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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Nicky Richmond:

It’s hard enough to get lawyers to engage in existing technology. If I suggested this to my lawyers they’d assume it was a joke. Or that I’d lost the plot.

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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!

Brian Inkster - Second Life Legal Conference AvatarRupert 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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Frances Anderson @FLAnderson:

I believe there will be a place for this but will not remove the face to face events in it’s entirety. The conundrum is one of replicating the buzz, interaction and camaraderie of an event, hence incorporating gamification techniques, an the avatar is the next step.

Me:

But can you really replicate the buzz, interaction and camaraderie of an event with avatars and gamification? Maybe if we had Star Trek technology it would be okay. We don’t and shouldn’t kid ourselves that we do. Shouldn’t we just accept we’ll be taking a year or so off?

Captain Kirk drinking

Nicole Black:

You can’t replicate it, but why not try to make it a bit better than a flat event until we can attend conferences in person again? Why settle for less?

Me:

We should be looking at how we can make it less ‘flat’ using tech that keeps it in person by real time video rather than making it even more virtual by way of avatars. I’d much rather see/speak to you in person than to your avatar even though I reckon I did a not bad job on that!

Nicole Black Avatar - as created by Brian Inkster

Nicole Black:

I mean it’s close – I had cut my hair but due to pandemic hair, it’s longer and lost all shape. So I guess it’s a virtual pandemic me. Appreciate the effort!

Alex G Smith (@alexgsmith):

Will they have CCTV to catch those that want to take you out at the virtual conference for blogging about their chatbot? Maybe the chatbot will have an avatar and try anc take you out, just don’t confuse it by asking any questions ….

Frances Anderson:

Face2face events cannot be entirely replicated but can deliver a different exp, whilst delivering learning/networking. Gamification has its place to aid exp as will avatars. Would a speaker stop taking to the stage because the stage wasn’t there? No. Event delivery is Evolving…

Evolution of Man

Me:

Do you have plans for virtual events with avatars and gamification?

Frances Anderson:

Virtual events yes, avatars not yet 🙂 but potential is vast, its a fascinating time for the global events industry.

Rupert Collins-White @RupertWhite:

I think we (and I really mean we) have to just find ways to deliver online the core value elements of what f2f events do, and not try to poorly replicate the more IRL bits. Smacks of skeuomorphism to me when people try

Frances Anderson:

I agree.. delivering core value elements is a must, but with technology advancements, online events need to embrace to ways of delivering key elements and increase engagement to evolve and with VR and avatars it may not be this year but they are on the horizon…

Me:

That will be 5 years then as one of your keynote legal futurists would put it 😉

Rupert Collins-White:

NB I’m certainly not trying to diss another media business’s attempts to pivot to digital events – whatever works, works. But the problem with creating a digital ‘world’ to navigate ‘digi-physically’ is that they’re just harder to use than simple UIs

Nicole Black @nikiblack:

There are already companies that offer virtual conferences with avatars – I link to them in my post.

Me:

@SecondLife do them too

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Jeff Carr @CarrNext:

I don’t know, could be cool way to interact virtually & capture some of the B3 that really matters in conferences (breaks, bars & banter). Real question is what format?

  • Second Life
  • World of Warcraft
  • Neverwinter
  • Guild Wars

Nicole Black @Niki Black:

That’s my thinking exactly. And in the post I link to 3 different companies that already provide this service.

John P. Mayer @johnpmayer (replying to Jeff Carr):

You forgot MineCraft and Fortnite.

Me:

You missed out Animal Crossing. Apparently, that is the one.

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Jeff Carr @CarrNext:

I’m intrigued for different reasons.  In typical #LawLandian response to anything “different”, @TheTimeBlawg
points out the dystopian & less-than-perfect-aspects, while @nikiblack muses about usefulness, noting resistance to change.

I’ve now have added the following to the non-rfp yes/no triage questionnaire: “Would you attend a virtual legal conference as an avatar?” “Yes” is the right cultural fit-“No” isn’t -“It/depends” write in’s are rejected ambigufiers-after all, this ain’t the Kobyashi Maru

The most important decision we make as leaders & managers is who gets on the bus and who stays on the bus. In C3 hiring (Credentials|Credibility|Culture)-1st 2 are prerequisites,  but only Culture really matters. Figure how to test for cultural fit for your team for success

Matt Homann @matthomann:

Do our avatars get to do anything else besides sit shoulder-to-shoulder in virtual ballrooms watching other avatars on virtual stages read their slides?

Jeff Carr:

If you designed and ran the virtual conference they would!

Mat Homann:

Thanks!  We’re seeing so many folks try to duplicate already-outdated in-person events online. It takes lots of new thinking and experimentation to imagine and embrace the things you can only do online vs the things we wish we could still do in person.

We’re working with a few other partners on imagining the “perfect” 1000 person virtual conference. Think multiple formats, bingeable “episodes” and lots of asynchronous collaboration. More to come…

Jeff Carr:

I’m confident you’ll work it out brilliantly — happy to lend a virtual hand if I can help

Nicole Black @NikiBlack replying to Matt Homann:

Yep. They can talk to people at their table. They can walk into the EXPO hall and talk to vendors. They can attend networking events and talk to other theres. Sure it’s different. But it’s an option worth trying and has to be better than flat virtual conferences IMO

Matt Homann:

An avatar could deliver more evidence of presence and attention — as well as setting — than just faces on a screen. Love the orgs doing their stand-ups in video games around the virtual campfire.

Nicole Black:

I’ve read reviews where people says it’s a bit strange for a few minutes but becomes immersive very quickly. Personally I think it’s worth a try.  Have we should all schedule a dry run just for fun…

Jeff Carr:

I’m in! — After all, while I’m slammed in my R3 status (Recently Re-Retired), I can shoehorn it in between naps and such

Me:

And although I have my doubts I will, of course, be willing to give it a shot just to prove those doubts 🙂

Jack Pringle @jjpringlesc replying to Nicole Black:

Agreed. But here’s the real question (and one I know that has been on your minds): How could any avatar possibly capture, simulate, or even approximate me? Talk about the Uncanny Valley ….

Nicole Black:

I was literally just pondering that very issue.

Jack Pringle:

Some ideas: the first from a “Simpsonize” app that existed for a while when the movie came out (as you can see, that one is a little dated), and the second from when I became “The Day Man” for a presentation at the @UofSCLaw on Halloween this past year.

Jack Pringle - SimpsonJack Pringle - The Day Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me replying to Matt Hommann:

Can see organisers with few sign ups creating fake avatars to give the impression of that ‘evidence’ of presence and attention! Could help presidents if they have to hold virtual inauguration ceremonies or election rallies 😉

Trumps inauguration ceremony

Matt Homann:

The vendor issue is the one that’s most crucial to solve well. Without them receiving value, there’s no money to support the organizations who “own” most of these conferences.  Data is one thing virtual could deliver more of, but how else can we help vendors win?

Me:

Anyone registering for an IRL conference presumbly gives away as much data as a vendor would need.  Virtual might just add the avatar’s movement within the conference but is that really going to add anything more of real value to the vendor’s data needs?

Matt Homann:

Makes it easier to follow high-value attendees around the conference and keep “accidentally” bumping into them. 😉

Nicole Black:

True fact. That being said I have no idea what a high value attendee is. No idea such a thing existed. Henceforth I shall aspire to become one.

Me:

Or knocking them over as happened to me at the last IRL @wearelegalgeek! I was in a sling for a week or more afterwards and took a few months to heal. At least that wouldn’t be a problem with an avatar 🙂

A high value attendee would surely expect a virtual VIP room to keep them apart from those low value attendees and clumsy vendors?

Jeff Carr:

I’m not in confab biz so don’t know the economics or biz model — but perception is the current model views vendors as customers, perhaps disproportionately due to exigencies. Would virtual models reduce the physical & “real” costs that might support participant customer funding?

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The LAWsome Podcast @lawsomepodcast:

Check this out – Mozilla has a 3D world you can share on a browser – pretty fun, can share videos and pictures and then mark them up –

VFairs always seemed interesting – like a hybrid of the avatar and traditional conference atmospheres – break out sessions, movie theaters, common areas to start video chats –

Virtual FairsMe:

As I tweeted in another thread the 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. We have to get away from the idea that when we are in front of a computer screen we should see/experience everything in the same way (or as near to it as current technology permits – which is no way close) as we do in real life. Digital should not mean virtual.

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Megan Cornell @megancornell:

Listen – I’m willing to give anything a try. I can’t handle another Zoom conference.

Nicole Black @nikiblack:

I hear that.

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Chris Dale @chrisdaleoxford:

Zoom webinars yes. Informal Zoom chats yes. Avatars – no thanks. We do need the discussion about replacing events (and probably needed it anyway, with or without lockdown)

Tim Bond @TimBond1972:

I have attended a few virtual conferences, I dont suit them, if I’m not there, I have 20 “better” things to be doing. can’t help feeling they are probably gone

Chris Dale:

People will continue to assemble and discuss in some form. Certainly for many it is the actual in-the-flesh bit which counts

Me:

And avatars would just move us further away from the in-the-flesh bit. At least Zoom (which is not without its drawbacks) gives us some sense of that.

As I’ve blogged before (in 2014) conferences are really all about the people.

Tim Bond:

Totally agree, made some good friends at conferences/the bar

Chris Dale:

Yes, and mainly those you meet for the first time rather than the ones you know already

Me:

Although always nice to catch up with ones you’ve not seen IRL for some time.

Fist BumpChris Dale:

I always wanted one last Legaltech New York where I did nothing but wander around bumping into people

Me:

Maybe in 2022.

Chris Dale:

Maybe.

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Ralph Losey @RalphLosey:

Should be a personal choice, like a haircut.

Me:

But what if no one sets up the virtual barber shop?

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Tom Kilroy @kilroyt:

What is it with lawyers and technology? They are perfectly sensible in the real world but completely swivel-eyed whenever anything to do with technology is mentioned. Would you attend a meeting in fancy dress? No. End of discussion.

The Portrait Kitchen @jonb1966:

Has to be filed in the ‘WTF!’ folder of legaltech, law tech or whatever it’s called this week. I spend my days dealing with biglaw & tech wise they are no further forward than 10 years ago. Smart thinkers should be asking why that is, not redesigning a failed conf model.

Tom Kilroy:

Amen.

Me:

In the early days of lockdown a large (one would have thought conservative) Scottish law firm were holding internal office meetings on Zoom in fancy dress and posting the pictures on LinkedIn. I did comment at the time whether this would ever actually happen IRL in their office.

DisgustTom Kilroy:

What can you say. Building a lot of client credibility there. “The is my attorney. He often dresses as Spider-Man”.

Me:

Did a LinkedIn search and found them. No Spider-man but bottom left is a bit sinister.

Fancy Dress Lawyers Teams MeetingTom Kilroy:

Rikers Island for the lot of them.

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Nearly Legal @nearlylegal:

No, no no no

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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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