January 04, 2010
In the year 2020...
Posted by Erik Gerding

I've had almost enough of end-of-the-year and end-of-the-decade lists.  (Is this a peculiarly American phenomenon?  An attempt to produce some amount of cultural cohesion in a nation of 300 million?)

But not enough to refrain from speculating on what will be the major stories in business law and the legal academy in the next decade.  In my guest posts a while ago, I wrote about how the economic pressures on law firms and legal education will intensify.  Here are two other trends to watch:

1.  Graying boomers continue to rock the boat:  The leading edge of the baby boom will turn 64 this year (and back of the envelope calculations suggest these boomers will be 74 in ten more years).  Like in every previous decade, the boomers will continue to be heard.  Some pundits suggested that the retirement of boomers will create massive demand for new workers (including lawyers and professors) to fill the gap.  Not so fast.  Demand for many services may also shift.  And don't expect boomer to retire on cue.  Anticipate tension in all sorts of places of work as generations grapple with the issue of when the torch will be passed.

In terms of law practice, it would not be at all surprising if employment discrimination, trusts and estates, and elder law see growth spurts.

In terms of social issues, thanks in part to immigration and to Americans having more kids, the U.S. won't deal with the same degree of economic and social challenges that Japan and Europe face.  But there will still be huge issues.

For example, expect the costs and ethics of elder care to become a national issue that dwarfs the current health care debate.  Financial markets may gyrate as boomers reallocate or cash out of investments.  Expect consumer finance to focus on new financial products aimed at the elderly, of which reverse mortgages are just the harbinger.  (In short, my colleague Nathalie Martin will have a full plate this decade.)

2.  We will all be comparativists soon:  Law professors have been stressing the need to incorporate international and transnational issues in the law school curriculum, including in business law, for quite a while.  But I doubt public international law will be as important as giving students some comparative law skills to enable them to work with clients and lawyers across jurisdictions.  Over my time in practice, I think I looked at a treaty only once, but spent quite a bit of time working with lawyers in other jurisdictions.  It was one of the more difficult and fascinating aspects of practice.

Overarching treaties will be less important in corporate and financial law scholarship too compared to the type of bilateral and multilateral cooperation among national regulators that scholars like Chris Brummer and our own Professor Zaring have written about.  To understand whether this cooperation works, we need to know quite a bit about foreign legal systems.

Comparative Law, Current Affairs, Globalization/Trade, Law & Society | Bookmark

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