Bio Age “likely to impact legal practice” amid global climate change

Trees: Legal rights?

A report into the so-called bio age, presumed successor to the digital age, has painted a picture of a world in which innovations in bio-technology and the role of global ecosystems have a huge impact on legal practice.

The Law Society report, Law in the Emerging Bio Age, has a necessarily ‘New Age’ feel to it, with ideas such as the legal rights of non-human species in a world in which climate change demands a new relationship between humanity and the planet.

It noted that rights have “already been granted and more are being sought” in different jurisdictions globally for elephants, trees, rivers, ecosystems and landscapes.

The society hosted two roundtable discussions with lawyers, legal professionals and experts. It said a conclusion was that the subject was ”urgent, under-discussed, and a topic the legal profession should engage.”

Introducing the report, its authors, academic futurists Dr Wendy Schulz and Dr Trish O’Flynn, in association with think tank Jigsaw Foresight, said: “Activity in the Biosphere, alongside machine learning and emerging technologies, is creating a new generation of legal activity and ethical questions.

“Rapid developments in the fields of synthetic biology, bio-technology and bio-energy have already caused shifts in the biological risk landscape and are key drivers of future opportunities and threats.”

They continued: “From a legal perspective, extending our understanding beyond current risks to include emerging issues in these and related fields can play a vital role in informing future legal frameworks, liability cases and advice to impacted clients.”

Explaining the range of various inter-related issues expected by the authors to dominate the future, the report presented a complicated graphic. which mapped categories including bio-diversity, bio-ethics, bio-science regulation, bio-weapons, nano bio-technology and ‘bio -infrastructure’.

The future likely involves issues of liability for past and present environmental damage, the advisability of traditional economic growth models, the regulation and enforcement of new innovations, and long-term timeframes and multiple timelines that bypass the constraints of political and business cycles.

“The legal profession needs to consider what all these points mean for training the next generation of lawyers and how best to equip them to support long-term solutions with the necessary innovations in legal frameworks”, the authors said.

As well as helping to develop “lawyers for a blue planet” the profession must be in a position to manage “uncertainty and disruption”.

The report concluded: “If we are to take account of living systems, then legal frameworks need to be fit for the more-than-human future.”

The Law Society has been considering how the changing world may impact the profession through its Future Worlds 2050 project.

A “disruptive” vision of the profession in 2050 published last year envisaged more than half of legal services workers in the UK losing their jobs and those that remain forced to take “performance-enhancing medication”, while a separate report predicted that helping clients cope with the repercussions of climate change could transform the profession.

In August, a report speculated that lawyers of the future could face pressure to augment their “cognitive capacity” through neurotechnology if they want to become partners or meet client demands.

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