Can the Metaverse Be the Legal Tool of the Future?
The metaverse has emerged as one of today’s most talked about legal trends, but many people still don’t know what it is or how it can be used to help the legal industry. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the metaverse as “a virtual reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.” While that doesn’t inherently mean the metaverse is a good place to conduct business, many firms are already adapting to the new environment.
Bill & Phil
William Ramsey, Partner, Neal & Harwell
Phil Hampton, Consulting President, LogicForce
Of course, some of the biggest players in the tech world are becoming involved with the metaverse. Meta (formerly Facebook) is the most well-known example, but Microsoft and Apple are dabbling in the virtual reality world, as well. It remains to be seen how far each company will go as they experiment and innovate, but suffice it to say, the metaverse is still being built and will remain “under construction” for some time in the future. But what effect will all this “virtual development” have on the practice of law?
PRACTICING LAW IN THE METAVERSE
Many large law firms (and some smaller ones) are buying “office space” in the metaverse, including ArentFox Schiff, the DLA Piper Global Law Firm, Kirkland & Ellis and several others. Morgan & Morgan even has a television spot seeking clients who have been injured in the metaverse.
However, migration into the metaverse may take quite some time. Traditionally, law firms have always lagged a step or two behind developing technology. Firms typically react to tech changes rather than getting out in front of them. There are many issues to be raised about transacting business and operating in the metaverse, including that there is almost no established law relating to it.
Still, there are many opportunities for law firms, such as creating so-called “smart contracts” that are self-executing based on certain established parameters. There are also opportunities for decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). These are emerging corporate-type entities that do not have a central governing body. In fact, Tennessee has just legalized the creation of such entities within the state.
“Many legal pundits assert that law firms should be investing in the metaverse. Some argue that by having an office in the metaverse, lawyers will have a chance to increase their exposure to potential clients and reach them in new ways.”
There are many opportunities for using the metaverse in the litigation world, as well. For example, an attorney can meet with a potential witness in the metaverse in a way that is very realistic and looks like the potential witness and the lawyer are together in the same space. There can be virtual office meetings between and among attorneys preparing for trial in the metaverse that will make it much more interactive and realistic. Depositions, expert witness testimony and so forth can be held as if in person even though the participants will be in remote locations.
The proof in trials — especially in criminal cases and accident cases — can also be much more realistic. The jurors can be taken to a virtual world where the parties recreate their concepts of what events took place. In fact, a Florida attorney (who is representing a person accused of attempted murder using a vehicle) filed a motion with the court to put “jurors in the driver’s seat through the use of the latest technology — virtual reality goggles.” The evidence would be presented by requiring the jurors to wear virtual reality goggles while considering the expert testimony of an accident deconstructionist.
THE METAVERSE IS STILL LIMITED
No pun intended, but “the jury is still out” on the metaverse itself, much less the use of the metaverse in the practice of law. Theoretically, the metaverse would be a great place to interview witnesses and prepare for trial. It would also be a great place to recreate reality for a trial. It would be a great place to have new and exciting areas and modes of practice.
However, the metaverse is not ready for primetime. It certainly is reliant upon large amounts of error-prone technology. And the legal rules in the metaverse are very ambiguous; normal rules may not apply. It is very, very complicated, and while there are glimmers of opportunity for law practices, full functionality remains a thing of the distant future.
Moreover, the practice of law has always relied on true, human interaction — empathy for one’s client, direct confrontation of adversaries and skillful, in-person advocacy. It is hard to see how any of those things can be present in the metaverse absent the creation of some sort of new virtual presence technology. This technology is still in its embryonic stages, and we can’t predict whether it will live up to all the hype it is presently receiving. Only time will tell whether the future holds a place in the metaverse for the daily practice of law.
Check out our recent episode of Legal Management Talk where we dive into the metaverse’s relationship with legal with Dan Atcheson, Firm Administrator at Jenkins Wilson Taylor & Hunt, PA, and Chair of ALA’s Professional Development Advisory Committee. Learn about how some firms are already renting space in the virtual world to meet with clients and how the metaverse is becoming more conducive for firm operations. Atcheson also offers his thoughts on how government regulation will be required to prevent crimes such as assault and battery from occurring in the metaverse. (Yes, it can happen there, too!) Subscribe to Legal Management Talk through your podcast app. Or, listen directly to the “Legal and the Metaverse” episode here.
About the Authors
William Ramsey, Partner at Neal & Harwell, and Phil Hampton, Consulting President of LogicForce, are best known for The Bill and Phil Show.