends to assume space activity conforms to older Cold War norms of government-led space exploration. Much of it has not been updated for decades.

In fact, the Australian government is currently in the process of revising the Space Activities Act 1998. Indeed, this legislation is rather new compared to the plethora of international space agreements signed in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Given that the vast uptake in commercial space has happened in the last five to 10 years, there is significant lag,” Professor de Zwart, Dean of Law at Adelaide Law School, told the ABC.

This lag throws up opportunities.

“Space is a unique thing from a legal characterization,” Professor Steven Freeland, Dean of Law at Western Sydney University, told the ABC. “From the earliest time that Sputnik went up in 1957, it was agreed that national law would not apply to space, but instead we would own space together as a common area.”

The absence of law and rapid commercialization of space will require new laws to regulate space, particularly laws restricting weaponisation and militarization, and to deal with ‘space junk’ – debris from abandoned rocket stages, dead satellites and small objects. Lawyers skilled in space law are likely to becoming increasingly in demand by commercial space exploration ventures and global communication providers.

The law of furry things

From the vast reaches of space to the closer to home and furry comes lawyers who champion the rights of companion animals. The RSPCA reports that 24 million pets are owned by Australians, making the pet population higher than the human population in Australia, which is reflected in this growing area of law.

Lawyer Anne Greenway has made companion animal law her mission. Anne heads up Lawyers for Companion Animals, which specialises in animal issues, including animal cruelty and neglect, dog attack matters, vet negligence or other pet-related disputes.

Other than the obvious appeal of championing the cause of our furry best friends, this area of law touches upon criminal law, contract law, administrative law, tort, residential and tenancy law – even defamation. It’s an area growing in popularity, particularly as birth rates drop and pet ownership increases, and so is well worth considering for lawyers who love their furry or feathered pet friends.

Climate change law – and lawsuits

Step aside, Captain Planet, for the environment has new defenders on the climate front – lawyers and legislators. Currently, 28 countries have climate-related lawsuits, including Indonesia, Norway, Pakistan and South Africa.

“Most defendants are governments but lawsuits are increasingly targeting the highest greenhouse gas-emitting companies,” stated a study by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. “Human rights and science are both playing an increasing role in climate change litigation,” stated the study’s authors. “A human rights basis for litigation on climate change has had increasing resonance with judges in some strategic cases, despite challenges with regard to establishing causality.” 

Indeed, the study reported 1000 climate change cases in the US, followed by 94 in Australia and 53 in the UK. Many are strategic, aimed at bringing the science of climate change to the courts for judicial scrutiny and action.

For environmental lawyers looking to confront what has been dubbed the greatest challenge of our time, moving into climate change law could force real accountability and action from private sector carbon emitters, and from governments. This is an exciting prospect in the face of uneven responses from world governments. 

Legal operations

Technology is transforming how we work as lawyers. In fact, for some lawyers – and law graduates – it’s changing whether we work in law at all. Legal operations, or ‘legal ops’, directly deals with how technology can improve how lawyers work. 

It is such an area of importance that Minter Ellison now provides a dedicated Legal Operations Graduate Program, Revolution. Graduates in this program are solely committed to helping to lead the charge on change and disruption within the firm. Participants are embedded in the Legal Operations team, improving their skills in legal project management, process analysis, artificial intelligence and emerging technologies. They are then tasked with implementing cutting edge technological solutions in legal teams. 

Minter Ellison’s announcement signals a shift in the legal market, particularly for new lawyers with a strong understanding or interest in technology and project management. It is an opportunity to do away with the drudgery of repetitive legal work through active innovation. It is also a chance to take charge of the future of law in a way few new lawyers have been able to do before.