Lawyers and their clients have traditionally considered jurisdiction to be a legal factor beyond their control. The butcher killed the baker in Massachusetts, so that’s the only place he can go to court. As a result, jursisdictional expertise was a significant part of a lawyer’s skill set; knowing the names of all the local judges and where they played golf could be the key to winning a case.
But by 2023, jurisdiction will be a variable in a significant number of legal matters, particularly those involving business. It’s not just that firms will need to be ready to practice in multiple jurisdictions; the way they think about jurisdiction itself will change.
To get your head around the problem, think of the recent discussions about where Apple pays taxes. Because of the digital nature of their products and a team of highly sophisticated accountants, big tech companies like Apple can distribute operations all over the world, picking and choosing from pieces of tax codes that serve their interests. Soon companies will demand similar sophistication in their legal advice as they contemplate strategies involving many different countries at once. Advising such a company will be difficult enough — now imagine trying to sue one.
This new way of thinking isn’t just relevant to big companies like Apple. Many of today’s startups already depend on talent, supply chains, and markets all over the world, and are prepared to alter those variables in a few minutes.The firms of tomorrow will be prepared to advise clients with this high degree of jurisdictional agency.
The firm of 2023 will also be prepared to deal with jurisdictions that grow, shrink, merge and disintegrate under our feet. This need is already apparent in Europe — a business based on a Greek island already has to consider policy being made in Athens, Brussels, and Berlin. The trend toward a patchwork of interconnected bodies of law and policy will only accelerate as nations attempt to keep up with inherently global phenomena like climate change and cybersecurity. And in the developing world, policy made by international bodies or non-governmental organizations may be just as important as national statutes.
We predict that as clients habituate themselves to this more complex jurisdictional world, the role of the firm will change. It will no longer be sufficient to provide factual answers about the law in just one jurisdiction — that will either become the province of boutique firms or computers. Instead, firms will need to advise clients how to craft strategies in a world where they can choose from many jurisdictions, but where many of those jurisdictions are also liable to change. This will require lawyers who can rapidly assess different risk scenarios and get creative with what they find there; simply telling clients what they can and can’t do won’t suffice.