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If you’re thinking of studying law, you might assume that the path is an obvious one. Once the study is out of the way, you’ll land a graduate position at a city law firm, and buckle yourself in for the real hard yards of becoming a criminal or corporate lawyer.
Perhaps that’s still true for some, but like many sectors, the legal industry is in the midst of a massive shake-up as the effects of technology, a changing society and increasing globalisation have a major impact.
Dean of Deakin Law School Professor Jenni Lightowlers says that in the past a junior lawyer might spend much of their working day poring over cases searching for precedents.
‘Now you can feed the words into a computer and it will pop all the cases back out at you,’ she says. ‘A lot of the sort of drudgery law, as in repetition of doing things, has been addressed by some really smart new technologies, but it doesn’t take away the skillset, it doesn’t take away the need for people who can think outside the box.’
In fact, thinking outside the box will arguably become more important than ever for lawyers of the future. From cyber security to financial technology and international rights, Prof. Lightowlers says the law is being pushed in countless new directions.
‘It’s exciting because Australia every day has a more international focus and we’ve got to learn to play the game better. There’s so many different areas that you can branch out into.’
So you’re considering becoming a lawyer, what could you potentially specialise in? We asked Prof. Lightowlers to pinpoint five areas of law poised to boom.
Cyber security is still a mystery to many, but will be an incredibly important field for future lawyers, says Prof. Lightowlers.
‘What cyber allows is, instead of one bank being robbed; it allows everybody to be robbed in the same moment of time basically. So it just escalates the scale of things that happen already,’ she says.
‘There’s also a massive exposure in Australia to small businesses because they don’t have the money or the wherewithal or the knowledge necessarily to think about being cyber smart.’
Prof. Lightowlers says many laws, including criminal law and the law of torts, will still apply. ‘But they need to be applied in a different way and in a different context, particularly seeing a lot of cyber crime is international.’
Prof. Lightowlers says students interested in this area would be wise to also take a subject in intellectual property law, and to make the most of internship opportunities.
‘From a lawyer’s point of view, it’s policy and regulation and information – I mean we’re not doing the computing, but we’re doing the awareness stuff.
‘There’s lots of opportunities for people to get into organisations and actually think about how they – from a policy perspective, and a regulatory perspective -can help people better understand what their risk exposure is and how to manage it.’
Linked to cyber security, but presenting its own challenges, financial technology will impact many lawyers of the future.
‘Some of the fintech stuff is related to cyber because essentially we’re talking about financial management services that are not necessarily our standard banking and regulatory regimes,’ Prof. Lightowlers says.
Blockchain, a database shared across a network of computers, may also be an important fintech tool for lawyers to understand.
‘Blockchain can not only track monetary transactions and verify them but it’s actually a useful tool and is being used for things like managing data in clinical trials to make sure that you actually validate everything as it goes along – you can’t go back and play with the results.’
From a lawyer’s perspective, Prof. Lightowlers says it will be about using various systems to validate data, and managing data and privacy in Australia and overseas.
Likewise, you may end up working for a business that trades internationally.
‘You can’t just understand what’s going on in Australia; you have to be able to arbitrate internationally if your trade deal goes wrong. Or if there’s a supply chain problem and you’ve got stuff coming from somewhere else, you have to actually be able to go and look at what the rules and regulations are if you’re going to enforce a contract,’ Prof. Lightowlers says.
‘Often that’s done in an international jurisdiction and as part of a dispute resolution process.’
She gives the car industry as an example. With cars no longer being manufactured in Australia, each car we import effectively involves an international trade deal.
'It’s exciting because Australia every day has a more international focus and we’ve got to learn to play the game better. There’s so many different areas that you can branch out into.'
Professor Jenni Lightowlers,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University
‘There’s real goods like cars, there’s intangible goods like downloading an eBook, and then there’s people trying to actually restrict or manage people movement across borders,’ Prof. Lightowlers says.
‘There’s the criminal law elements of it, there’s the international treaties, there are United Nations human rights that we’re supposed to comply with, so people movement is a really big issue.’
She says it’s a particular area of growth because there are 65 million refugees on the move globally.
Health is a huge area of law, which involves everything from the Therapeutic Goods Act to new legislation on voluntary assisted dying and rules around organ transplants.
‘They’re all big areas that need to be looked at and regulated thoughtfully,’ Prof. Lightowlers says.
‘The aged care royal commission is also going to throw up the most massive amount of issues, just like the banking royal commission has.’
As Australia’s population ages, Prof. Lightowlers says legal issues will also come to the fore, especially for those no longer be in a position to control their own lives because of Alzheimer’s or dementia, for instance.
‘How do you protect their money, how do you protect their property, how do you protect their rights to be looked after when they can’t comment on what’s happening to them? From that point of view it’s a societal issue as much as it’s a legal issue.’
Interested in studying law? Find out about the robust training you’ll get at Deakin.
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