Business and law have gone hand-in-hand since the concept of law was invented. Virtually every industry in the business world has its own set of unique legal issues. For the emerging business of autonomous vehicles – with all the regulatory hurdles and business model crossovers – it looks like it’s becoming even more important to have a focused legal team.

This is why many auto-industry serving law firms across the nation are forming special autonomous vehicle teams to better serve clients as they build their autonomous vehicle products and services and work them through the legal red tape to bring them to market.

In a recent interview with Crain’s Detroit business, Jennifer Dukarski from the Ann Arbor-based law firm Butzel Long described the work of its dedicated autonomous vehicle team as,“very traditional legal issues, but with very new context.”

While the debate rages on in states and throughout the Federal government as to what new laws and/or regulations need to apply to this new type of vehicle, companies depend on law firms to not only help them navigate the constantly-changing legal waters, but to take part in the business deals that help make innovation in the new space possible.

Tech firms entering car arena also need more legal help

Another reason for the need of these specialized groups is the growing trend of businesses that have long operated in the tech space entering in to the auto industry for the first time. Regulatory issues, liability requirements, and other hurdles are very different in the automotive industry than virtually any other.

Indeed even in just the area of liability, autonomous vehicle makers have to design their vehicles to meet an entirely different set of safety standards – many of which are still in the process of being voted into law.

Another particularly interesting challenge for legal teams in this sector comes during contract negotiations with vendors that are only now beginning to work with the automotive industry. The way a vendor might negotiate a price for spark plugs or a custom engine component for an auto manufacturer is a world apart from the type of deals that happen in the area of software development.

It often falls on the legal team to help businesses on both sides of the negotiation table to better understand the needs and requirements of the other.

With autonomous vehicles just a handful of years away from becoming a common sight on the roadway, these new legal teams are bound to have a lot of work ahead of them.

Ryan Matthew Pierson