Lawyers specialising in sectors such as banking compliance, property, and information technology (IT) are in demand at the moment. Some legal niches are cyclical but IT law is a niche that has shown consistent growth in recent years despite headwinds affecting other practices.
Traditionally, IT law was considered as the law related to the provision, installation and maintenance of IT infrastructure, data servers and websites. More recently, it has been broadening rapidly and developing sub-specialisms in line with the huge expansion of data communication, social networking, novel internet business models and other technology innovations. Developments in technology and the laws that govern it present great opportunities for lawyers who are already IT specialists and also for those interested in carving out a distinctive role by focusing their skills in this high-growth area.
IT law is not just for nerds
Firms normally break down their specialisms into areas of law or sectors or both but the reality is that many areas of law overlap and information technology law is no different. Although the detailed aspects of IT law might have a slightly nerdy appeal, there are a number of mainstream practice areas in which the IT lawyer must have a solid grasp.
Many IT lawyers essentially practice commercial law in a technology context. Individual lawyers and firms can and do take advantage of this niche appeal by offering services that cover specific technology issues such as IT infrastructure, cloud services, software licensing agreements, e-commerce legal management, SaaS agreements, and software development agreements. Much of the commercial expertise IT lawyers provide also relates to the monitoring, licensing and protection of intellectual property. Lawyers who focus their commercial skills and build expertise around IT specific issues can become go-to advisers for companies such as online retailers, communications businesses or software companies that develop and sell technology.
Another hot area of IT law relates to the increasingly complex regulatory environment of the internet; ‘cyber law’ covers issues such as control of the internet, data protection and the laws regarding hacking. Companies must ensure that their confidential data, which is increasingly stored on IT systems, is adequately protected and that their networks are secure enough to withstand a cyber-attack. This involves having comprehensive risk management systems in place, protocols to deal with the aftermath of issues that occur and effective responses to limit data loss and ensure the company is protected from further cyber-attacks. All these issues must be guided by regulatory and commercial considerations so businesses increasingly seek out genuine experts in the field.
Lawyers for the technology age
Information technology law now affects most businesses and individuals in one way or another. IT law is not a standalone legal discipline as such; those specialising in this area usually need a range of legal knowledge covering contract law, intellectual property law and specific pieces of regulation such as the Data Protection Act. That said, many commercial firms have focused IT legal departments and there are numerous niche firms that now provide specialist IT advice.
Commercial lawyers with an interest in technology are well placed to take advantage of the huge growth in IT law. In addition to a range of legal skills, they also need to have a specific understanding of the practical and commercial application of IT as well as being able to relate a varied client base ranging from financial institutions and global corporates to the start-ups and techie entrepreneurs.
Picking up specific IT related commercial work and building your expertise may give you an opportunity to own this niche if it is not already a specialist department in your firm. Alternatively, there are a range of great opportunities to move to firms where specialist IT knowledge is more appreciated within a defined practice area, if you have the correct skill base and technical knowledge.