When asked what they look for in a lawyer, business leaders and in-house legal advisers invariably answer the same thing. Yes, they want an attorney who is expert in the relevant legal area, be it business regulation, product liability or data privacy. These skills are table stakes.
Increasingly, the thorniest business challenges are those presented by emerging digital technologies that disrupt every business and every corner of our personal lives. Lawyers who take the time to deeply understand the direction the technological winds are blowing will be adopted as trusted partners by current and future clients.
But those same executives also say, without fail, that they want a lawyer who understands their industry – someone who can “make the connection” and apply the law within the context of their unique business challenges.
Digital technology is reshaping our world
So what technologies should lawyers spend their precious time learning?
Obviously, the first place to start is with the technologies that disrupt the markets they serve. Marketing companies rely on privacy lawyers, and entertainment companies rely on intellectual property lawyers to protect their creations. Each industry has its unique legal needs.
Beyond this narrow focus, however, are several emerging and essential technology categories that threaten to disrupt nearly every market and law firm. Each lawyer should have at least a passing familiarity with each of them.
Legal and business experts say the most important technologies impacting businesses today are: artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain, drones, internet of things, robotics and 3D printing.
1. Artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the use of computers for data-based decision making, speech and pattern recognition and linguistic translation. AI is a double-edged sword within the legal profession as it has the potential to replace lawyers (by automating routine rule-based tasks) and make lawyers more efficient and improve the quality of their staff. advice.
Common legal applications of AI include contract analysis, legal research, decision analysis, and outcome prediction. Outside of the legal profession, companies are rapidly adopting AI for automation, data analysis, and language processing. AI is also used to predict consumer behavior, detect fraud, personalize marketing campaigns, and provide customer service.
It is impossible to overstate the implications of AI in business and legal activities. AI, which relies on detailed data sets to function well, raises new issues in the areas of privacy and anti-discrimination rights. Additionally, will the prevalence of AI in decision making force companies to negotiate contractual rights to audit the operations of AI applications? Who will be responsible for crimes committed by machines?
2. Augmented reality. Augmented Reality (AR) offers the user a digitally enhanced interaction with the physical world by providing, in real time, an overlay of text, graphics, audio and other virtual enhancements. The first highlighted line superimposed on a soccer field during TV shows is a form of AR familiar to most people, as are smartphone apps that measure and identify real-world objects (e.g. Measured by Lowes) or allow users to try it out virtually. clothing, jewelry and makeup. AR has compelling applications in healthcare service delivery and training in a wide variety of industries.
The legal implications of AR technologies are most felt today in the areas of intellectual property – copyright, trademarks and patent laws – although with a little imagination it cannot be not difficult to see applications for new generation courtrooms as well.
3. Virtual reality. Unlike augmented reality, which enhances but does not replace the physical world, virtual reality (VR) technologies allow the user to create images and experiences that can only exist in cyberspace. They create captivating and immersive experiences that mimic reality to such an extent that they deceive the user into believing that what they are seeing is “real”. Almost all real-world processes and human interactions can be simulated using virtual reality technologies, making them ideal for education, business training, marketing, and entertainment applications.
Virtual reality technologies raise new legal issues for intellectual property, privacy, personal injury, law enforcement, and criminal lawyers.
4. Block chain. The term blockchain describes a distributed, unalterable ledger used to record transactions and track assets in a network. To function, the blockchain requires (1) a single distributed ledger, (2) records that cannot be changed once recorded in the ledger, and (3) “smart contracts” (business rules) that allow the system to operate without human intervention. intervention. Blockchain is the technology behind most cryptocurrencies and all non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Blockchain has compelling applications for manufacturing, healthcare, government, retail, travel and transportation, and the financial services industries.
Lawmakers have noticed it. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 31 states have considered legislation study, define or regulate cryptocurrencies during the 2020-2021 legislative year. NCSL also identified pending legislation in 17 states to study, regulate or promote the use of blockchain-enabled services.
5. Drones. Like the Internet itself, unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – have the potential to fundamentally change the way businesses and governments work. Drones have applications for agriculture, law enforcement (particularly environmental law enforcement, where drones can expose difficult-to-see geography), delivery services, disaster response, l engineering, architecture and construction. Drones are tightly regulated at the federal and state levels.
6. Internet of things. Internet of things (IoT) refers to network connected devices such as smartphones, smart thermostats, smart lights and switches, portable devices, and voice-activated devices (e.g. Alexa, Siri, and Google’s Nest family of devices. ).
Since IoT devices and applications collect and transfer large amounts of personal information from the user’s home or vehicle to the cloud, they raise significant legal privacy and cybersecurity issues.
7. Robotics. According to the dictionary, a robot is a “machine that resembles a living creature in being able to move independently (such as walking or rolling on wheels) and performing complex actions (such as grabbing and moving objects)”. Robots are already widely used for manufacturing. They raise many of the same legal issues as drones and IoT devices. However, with their obvious ability to cause serious physical harm, liability issues are at the forefront of legal concerns related to robots.
8. 3D printing. The phrase 3d printing describes a technology that can easily transform a digital representation of an object into a physical version of that object. For example, 3D printing technologies are currently used to manufacture parts for aircraft engines, prostheses and prescription drugs. 3D printing technologies are making their way into manufacturing industries, educational institutions and even homes around the world.
These technologies primarily raise intellectual property issues, but they also raise new product liability issues (for example, who is responsible for injuries caused by 3D printed products – the manufacturer of the 3D printer, the user or supplier of the material used to create the object?)
Necessary problem solvers
Having a solid foundation in emerging technologies offers lawyers a great opportunity to provide valuable advice to their clients. While clients don’t expect their lawyers to be tech savvy, they rely on law firms to have multidisciplinary advisory capabilities and tech experts they can call on for a particular engagement.
That doesn’t mean lawyers don’t need to be tech savvy. Sophisticated clients expect their attorneys to be able to appreciate cybersecurity issues and proficiently use document management and collaboration tools to effectively deliver legal services.
For lawyers, strategy and a keen sense of problem solving remain the rule. But without technological knowledge, it will be increasingly difficult to provide the most valuable legal services.