It is undeniable that artificial intelligence and the new technologies and tools it will bring to the legal profession will be astronomical. But what is not clear to many in the legal profession is the relevancy the metaverse will have on the future of the practice of law. The metaverse is closer to reality for business, commercial, social, and everyday use than you think. But to understand this concept, let’s take a look at what the metaverse is and how and why all lawyers should familiarize themselves with its benefits.
What is the Metaverse?
Most of you have probably heard of the metaverse because Mark Zuckerberg has spent billions of dollars dedicated to building his version of what he believes the metaverse should look like. Some of you may have already experienced the metaverse by watching concerts, sports, or playing games in Roblox or Fortnite. The metaverse is a broad term describing a virtual world where humans interact for social, business, educational, entertainment, commercial, and work-related reasons through their self-made avatars. The metaverse is usually accessed through a headset (think Apple’s Vision Pro, Meta’s Quest 2 (formerly Oculus), or Steam’s Valve Index), but some technology companies envision accessing the metaverse through other means (though they are very nondescriptive). The movie Ready Player One, although fiction, brought the metaverse to life on the big screen. Needless to say, the internet of the future will be in 3D and far more immersive than a 2D computer monitor screen.
People and businesses, including lawyers and law firms, can purchase real estate in the metaverse. Your avatar can walk around, shop, attend entertainment venues, meet clients, attend meetings, and so much more. Some of the Fortune 100 companies that have already purchased real estate in the metaverse include big companies like, among others, Allstate, Amazon, Best Buy, Citigroup, Dell, Kroger, Lowe’s, Nike, Samsung, Tesla, UPS, and Walmart. Like these large companies, law firms can buy real estate in the metaverse and set up a virtual office to meet clients, host meetings, and do so much more. Some law firms have already set up virtual offices in the metaverse and are offering and giving legal services to clients from this base. Bank of America just announced that it will use the metaverse to train its employees in an immersive environment. In the metaverse, Bank of America will train its staff on handling real-world customer interactions and experiencing a simulated robbery. Bloomberg published an article last year stating that by 2024, the Metaverse market size will reach $800 billion. This is a new frontier for lawyers to tap into. Like social media, there are several metaverse platforms currently available. Two popular ones are Decentraland and Sandbox. You can experience the metaverse for free on both of these platforms; for Decentraland, click here; for Sandbox, click here.
Many firms have already invested in a brick-and-mortar office or signed a long term real estate lease and wonder why their firm should have a virtual office in the metaverse. But years ago, some of those same firms did not see the need for a website or the impact of social media on the legal profession. Now, almost every firm has a website and social media presence. Moreover, lawyers spend hours on the internet and social media sifting for evidence. One day, lawyers will market themselves in the metaverse and sift through it, looking for relevant evidence.
Top 7 Opportunities for Lawyers in the Metaverse
- Branding and Marketing. Like a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, or a billboard, law firms can purchase advertisements and, yes, even billboards in the metaverse. Better than that, as some have already done, law firms can also purchase a virtual office in the central business district or a popular street corner in the metaverse to maximize their exposure. A law firm’s virtual office can allow people to enter and learn about the firm and the type of work they do. An entire generation has grown up with social media and playing video games in a virtual world. And when Apple releases its new headset in January 2023, the sheer number of people in the metaverse will increase. According to METAV.RS, there are 400 million active metaverse users every month, and they estimate that by the year 2026, 25% of the world population will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse.
- Virtual Office. Lawyers can create their own environment and experience in their virtual office. You can meet potential new clients and existing clients in your virtual office without the need or expense of a physical, brick-and-mortar space. The COVID pandemic made video conferencing a mainstay in the business world. The metaverse offers a new 3D experience for workers to collaborate and for lawyers to connect with their clients virtually versus a flat 2D video conference. Law firms could also conduct mock jury selections and trials for practice in the real world and negotiate contracts in a “live” virtual environment. Additionally, a virtual law firm can offer its space for bar meetings, CLEs, and other events, giving it more exposure for marketing purposes.
- Being First. The first time I witnessed a lawyer using an iPad in court in front of a jury to present his evidence on a life size screen while simultaneously interspersing with a witness, I was mesmerized. No doubt, the jurists were too! The metaverse is a whole new untapped frontier for many lawyers to be the first among thousands of other law firms. It is not crowded with law firms yet, so being first may be highly beneficial. Many lawyers benefited from being the first to have a web or Facebook page or Twitter account. Likewise, being one of the first law firms in the metaverse can bring great benefits. Many businesses are rushing into this virtual real estate environment purchasing the best plots for office space or storefronts. Better hurry the best spots may disappear.
- New Technological Clients. The obvious copyright and other intellectual property issues will abound in the metaverse. But many technology clients need lawyers who understand these emerging fields of the law concerning the metaverse, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, non-fungible tokens (NFT), and Web 3.0. Having a virtual law firm in the metaverse will give your law firm an opportunity to market itself as a progressive technological thinking law firm offering advice and counsel to technological companies and other companies thinking about entering this virtual world.
- Keeping Existing Clients. Many of your existing clients are looking for new opportunities and want to tap into the metaverse for higher revenues. Some non-profits, including educational institutions have already claimed their metaverse site. Existing clients will look to their lawyer for advice in this area. As stated before, many businesses and organizations have already tapped into the metaverse. Having your firm’s presence in the metaverse will show your existing business clients that you understand the importance and implications of this new virtual world.
- Ethical Obligations. In 2012, the ABA amended Comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1, which pertains to the competence of a lawyer. In order to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, “a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology…” Id. (emphasis added) At least forty states’ rules applicable to the professional conduct of lawyers have adopted some form of duty to stay competent in technology. Maryland has yet to adopt an explicit technology competency requirement but does suggest that attorneys “should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice…” See Comment 6, Rule 19-301.1. Since lawyers will one day sift through the metaverse looking for evidence and discovery, it’s perfectly logical that lawyers should learn about the metaverse. Understanding how data is shared in the metaverse, the digital evidence created, how interactions occur in this environment, who owns the data, and how to get the data are all important for a lawyer to understand.
- Virtual Courts. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many lawyers and judges did not foresee the convenience and utility of holding depositions, court hearings, and trials via video conferences through Zoom, Webex, or other platforms. In some jurisdictions, lawyers, judges, and clients now prefer to attend court by video conference. Indeed some jurisdictions are adopting this video world for more expediency, convenience, and costs. Virtual courts or jury trials in the metaverse may not yet be on the horizon, but it is a natural step for some, but not all, court hearings.
A Little Caution
The metaverse has not been widely accepted (yet). Conduct research before deciding it would be beneficial for your clients and law firm.
Summary: Law firms should consider building their own branded virtual office for many reasons, including marketing, increased collaboration, mock trials, and to educate themselves on this new emerging field of the law. The commercial and business world has already begun to tap into this new virtual environment. The legal field should not be left behind.