Any professional decision regarding what you plan to do for the next several years (if not more!) should account for various factors, including satisfaction and opportunities for professional growth. Other factors, like intellectual stimulation, demand, and job security, should be part of the equation, too. You don’t want to become disinterested with your work, and you don’t want to work in an area where it’s difficult to find or retain employment.
After law school, when you’re ready to put your legal education to use in—hopefully—a rewarding field, the good news is that the job outlook is positive. Legal employment is expected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, with 46,000 openings projected each year.[i] So, in 2022 and beyond, what legal practice areas are considered in demand and emerging?
Pillars in the Profession
Opportunities in these traditionally strong areas look to be favorable:
- Litigation. Following the impact COVID had in shutting down courthouses and delaying trials, litigation rebounded in 2021 and is expected to continue growing since the backlog has not been fully resolved.[ii] Further, following record-setting spending in 2021, class action caseload is predicted to increase by as much as 27% in 2022, with many of these resulting from pandemic-related matters like workplace safety and discrimination.[iii]
- Labor & Employment. With a unique phenomenon like the “Great Resignation” leading to the “Great American Labor Shortage,” and employees returning to workplaces after COVID forced them to work from home, the relationship between workers and employers has drastically changed. Employers need to “change their focus in order to attract and retain staff,” and companies “must tailor their workforce strategy to the unique needs of their workers.”[iv] With these workplace revelations, there will be issues and lawsuits aplenty to keep L&E lawyers busy.
- Mergers & Acquisitions. Global mergers and acquisitions saw record-breaking numbers in 2021. While transaction numbers are down in 2022, they still are up 35% compared to averages from the 2015-19 period.[v] And companies looking to position themselves for future growth will need good M&A attorneys.
- Intellectual Property. With continuing innovation in manufacturing, technology, digital communication, transportation, and medical devices—and with inventions springing up all the time—the need to protect new ideas, products, and services remains vibrant. In the latest figures available from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, more than 600,000 patent applications have been submitted each year from 2013 to 2020.[vi]
Given changing times, policies, and priorities, these practice areas are growing and in need of sharp legal minds:
- Immigration. The last year has seen large waves of immigrants and refugees come to the U.S.—most notably from Mexico, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. And “legal representation often makes the difference between whether someone is allowed to remain safely in the United States or is deported…, permanently separated from family.”[vii] A lot of pro bono legal service providers—including many law firms and clinics—embrace immigration work, so representation is often provided at no cost to clients. But, unlike the U.S. criminal justice system, people are not guaranteed the right to an attorney, and need exceeds supply. There is a dearth of competent, qualified immigration attorneys[viii], so this is a growing sector to consider.
- Energy Law. With oil shortages, supply chain issues, and increased interest in clean and renewable energy sources—including solar, wind, hydrogen, and electric—the demand for energy lawyers is “alive and well.”[ix] Many law firms have thriving energy law practices (check out the Vault Law rankings of best 2023 energy and clean tech law firms here and here), and firms without extensive energy practices are looking for ways to get work in the field.[x]
- Elder Law. As the U.S. population—including the baby boomer generation—gets older, people are going to need advice on managing healthcare issues, long-term care planning, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, estate tax, wills, and trusts. The need for elder law attorneys will keep growing.[xi]
- Cybersecurity. With cybercrime costing the economy trillions of dollars a year and with millions of unfilled cybersecurity positions, there are great and numerous opportunities for lawyers.[xii] Moreover, many law schools, including the University of Texas and USC, offer LL.M. degrees or degree concentrations in cybersecurity law,[xiii] and a lot of law firms employ experts in the field. (See the Vault Law rankings of the best privacy & data security firms here.)
- Cryptocurrency/Blockchain. Crypto continues to be a growing industry and attorneys expect legal work in the area to increase in the coming years.[xiv] In a lucrative industry that fell below $1 trillion in June for the first time in almost 18 months,[xv] top crypto exchanges like Kraken say they need attorneys now—and the federal government and financial institutions need attorneys to manage regulation in an area where the law is still being written.[xvi]
- Cannabis Law. With the U.S. market expected to “grow” 21% each year and reach $41.5 billion by 2025, cannabis certainly is an expanding area of the law—especially when companies need guidance on a wide range of issues, including taxes, licensing, compliance, intellectual property, and financial transactions.[xvii] BigLaw firms like DLA Piper, Dentons, and Reed Smith, among others, all have flourishing cannabis law practices.
Finding the area of the law in which you’d like to practice is an incredibly important decision because you’d like to enjoy what you’re doing and have some sense of stability. These are only some of the current hot and emerging industries, so be sure to consider these and other cutting-edge, fascinating, and booming areas. And keep an eye out for other fields to arise in future years.
[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2002, April 18). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Lawyers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
[ii] Maloney, A. (2022, March 25). Big Law Betting on a Litigation Resurgence in 2022 and Into 2023. The American Lawyer. https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2022/03/25/big-law-betting-on-a-litigation-resurgence-in-2022-and-into-2023/
[iii] Allen, D. Matthew and Clabby, J. (2022, February 22). Survey Says U.S. Companies Anticipate Record Class Action Matters in 2022, Project 27% Matter Increase – Highest Level Reported in 11 Years. Carlton Fields. https://www.carltonfields.com/about-us/newsroom/news/2022/class-action-survey-developments-best-practices#:~:text=Class%20action%20spending%20is%20expected,class%20action%20caseload%20in%202022.
[iv] Ellerbeck, S. (2022, June 24). The Great Resignation is not over: A fifth of workers plan to quit in 2022. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/06/the-great-resignation-is-not-over/
[v] Makrygiannis, K. (2022, July 13). M&A activity remains resilient in 2022, but further shocks could derail outlook. Ernst & Young. https://www.ey.com/en_gl/news/2022/07/ma-activity-remains-resilient-in-2022-but-further-shocks-could-derail-outlook
[vi] U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. (n.d.). U.S. Patent Statistics Chart, Calendar Years 1963-2020. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Patent Technology Monitoring Team (PTMT). https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/us_stat.htm
[vii] National Immigrant Justice Center. (n.d.). Access to Counsel. https://immigrantjustice.org/issues/access-counsel
[viii] Poggio, M. (2002, February 6). 83,000 Afghans Made It To The US. Now They Need Lawyers. Law360. https://www.law360.com/articles/1462197/83-000-afghans-made-it-to-the-us-now-they-need-lawyers
[ix] Melnitzer, J. (2021, October 6). Fossil fuels may be in doldrums but energy lawyers are adapting to the new environment. Financial Post. https://financialpost.com/commodities/energy/fossil-fuels-may-be-in-doldrums-but-energy-lawyers-are-adapting-to-the-new-environment
[x] Jeffreys, B. (2022, April 11). Firms Chasing Work in Energy Transition, the ‘Hot New Thing’. Law.com. https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2022/04/11/firms-chasing-work-in-energy-transition-the-hot-new-thing-405-101792/
[xi] Robert, A. (2020, January 30). Why elder law is a growing, ‘anything-can-happen practice.’ ABA Journal. https://www.abajournal.com/web/article/elder-law-a-growing-anything-can-happen-practice
[xii] The National Law Review. (2021, September 21). Cybersecurity Law: A Growing Specialization for Lawyers. https://www.natlawreview.com/article/cybersecurity-law-growing-specialization-lawyers#:~:text=Cybercrime%20is%20expected%20to%20cost,profession%20has%20never%20been%20easier.
[xiii] Bowcut, S. (2022, July 2). Guide to a cybersecurity law degree. Cybersecurity Guide. https://cybersecurityguide.org/programs/cybersecurity-law/
[xiv] Brewer, P. (2022, August 18). Analysis: Lawyers See Growth in Crypto Work Despite Downturn. Bloomberg Law. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/analysis-lawyers-see-growth-in-crypto-work-despite-downturn
[xv] Howcroft, E. (2022, June 13). Cryptocurrency market value slumps under $1 trillion. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/business/finance/cryptocurrency-market-value-slumps-under-1-trillion-2022-06-13/
[xvi] Pymnts. (2022, April 25). Crypto Talent War Refocuses on Lawyers as Investment Booms, Regulations Loom. https://www.pymnts.com/cryptocurrency/2022/crypto-talent-war-refocuses-on-lawyers-as-investment-booms-regulations-loom/
[xvii] Cutler, J. (2021, September 21). Cannabis Practices Sprout as Big Law Firms Follow the Money. Bloomberg Law. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/business-and-practice/cannabis-practices-sprout-as-big-law-firms-follow-the-money