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Tomorrow’s Billable Hours

The fifth year of my Law Practice 2050 class is a wrap and it was wonderful working with the students and guest speakers. I’ll give a shout-out to the speakers soon—for now I want to highlight the tremendously creative topics my students bit off for their “skate to where the law is going” project. The project requires them to build a future scenario around an emerging technological, social, economic, or other trend, anticipate the legal issues it will generate, and then explore the theme in three different writing projects—a blog post, a client alert letter, and a bar journal article. The idea is that when the show up at their first post, they need to do more than show up—they need to brand and build their expertise. What better way to do so than on an issue for which there are no existing experts!

It has amazed me how quickly topics my students chose five years ago have ramped up into real legal practice fields (think cryptocurrencies, 3D printing, drones, and fitness tracker data, all of which were just breaking five years ago), and how much even those have changed and generated new applications and thus new legal angles. So, if you are looking for where billable hours will emerge over the next five years, look at this year’s project topics:

  • Quantum computing
  • Brain-to-computer and brain-to-brain neural links
  • Microchip implants for employees
  • Automated shipping vessels
  • Cyborg enhancements
  • Cryptocurrencies for small business
  • Initial coin offerings
  • CRISPER gene editing
  • Smart contract oracles
  • Preimplantation genetic diagnosis
  • Synthetic food
  • Lab-grown in vitro meat
  • Augmented reality
  • Virtual reality
  • 3D food printing
  • Blockchain
  • Autonomous aerial vehicles
  • Germline editing
  • Life-extending nanotechnology
  • Robo-bees
  • Twitter bots
  • Implanted medical drug release chips
  • Cannabis law
  • Data driven threat scores
  • AI displacement of jobs
  • Voice activated digital assistants
  • MOF water capture technologies
  • Implanted video recording devices
  • High-tech deep sea mineral extraction
  • Opening of Arctic shipping lanes
  • Stimulus and biomarker detection devices
  • Fitness tracker employee data
  • Service animals and the ADA
  • Mega-scale ecological engineering

Several topics were more directly related to legal practice:

  • Emojis in the courtroom
  • Alternative legal finance
  • Brain scans as evidence of state of mind
  • Unauthorized practice of law liberalization

Some of these topics already are generating legal work and legal practice challenges, but not at large scales; others have yet to translate to the legal space, but that is soon to come; some seem too outlandish to ever generate billable hours or legal practice concerns, but they will.

And one thing is for sure—reading these final bar journal articles will beat grading exams!


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