Lawyers don’t need a ‘Second Life’ conference

Brian Inkster meets Nicole Black virtually as Avatars

In the time of lockdown, Nicole Black has pondered at ‘Above the Law‘ that:-

Surely there’s a way to hold a virtual conference that’s more interactive and allows attendees to be more engaged with both vendors and other attendees.

Nicole thinks we need something more than Zoom. Her suggestion is that we should have avatars of ourselves interacting in a virtual conference world like one might on ‘Second Life‘, although Nicole doesn’t actually mention Second Life at all in her article.

When I saw this on LinkedIn I reacted with “Please, no. Just no.”

I can’t think of anything worse than what would, in effect, be a video game set in a virtual legal conference hall where you have to interact with avatars of other lawyers.

Killing Legal, on Twitter,expressed it thus:-

Legal Conferences with avatars.

Our avatar would have jaguars mercifully eat our innards in real time.

Nicole thinks that this Second Life type legal conference will give you more beyond just continuing legal education (CLE). She points out:-

But let’s be honest, CLEs are only a small part of conferences. Certainly we go to large legal conferences for the seminars and CLE credit, but we also attend them for the networking, the fun nights out on the town that include dinner and drinks with colleagues, the inside scoop on the newest product releases, and to learn the latest on upcoming industry trends.

Unfortunately, most “virtual” conference platforms fail to incorporate many of the very elements that make conferences the most enjoyable. Sure, virtual CLE sessions and vendor “booths” allow attendees to peruse marketing materials and to chat via text messages with vendors, but even in those respects they fall flat. The feeling of true interaction and engagement is limited and the experience often feels very one dimensional, and — let’s be honest — boring.

I’m not convinced lawyer avatars meeting for drinks and dinner are going to, in any way, replicate those fun nights in the bar!

Since lockdown I’ve been on a number of Zoom drinks evenings with friends, family and colleagues. It may not be the same as meeting down the pub but at least I can hear the real them and see the real them drinking. Doing that with cartoon versions simply doesn’t rock my boat. Why would you make something even more virtual than the virtual world we have been forced into by Covid-19?

Nicole argues:-

If the Black Mirror writers could envision a way to allow people to interact more realistically in a virtual setting in 2011 (and so many of the technologies envisioned in that series have already come to fruition), then why aren’t more authentic virtual conferences a possibility in 2020?

Just because they do something on Black Mirror that is no reason to copy it. Black Mirror paints a dystopian future that we, more often than not, would not want to live in. It often unveils how modern technologies can backfire and be used against their makers. Black Mirror acts as a warning of what might be coming and what we might just want to avoid.

Virtual ‘Second Life’ legal conferences certainly fall into the avoid category for me.

Nicole acknowledges that it will not be the ideal cup of tea for many lawyers:-

The bad news is that lawyers may be reluctant to use it. After all, the legal profession has historically been slow to adapt to new technologies.

That being said, the current pandemic has led to much-needed change and has resulted in a rapid acceleration of technology adoption by lawyers out of necessity. So I’m hopeful that because of the effects of the pandemic, lawyers will likewise be more inclined to rapidly adapt to the virtual conference format that I think is the best option available right now: attending a virtual reality conference via avatars.

I don’t think it will come down to slowness to adapt. On my part I’m quick to adapt technology that might serve me some purpose in life. Turning myself into an avatar certainly will not. I think most lawyers will grasp that fairly quickly.

Also, as I have written recently elsewhere, the current pandemic has not necessarily resulted in a rapid acceleration of technology adoption by lawyers. They are simply now using at home (and just from home) the same technology they previously used in the office, whilst travelling, in cafes, in hotels and sometimes even from home. The discovery of WiFi for those who never left the office is not revolutionary. Neither is using Zoom instead of a phone when a phone would suffice or in many cases be better.

No doubt some crazy legal tech conference organiser will bite the bullet and actually organise something as daft as this. Good luck to them if they do. I’ll stick to the occasional online webinar, that takes my fancy, where I can see the real life speaker on video and not the Max Headroom equivalent. Until we properly get back to bars and restaurants, I’ll be happy to raise a glass on Zoom and drink it myself rather than watch a cartoon version of me doing it virtually.

I look forward to meeting Nicole Black at a legal tech conference in real life (IRL) once we can actually do so and having a drink and a proper, old fashioned, natter with her.

Brian Inkster and Nicole Black (IRL)
Brian Inkster and Nicole Black (IRL)

Reactions on Social Media

In addition to the reactions in the comments section to this blog there have also been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

On LinkedIn the following comments have been made:-

Clare Fanner:

I’m with you Brian – in a people business, let’s keep things as real as possible.

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Alex Heshmaty:

The main point here, I think, is that virtual networking is entirely different from real life networking. Even if we use VR to walk around a room of avatar lawyers, it’s all very clunky and cartoony and does not replicate reality. In fact, a text based virtual environment with detailed descriptions of rooms and “characters” perhaps even with some NPCs serving drinks and occasionally challenging attendees to a duel, might be more immersive, à la old school MMORPGs…

Me:

Reminds me of playing The Hobbit in the early 80s 🙂

Alex Heshmaty:

I had a ZX Spectrum, remember a bizarre game on it called Horace Goes Skiing. Never played The Hobbit but that’s sorta what I had in mind, or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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On Twitter the following comments have been made:-

Aron Solomon @aronsolomon:

Can the avatars walk around the conference openly chugging cans of beer, sexually harass the female avatars, and make fun of how useless all the startups are?

Me:

I’m sure the software provider will build in protections to prevent such inappropriate behaviour.

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James Peters @legaljeeves:

Second life? No.
Animal Crossing? Abso-freaking-lutely yes.

Me:

*Googles Animal Crossing* Discovers they have virtual sheep. Wonders if they might need a virtual @CroftingLaw
solicitor? 😉

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Charles Christian @ChristianUncut:

Do you remember when Second Life was still a little thing on the interwebs and some law firms actually opener virtual offices there? #retrotech

Mitch Kowalski @MEKowalski:

I do!: Canadian Lawyer – New Frontiers – 7 March 2008

Me:

“they joke about how those residents should get a first life” 🙂

Simon Marshall @CEO_TBD:

@Fieldfisher was definitely one of them.

Me:

Does anyone know if any of them won any business as a result?

Simon Marshall:

Presumably these guys did? 3dinternetlaw.com #SecondLife

Me:

Think I did a better job with my avatar than Steve Wu did!

Rupert Collins-White @RupertWhite:

This caused me to go baaaaack in time to 2007 … The Law Society Gazette – Brave new world – 18 May 2007

Me:

13 years later we are still speaking about lawyers maybe entering such virtual worlds and those early pioneers presumably gave up long ago!

Rupert Collins-White @RupertWhite:

I guess we’ve moved on in the sense that I’ve not seen any pieces on law firms setting up in Roblox

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Simon Marshall @CEO_TBD:

#secondlife lawyer credentialling could do with a little more rigour: New World Notes – How to confirm RL Lawyers in Second Life are RL Lawyers – 23 July 2014

Me:

And how does the virtual lawyer do a AML check on the virtual client?

Simon Marshall:

They do a virtual check. Much like some firms IRL.

Mitch Kowalski @MEKowalski:

How dare you think that I’m not SexyDude346?!?!

Simon Marshall:

I’d love to see the compliance officer’s face dealing with that client name. 🙂

Alex G Smith @alexgsmith:

Was all this before Bitcoin?

Me:

They have the Linden Dollar

Charles Christian @ChristianUncut:

Long long before bitcoin – but about as credible as some of the cryptocurrencies in circulation today

Me:

Some?

Alex G Smith:

I hear LawyerCoin is the future, it buys a cabin on CryptoCruise when and if they start up again. I assume US Law Professors were teaching The Law of Second Life to future lawyers back then and also do the innovation conference circuit.

Mitch Kowalski:

Made by lawyers for lawyers.

Alex G Smith:

Made by immutable lawyers for virtual lawyers.

 

 

 

 

 

Richard W Smith @RWS_01:

If I recall correctly, some had virtual conveyancing practices.

Simon Marshall:

Did they have a virtual bids team?

Richard W Smith:

I think they may have.

Now I think about it… #TheMatrix

Alex G Smith:

Did they have virtual innovation hubs?

RT from 27 April 2018: Welcome to the next gen of service design and collaboration, rethinking getting people together – @reedsmith – a virtual Innovation Hub. Thanks @arthur_tech_

Reed Smith - Virtual Innovation Hub 1

Reed Smith - Virtual Innovation Hub 2

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual lawyers … easy to use and humanly engage gets comments like “it’s unbelievable”

Richard W Smith:

Ohhh that’s good

Me:

Where are the virtual Post-it notes?

Richard W Smith:

Ohhhh you’re good

Alex G Smith:

You’ll like my level of detail … I sent photos to make the virtual views and they were on a rainy day and they asked did they want a sunny day and I said no let’s make it realistic. The Americans loved it … think US think U.K. already live in blade runner world

Blade Runner - Rain

 

 

 

Me (back to discussing lawyers in Second Life):

Did they have a virtual Land Registry with virtual paper deeds?

Richard W Smith:

You don’t need deeds in the virtual world, that’s so Roman times…

Me:

Problem is these virtual worlds always try to do everything the way we do it in the real world but virtually rather than reinventing it for the virtual world.

Alex G Smith:

WHAT BRIAN SAID!

Adam Curphey @Techturer:

Precisely right. As if it makes sense to drag and drop the same methods. It’s like making a virtual classroom and setting it out like a classroom, so people can be sat at the back with no view of the board!

Alex G Smith:

Conferences will have virtual manels (sorry panels) and Susskind presentations and the usual. Whereas massive opportunity to make immersive and experiential etc. More secret cinema … but no …

Richard W Smith:

Do you think they’ll have all white male panels talking about diversity in the virtual world?

Alex G Smith:

It’ll depend who can attend. The usual old book writing dudes who have nothing else to do will come and recycle their real world out of date shit in virtual world.

Simon Marshall (replying to my virtual paper deeds point):

Yes but they also had virtual awards functions where virtual newspaper/porn barons could virtually buy off the relevant virtual ministers.

Charles Christian:

Well the actual Land Registry’s only been trying to digitise it’s records and processes since about 1995.

Alex G Smith:

But Blockchains … oh

Me:

In Scotland lockdown created a problem or two

Richard W Smith:

Not too dissimilar in Oz

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1 Reply to “Lawyers don’t need a ‘Second Life’ conference”

  1. I’m still waiting for a good chance to use my Ocukus Go. The VR theatre and conference rooms are very impressive. I even contemplated gifting Oculus headsets to get people to attend.

    I was never convinced of this technology before until I tried it. Feels much more natural than vcon though still struggle with multiple people speaking at same time as avatars still don’t have visual cues that make physical meeting more intuitive.

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