What drone law teaches us about the future of law
Two years ago we published an Aprils Fools where we announced that we were collaborating with a drone operator to make the signing of contracts quicker and more convenient in countries like China where digital signatures were not allowed. As with most April Fools, it was a pretty lame joke. It was not as funny as when the BBB covered how the Swiss spaghetti farmers harvested strands of pasta from the trees. Or when a French newspaper announced that the Eiffel Tower was going to be dismantled to make way for a new Disney Park. However, it might not be just as unrealistic. Sooner or later, the sky just above our heads is going to be swarming with drones and other unarmed flying vehicles.
Such technologies are creating new challenges for the legal system. Autonomous vehicles will challenge our fundamental understanding of liability and tort. They will potentially reshape our understanding of tress-passing and privacy when they are flying over our backyards to go from the packaging centres to their destinations. Not to mention how international law is being trialled by drones and robot killers because there is no longer a human in the loop.
A few years ago, for example, a drone crashed into the stands of the U.S. Open area and interrupted a heated tennis match. But was it the tech that messed up and a drone that went rogue? Or was it an inexperienced operator who made a simple human mistake? Despite drones turning out to be surprisingly safe and such incidents rate, these questions will only be more frequent in the future. Drone law is bound to crystallise into a practise area of its own. At least of you ask Enrico Schaefer from Traverse Legal in Michigan who is advertising himself as “a Drone Attorney to For Your Drone Service Business”.
Schaefers practice is a great example of how emerging technologies not only reshape the way legal work is done but also the practice areas. In the case of Schaefer, his drone law project has even allowed him to do cross-jurisdictional legal work on a global scale. Legal Tech Weekly asked how that works.
“Drone law is becoming an essential, specialised, practise area. In the vast majority of American communities, there is some sort of commercial use of drones already. You must understand and obey the specialised laws that govern commercial unmanned areal vehicles to be a commercial supplier of drones. We help clients do things: get them the right permissions at the different agencies and navigate all the new legal issues. Then we also help companies that are looking to expand into this space: we help with licences, deal-making, trademarks, everything you need to succeed,” Schaefer explains to Legal Tech Weekly trough an internet connection between his vacation house in Michigan and our office in Copenhagen.
To do so, we went back to college to study unmanned systems before launching his drone law concept. “I think it is critical to immerse oneself in these new technologies before jumping into the legal side. It is hard to understand, but you wouldn’t trust a doctor who had no understanding of how the body works? You need a fundamental understanding of the underlying system of the practice area you work in to give your clients a return of their investments,” says Schaefer.
Why is that important for lawyers to understand these technologies?
“Because a lawyer that understands the technology will understand the business model. Lawyers can do two things: they can put out fires or they can build companies. We are building companies, and in order to do that, we need to understand the tech and the challenges you are facing. How they are interacting with the legal system and how the client should navigate through all the regulation,” he answers.
So is that your advice to other lawyers? Learn the tech?
“My advice? Be hyper-specialised and niche. Generalists have their place in the World, but if you want to go out and be the best in the World, then you have to emerge yourself into a category, learn the technology and apply your legal training to it. Then you have a shot of being the best in the World.”
Schaefer briefly stops his speech and then continues.
“I think 55 % of our clients are from overseas. We are in Traverse, Michigan - in the middle of nowhere - and they still chose us because they are looking for specialised expertise to solve their specific problems. We have clients from all of the World who are looking for the best lawyer in their industry, who knows their technology and their issues. The internet makes this niche-approach possible. People no longer have this historical regional-focused approach to law where you just visit the law office down the street. People can contact specialised lawyers all over the World now,” he concludes.
If a globalisation allows more specialised cross-jurisdictional work: Does it mean that lawyers should specialise more?