What Were the Major Commercial Law Trends of the 2010s? Five Conversation Starters for the Holidays

What were the hottest legal topics of the past decade? What gave our clients pause for thought? We listed five things to provide plenty to talk about not just over the holidays, but far into the new decade, as well.

1. Data Protection

Data protection regulations lay down the ground rules for the processing of personal data. The amount of data being processed has exploded, and organisations have begun leading and developing their operations with data. It has become more important than ever to ensure that processing is done legally.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation entered into force in May 2018. This new legislation has forced companies to learn a risk-based approach to the planning and implementation of personal data processing. High-profile case law has emphasised transparency, the providing of information and the compliance of processing with the law. The data protection revolution is ongoing and can be expected to take on new forms in the future.

2. Digitalisation and AI

Digitalisation and technological innovations have begun shaping businesses. Machine learning and blockchain have given rise new opportunities in a number of fields, including the legal services industry. Examples include document automation, online dispute resolution and AI document analysis. The use of AI also comes with risks, however: if the machine learning process is flawed, the decisions made by AI could be discriminatory. AI still needs a person (perhaps even a lawyer) to back it up.

3. Sustainability

Sustainability has become a driver of successful business. In addition to profit, an increasing number of companies are also seeking to minimise environmental impacts, take good care of their personnel and handle corporate governance well. Sustainable practices exceed the minimum level required by law. Sustainability requirements are being extended down the supply chain, and interest group impacts are being identified. To lead with data, you have to use the data responsibly.

A significant number of companies are already seeking to achieve social impact through their operations—a fact that cannot help but be reflected in the legal services industry. This development can be seen in sustainable investment assignments, new forms of financing, compliance work, public-sector procurement and numerous energy-industry assignments.

4. Brexit

The UK’s departure from the EU has been a mainstay in news headlines since 2017 when the country formally announced its withdrawal. Given the fresh election results, Brexit looks set to take place on 31 January 2020, but the shape of the UK’s and EU’s relationship following the transition period remains unclear.

The schedule is extremely tight, and if no agreement is reached, the UK will become a third country to the EU at the end of next year. In the legal field, a hard Brexit would particularly impact trader’s permits, the trade of goods and IPR issues. In many industries, companies are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. There is plenty here to keep lawyers busy for years to come.

5. Climate Change

Everyone has heard of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who despite her young age has taken a strong stance on climate policy. Climate change has dominated public debate and impacted personal choices. The Paris climate accord will be applied starting in 2020, and the EU has just approved a green deal. The battle to stave off climate change continues, and is showing up in the legal field, for example, in the form of emissions-free energy projects.