2022: The Year Lawyers get Legless in the Metaverse?

Lawyers and the Metaverse

Will 2022 be the year that lawyers get legless in the metaverse?

I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I just didn’t know how to connect with the people there.

I was afraid for all of my life. Right up until the day I knew my life was ending. That was when I realised that as terrifying and painful as reality can be it’s also the only place that you can get a decent meal.

Because reality is real.

– James Halliday, Ready Player One

Facebook changed its corporate name to Meta as part of a major rebrand in October 2021.

Reporting this change in name the BBC stated:-

The company said it would better “encompass” what it does, as it broadens its reach beyond social media into areas like virtual reality (VR).

The change does not apply to its individual platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, only the parent company that owns them.

On their own website Meta put it like this:-

The metaverse is the next evolution of social connection. Our company’s vision is to help bring the metaverse to life, so we are changing our name to reflect our commitment to this future.

Many thought it was just a distraction from Facebook’s real-life hellscape.

What is the Metaverse?

Wikipedia describes the metaverse:-

A metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. In futurism and science fiction, the term is often described as a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual and augmented reality headsets.

The term “metaverse” has its origins in the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash as a portmanteau of “meta” and “universe.” Various metaverses have been developed for popular use such as virtual world platforms like Second Life. Some metaverse iterations involve integration between virtual and physical spaces and virtual economies, often including a significant interest in advancing virtual reality technology.

The term has seen considerable use as a buzzword for public relations purposes to exaggerate development progress for various related technologies and projects. Information privacy and user addiction are concerns within metaverses, stemming from challenges facing the social media and video game industries as a whole.

What Meta’s Metaverse might look like

Meta made a video with Mark Zuckerberg telling us what their metaverse might one day look like. They still have to build it!:

But this promotional video is no different (perhaps a little bit more slick) than Elon Musk’s stunt of having someone dressed up as a robot and dancing on stage when launching Tesla Bot in August 2021. Even I made a more convincing Robot when I appeared on stage (no dancing was involved) as LexpoBot!

The Tesla Bot will go to the grocery store for you! This very advanced robot is coming to us this year apparently. I take that prediction with the same pinch of salt that I took Elon’s previous predictions on Tesla’s motor vehicles being full self-driving  by 2018 and Space X shuttling thousands of people between Earth and Mars during our current decade (i.e. within the next 8 years).

Anyway, I digress. Back to Mark Zuckerberg and Meta’s metaverse. His prediction is perhaps a little less bold as those often made by Elon Musk. Zuckerberg is predicting that it will take 10 to 15 years to build the metaverse. Meta is hiring 10,000 people in the European Union  to develop their metaverse. A Chinese Tech giant, Baidu, says it could be 6 years before it can fully deliver its metaverse.

As reported recently in The Washington Post ‘in 2021, tech talked up ‘the metaverse’. One problem: it doesn’t exist‘:

People are getting married in the metaverse now, we’re told. Speculators are buying real estate in the metaverse, according to the headlines. Managers must learn to hold meetings in the metaverse, it would seem. This month, an executive at Facebook — er, Meta — gave an interview in the metaverse.

One slight hitch: The metaverse doesn’t exist yet, and it probably won’t anytime soon.

What does exist is an idea, an explosion of hype, and a bevy of rival apps and platforms looking to capitalize on both — without a clear path between the idea and reality. In techland, 2021 wasn’t the year of the metaverse. It was the year of rebranding existing technologies as building blocks for the metaverse, while leaving intact the corporate walls that make a true metaverse impossible.

The Metaverse is not new

As Wikipedia tells us the term “metaverse” was first coined 30 years ago. It is not new.

Second Life was launched 19 years ago in 2003 and still today has a small, loyal and potentially growing community of “residents“.

Ethan Zuckerman and Daniel Beck made a metaverse 27 years ago.

Keanu Reeves pointed this little fact out in a recent interview when he said:-

Can we just not have metaverse be like invented like by Facebook… The concept of metaverse is like way older than that… It’s like way older… So for that moment to get to… I’m just like, come on man.

Keanu knows a thing or two about the metaverse having appeared as Neo in the Matrix films, the first of which was released 23 years ago in 1999. The Matrix is, of course, a fictional shared simulated reality modelled after the world as it was in 1999.

The Matrix - Neo

And it is not just Second Life. The metaverse also already exists in the gaming/experience world of Minecraft, Fortnite and Roblox to name but three.

Everyone now wants to be part of the Metaverse

Since Facebook became Meta we seem to be hearing about the metaverse daily. Usually it is not about Meta’s metaverse (they still have to build that!).

Everyone and their Snoop Dogg is getting in on the act. Big brands include Samsung, Nike, Zara and H&M.

Paris Hilton has opened Paris World in the metaverse. She said:

For me, the metaverse is somewhere that you can do everything you can do in real life in the digital world.

But as we cannot all be Paris Hilton she went on to say:

Not everybody gets to experience that, so that’s what we’ve been working together on over the past year — giving them all my inspirations of what I want in that world.

Recently Barbados announced it was opening a diplomatic embassy in the metaverse. Many reports claimed this as a world first conveniently forgetting that the Maldives, Sweden and Estonia (in that order – although some reports wrongly claim Sweden to have been first) all opened virtual embassies in Second Life 15 years ago in 2007.

Real Estate Boom in the Metaverse

Tokens.com, a blockchain technology company focused on NFTs and metaverse real estate, recently closed a land deal in part of the metaverse, Decentraland’s fashion district, for roughly $2.5 million. They claim that this was the largest real estate transaction in metaverse history. The company plans to develop the area into a virtual commerce hub for luxury fashion brands.

But then 16 years ago, back in 2006, Anshe Chung claimed to be the first millionaire real estate owner in Second Life.

However, it has been pointed out by Eric Ravenscraft that:

Buying “real estate” on these platforms is like buying property in Manhattan, but in a world where anyone could feasibly create an infinite amount of alternative Manhattans that are just as easy to get to. Which means the only reason for users to buy into this Manhattan is if it offers a better service than the others.

And it looks as though not much is going on yet in Decentraland’s fashion district:

I visited the “Fashion District” in Decentraland, which takes up a large section of land on the far west side of the map, split down the middle by one road. The bulk of this space is covered by the default procedural terrain, with the primary exception being a row of buildings styled after the Graben in Vienna. Digital advertisements from brands like Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, and Tommy Hilfiger adorn the sides of the buildings, but you can’t go in. There are no shops here, nothing to click on or buy, and it’s unclear if these brands approve of or even know their logos and designs are in use.

The space feels less like an up-and-coming bustling shopping center, and more like a movie set—a facade of what could go in this spot some day, but isn’t there now. The 116-parcel estate that sold for nearly $2.5 million is just south of the empty storefronts, and it is entirely barren. For all intents and purposes, it’s a ghost town.

A Finnish company, Zoan, has created a private island in the metaverse: Cornerstone. They plan to sell plots later this month via an NFT drop. You can only buy the plots using ETH cryptocurrency via a Fun.gi platform. Evidence of ownership take the form of smart contracts stored on the blockchain.

Cornerstone Land

But you might not be able to move around the island unless other landowners allow you to:

At first, the exploration of the cornerstone.land is restricted to your own land and public areas. As the construction phase is completed, the landowners can choose if the other members of the community or invited users can enter their land for free, with an invitation or with an admission fee.

Once all plots are sold, a virtual volcano will erupt creating more land for development. I assume it won’t destroy the existing real estate!

With so many new virtual worlds how do you know that your one is going to take off? And unless and until they are all interconnected it surely just becomes a lot of separate gated communities?

In Field of Dreams a voice whispers to Ray Kinsella “if you build it, he will come”. You often, but not always, see that happening in the real world. Second Life has demonstrated that it doesn’t always work like that in virtual worlds. Only time will tell whether the ‘new’ metaverse is any different.

Interestingly, Mark Zuckerberg appears to be betting not just on the metaverse but on real estate on the real life island of Hawaii. He recently paid $17 million for 110 acres to add to his existing 1,500 acre estate in Kauai, Hawaii.

Nonsense?

Tom Goodwin has referred to “the metaverse” as a nonsense term:

Which is likely to languish in the Tech press world for longer than it should, before morphing into another word as an attempt to make it work.

Lawyers and the Metaverse

With celebrities, big brands and countries jumping on a ‘new’ band wagon it wasn’t long before lawyers entered the metaverse.

However, again conveniently forgetting that we have been here before 19 years ago. When I reminded a ‘metaverse lawyer’ of this little fact on Twitter recently they blocked me! As my late mother would say: “The truth is ill heard”.

Yes, lawyers were in the metaverse in the early days of Second Life.

Field Fisher Waterhouse (now known as Fieldfisher) was the first major, international law firm to establish a presence in a virtual world when it opened an office in Second Life in 2007 (15 years ago). A number of solo practitioners and smaller firms were lawyer metaverse pioneers before them.

There was even a virtual bar association, the Second Life Bar Association (SLBA) in Second Life from 2007 but that was dissolved in 2018.

Second Life Bar Association

But then just last month (December 2021) the metaverse apparently got its first personal injury law firm. New Jersey based personal injury practice Grungo Colarulo. It may well be the first personal injury law firm in the metaverse. I could probably open the first crofting law firm there tomorrow. But don’t forget those law firms that set up office in Second Life way back in 2007.

In August 2021 New York based law firm Falcon Rappaport & Berkman claimed to be the first law firm in the metaverse.

But then as reported in Above the Law:-

There seems to be even more argument about which law firm was first in the metaverse. Metaverse Law, which first filed for its trademark in October 2019 and had it registered in June 2020, is currently involved in legal proceedings with Falcon Rappaport over the firm’s use of the term.

Well nothing like lawyers fighting in real life over who can say they are in the metaverse!

Renno & Co, a Canadian law firm, have recently bought a new property at 606 Myrtle Ave, in Brooklyn, New York. However, this is in the Upland metaverse not the real New York. Is this not a bit confusing if some metaverses are using real world postal addresses? But that is apparently how Upland works allowing you to purchase “virtual property mapped to a real-world address”.

Toufic Adlouni, co-founder and managing director of Renno & Co, said:-

We’re strong believers in the metaverse and Web3. I think that shows our commitment to the growing space by investing in it and by being first movers in there and looking to develop that out… and people who are part of the Upland project can come and visit us and interact with us in our first foreign office.

I’m a strong believer in crofting law but I don’t need to purchase a croft in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland to write about it or practise it.

Just a couple of days ago Texas law firm, G. Urbina Law, joined Twitter for the first time and tweeted their first tweet:

G Urbina Law - Metaverse tweet

Do they think Twitter is the metaverse?!

Expect to see more of this sort of thing as lawyers enter the metaverse!

Back to Grungo Colarulo. Here is a video about their metaverse office:-

Walking virtually through the metaverse to find a virtual legal office. To then click on a virtual “pylon” to connect with their website. To search for a virtual tablet on a virtual desk with their phone number on it. All seems an awful lot of effort to go to in order to contact a law firm! Would you not just Google them?

In 15 years the graphics in the ‘new’ metaverse have strangely become less realistic than they once were. And presumably still are in Second Life. Which brings me onto the topic of legs.

Legless Lawyers in the Metaverse

Meta’s promotional video has avatars with legs. But remember that it will be 10 to 15 years before they build a metaverse that might resemble this.

Grungo Colarulo have avatars with legs in their particular corner of the metaverse. You are, however, somewhat limited in avatar functionality in that particular metaverse.

It appears to be the case that if you remove the avatars legs you gain more functionality in the metaverse. Some metaverses simply only have legless avatars.

Meta Horizon Workroom with legless lawyer avatars in the metaverse

Meta actually do have a metaverse of sorts already. They were developing for some time (when they were Facebook) Horizon Workrooms (still in Beta):

For teams to connect, collaborate and develop ideas, together. Meet teammates across the table, even if you’re across the world.

In Horizon Workrooms the avatars are legless. In Microsoft’s Mesh for Teams the avatars are legless. In Spatial’s metaverse (favoured by certain ‘metaverse lawyers’) the avatars are legless.

If you are going to meet virtually in the metaverse it looks like you will be meeting legless. You will, however, be able to float above a virtual chair which serves no real purpose whilst you remain legless. And, by the way, your chair will likely be floating without legs as well!

Theo Priestly has expressed his view:

Looking at Horizons over the last few years and user avatars haven’t changed. They remain the same half-bodied Nintendo Mii type avatar as shown back in 2018. I keep seeing the same points raised by people — why do the avatars have no legs?

One of the best comments to Workplace was that avatars have no legs to stop them from escaping. Aside from the comedic point of view, the fact that Horizon avatars are like this is because Facebook wants to strip and sanitise your identity within its vision of the metaverse. It has little to do with the development effort required — they have 10,000 people in the company working on this remember. This is a conscious choice they’ve made, a choice removing that choice from you. Your identity, sense of presence and agency is being managed by Facebook.

Removing everything from the waist down strips you of your sex, or physical disability for example. While many will see the metaverse as an expression of complete freedom from their physical identity others will want to embrace who they are. Facebook is telling you to be like everyone else — there is no choice in the matter.

I understand that there are also selfie sticks in the metaverse. So you can capture an image of your legless cartoon avatar floating above a legless chair in a bored room. Do you have selfie sticks in your real life legal office board rooms? Thought not.

Meetings for Lawyers will be worse in the Metaverse

Even with virtual legs, metaverse meetings are not going to be better than in real life or via Zoom.

As Betsy Cooper and Allison Berke point out:

Assuming the metaverse is the future of work ignores both decades of research into human interactions and the results of our collective experiences with remote work over the past two years. We need technology to help us bring others into our remote physical spaces. Virtual avatars instead leave us disoriented, without a physical space at all.

Body language helps us communicate an immense volume of information with each other. Meetings and interactions that take place in a specific location — and include environments with physical objects — are more easily remembered; research on the retrosplenial cortex has demonstrated that memories are inextricably linked with physical locations. Zoom fatigue is real, not least due to mismatches in eye contact and the constant presence of one’s own image. But the solution is not to move to a cartoonish virtual reality. Unrealistic representations of nonverbal communication, like metaverse avatars’ arm gestures that don’t match up with speech patterns, will limit our real-time understanding of each other.

Anonymizing avatars, as innocuous as they seem, can also have real emotional impacts. The visuals of real life — such as surprise appearances by Allison’s cats and Betsy’s young child on video calls — can provide workers with much needed comic relief that will be lost behind a headset. More worryingly, communication mediated by the anonymizing shield of a virtual avatar increases outrage and antisocial behavior, a phenomenon that Facebook should be long familiar with. Employers are unlikely to hop on board the metaverse if it brings out the worst in their employees.

Gargoyle Lawyers in the Metaverse

You will look like a gargoyle even if your avatar (legless or not) does not.

The science fiction novel ‘Snow Crash’ describes a sub-culture of people choosing to remain continuously connected to the metaverse. They wear portable terminals, goggles and other equipment. They are nicknamed “gargoyles” due to their grotesque appearance.

oculus - gargoyle lawyers in the metaverse

For the best experience in the metaverse lawyers should apparently use a headset like the Oculus from Meta with hand controls. Yes, you could be a gargoyle lawyer if you really want to be one.

Accenture acquired 60,000 Oculus headsets in October 2021 to enable 10% of their workforce to enter the metaverse via the Nth Floor. This is likely to be as successful as when, back in the day, Eversheds bought 500 iPads for their lawyers.

Next up will be full body suits like in Ready Player One.

Ready Player One - Full Bodysuit

Gargoyle Juries?

There may well be a place some day for virtual reality headsets to be used in court rooms. This could allow jurors to see evidence in a more realistic way than in a traditional court room setting. But with courts still getting to grips with Webex that day is probably some way off. And, of course, it won’t be without its problems.

The Snake Oil Metaverse Lawyers

Like any new technology fad the snake oil is being peddled by the evolving ‘experts’ who want to coach you through disruption.

The Evolving Expert

In 2022 they have evolved into ‘Metaverse Lawyers’. These charlatans rename themselves every few years. Last year they were ‘Clubhouse Lawyers‘. Before that they have been ‘Blockchain Lawyers’, ‘Periscope Lawyers’ and ‘Google Glass Lawyers’ to name but three.

As one fad comes and goes one thing remains constant. The evolving ‘experts’ evangelical need to keep up with and promote the latest fad. This is currently to sell to you, for their own profit, consultancy services on how to use the metaverse.

Did you need to hire a consultant to show you how to use the last mobile phone you bought? Thought not. Don’t believe that you might need a consultant to show you how the metaverse works. You also have better things to be doing as a lawyer than finding out about that right now.

Bring Back Boring

Do not jump to play with the latest shiny new toy. Instead spend some time nurturing and using the old toys in your legal practice. Perhaps that case management system that you have never really used much in the way that you could and should? Improving on things like that will do much more to enhance your legal business than playing in the metaverse ever will.

As Kelsey Hightower tweeted:

The idea that people have to get in early on some new technology or they are going to be left behind forever is insane. Half the stuff you’re using right now was invented before you were born.

Beware the Seven Deadly Sins of Metaverse Predictions

The seven deadly sins of legal tech predictions apply equally to metaverse predictions.

The evolving  ‘experts’ are likely to commit all seven of the deadly sins:

  1. Overestimating the effect of the metaverse in the short run and underestimating its effect in the long run.
  2. Imagining magic. The Matrix is magic, right?
  3. Performance versus competence. The metaverse really is not going to perform anytime soon like The Matrix.
  4. Suitcase words. “Metaverse” carries a variety of meanings.
  5. Exponentials. The metaverse won’t be The Matrix anytime soon.
  6. Hollywood scenarios. The Matrix is a movie, right?
  7. Speed of Deployment. Mark Zuckerberg’s 10 to 15 years is probably very optimistic.

Holograms will be better

Maybe wait for hologram technology to reach Star Wars levels. Then you will get the mix of real life plus virtual that we don’t have anywhere near yet.

Star Wars - Hologram meeting

Members of the Jedi Council could attend Council meetings via hologram if absent from Coruscant or otherwise unable to be there physically. Their image would project on their formal seat, and they would participate as if they were present.

Wookieepedia

As Betsy Cooper and Allison Berke suggest:

So should we give up and retreat into our video-call-induced lethargy indefinitely? We think not. There is another model for virtual interactions; just think back to the holograms of Star Wars. Many of the most captivating sci-fi examples of virtual communication don’t involve putting on a headset and shutting out the outside world for a cartoon one. They involve a projecting device that brings others’ presences into your physical space.

Rather than having remote workers attend a meeting in the metaverse as a dragon or a mermaid and giving up body cues as a result, an ideal remote work tool would project a version of the remote worker into another physical location, while still allowing live participants to see the real world beside them. The remote worker could fully participate in the virtual boardroom, nonverbal cues and all, without requiring their coworkers to lose their ability to notice a friend passing by their door or see the sun setting outside the window.

Whilst hologram technology is advancing we are a long long way from it becoming Star Wars style commonplace.

When clients ask Lawyers to join them in the Metaverse

If and when your clients ask you to join them in the metaverse you may have to contemplate it. That’s unlikely to be anytime soon. Until then you can use whatever other means of communication that they would prefer you to use when contacting them.

Batman Telephone

Dystopia and the Metaverse

You have to understand, most people are not ready to be unplugged…

– Morpheus, ‘The Matrix’ (1999).

I hope, for the sake of their sanity, that most people are not ready to be plugged into the metaverse. Especially when we have a real world that we can still experience and enjoy.

In the Matrix the real world had been pretty much destroyed by machines. The virtual world of the Matrix was most probably a better option to spend time in. Even though most did not realise there was an alternative.

However, the first Matrix was a flawless utopia with no war, sickness, or human suffering. But humankind rejected it, seeing it for the false reality it was. So the second Matrix implemented human hardships. This perhaps reflects on the desire to always make the metaverse a version of reality rather than something better.

The film Ready Player One is set in 2045, when the world is gripped by an energy crisis and global warming, causing widespread social problems and economic stagnation. In this world:

There is nowhere to go. Nowhere. Except the OASIS. A whole virtual universe.

In the science fiction novel Snow Crash, where the term metaverse was first coined, we also see a dystopian future after a worldwide economic collapse.

People were quick to compare Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse to being like an episode of the dystopian science fiction series Black Mirror.

Black Mirror and Meta

In fiction the metaverse is an escape from reality where reality is not very nice. As it was put in Ready Player One:

These days reality is a bummer. Everyone’s looking for a way to escape.

It is maybe therefore no surprise that the latest hyped up metaverse arrives in the midst of a global pandemic. When some might be looking for an escape from reality.

However, the reality is hopefully that we will ultimately defeat the pandemic. We will be able to fully return to the real world we once knew and loved. We won’t need a permanent escape from reality. But might like the occasional video game that takes us into a digital fantasy land (not one that attempts badly to replicate the world we know).

Whilst we still have a world worth living in we don’t need a worse virtual one to spend time in.

We closed the OASIS on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I know it sounds like a weird move. But people need to spend more time in the real world. Cos… like Halliday said “reality is the only thing that’s real”.

– Wade Watts, Ready Player One

As Ethan Zuckerman, who created a metaverse 27 years ago, says:

Neal Stephenson’s  metaverse [in Snow Crash] has been a lasting creation because it’s fictional. It doesn’t have to solve all the intricate problems of content moderation and extremism and interpersonal interaction to raise questions about what virtual worlds can give us and what our real world lacks. Today’s metaverse creators are missing the point, just like I missed the point back… in 1994. The metaverse isn’t about building perfect virtual escape hatches—it’s about holding a mirror to our own broken, shared world. Facebook’s promised metaverse is about distracting us from the world it’s helped break.

Ethan also points out, referring to the Meta promotional video, that:-

The problem is that it’s boring. The futures it imagines have been imagined a thousand times before, and usually better. Two old men chat over a chessboard, one in Barcelona, one in New York, much as they did on Minitel in the 1980s. There’s virtual Ping-Pong and surfing, you know, like on a Wii. You can watch David Attenborough nature documentaries, like you do on Netflix. You can videoconference with your workmates … you know, like you do every single day.

Even if you are a lawyer and the expectation is to be boring you really don’t want that kind of boring!

Humans (including Lawyers) crave Real Life Experiences not Metaverse ones

You don’t live in the real world Z. From what you’ve told me I don’t think you ever have. You live inside this illusion.

– Art3mis, Ready Player One

Wow. It’s so much slower here. I mean the wind and the people. Everything.

– Wade Watts, Ready Player One

We forget what it’s like to be outside.

– Samantha Cooke, Ready Player One

If offered the choice of:

  1. An actual holiday to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat or to Canada to see Niagara Falls; or
  2. To strap on a headset to see either virtually.

Which one would you choose? This question is explored by Janna Thompson in ‘Why virtual reality cannot match the real thing‘.

I’ve actually been lucky enough to visit both Angkor Wat and Niagara Falls. There is no way I would replace those experiences with a virtual alternative.

We were all forced into a virtual world of sorts with the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 and beyond. Stuck at home, interaction with others usually took the form of video chats using Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Even the courts started using Webex for hearings.

Virtual legal conferences took place using video conferencing technology. Those were, on the whole, considered an unsatisfactory experience compared to real life ones. More immersive metaverse style virtual legal conferences were mooted in 2020 but thankfully never really took off before we started to return to in person events again.

As lockdowns lifted and restrictions eased we couldn’t wait to see people face to face again. Regular scheduled social Zoom meetings saw diminishing numbers attending as people sought out real life social events instead.

Lawyers meeting for a drink in real life (not in the metaverse)

At Inksters our virtual digital christmas hats were never as popular as our paper christmas hats. You can be a lot more creative in real life with a paper hat than with an AI App.

Even Second Life creator, Philip Rosedale, admits that:

Despite Second Life granting the freedom for people to escape reality and live altered lives in a digital setting, people didn’t generally want to spend long periods in it. The creator cites that people felt uncomfortable controlling avatar versions of themselves and communicating that way with others.

An article about the Walmart metaverse shopping experience, which has recently been doing the rounds on social media even although the demo video was made in 2017 (5 years ago), has this punchline:

Life in virtual reality just doesn’t feel like the future anymore. It feels like a past we already gave up on.

As Tom Goodwin said recently:

Everything that is the precise opposite of the “Metaverse” is what I love the most in life.

Choose Life

As we come out of the pandemic do get back to having business meetings in real life. See people with your own eyes again. Shake real hands. Have small talk and jokes. Pour a real cup of coffee/tea and enjoy the smell and taste of it along with a Tunnock’s tea cake or caramel wafer biscuit (as served in the Inksterplex and no doubt also in other law firm meeting rooms). Then get down to business chat. Enjoy being in the present. Enjoy living. Don’t become a gargoyle lawyer. Don’t be a metaverse lawyer.

If you can’t meet up in real life use the old fashioned telephone. Or if you really must the new fangled Zoom.

If you really want to get legless find a real life bar to do that in.

Choose your future… Choose life… not Second Life… and definitely not Facebook’s (sorry Meta’s) metaverse.

hoose Life - Trainspotting - Toilet escape

Renton escaping from the Metaverse

Image Credits: Neo from The Matrix (franchise) © Warner Bros. Entertainment; Horizon Workrooms © Meta; Wade Watts from Ready Player One © Warner Bros. Pictures; The Evolving ‘Expert’ © Brian Solis and Gaping Void; Hologram Meeting in Star Wars © Lucasfilm Limited; Batphone from Batman (1966 film) © 20th Century Fox; Black Mirror © Channel 4; Meta’s metaverse © Meta; and Renton from Trainspotting © Channel Four Films

Reactions on Social Media

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

On LinkedIn the following comments have been made:-

Thomas P. Valenti (Attorney, Mediator, Arbitrator (FCIArb), Neutral, Facilitator, Trainer with Complete Online capability in all services):

Long read. But I learned more here than I ever expected to learn! Thanks!

Me:

Thanks Tom. I learned a lot about the metaverse whilst researching and writing it too.

Thomas P. Valenti:

I could tell. So much documented research and the videos are helpful for context for those like me who know nothing about this concept.

Me:

Could you see a place for virtual reality in mediation or not?

Thomas P. Valenti:

We adapted to online readily, so I think so!

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Alexander Low (taking Professional Service firms Back to the Future!):

I have my Oculus headset arriving today!

Me:

So you will be looking like a gargoyle later today! Look forward to hearing what you think when you dive in. Oculus has been about for 10 years now. Do you think you wouldn’t have bought a headset now if it hadn’t been for the Meta announcement in October 2021 and all the hype that has arisen since? Is there an element of FOMO involved do you think?

Alexander Low:

We have more clients asking us about it and what it means for them, therefore I felt I have to be in it to truly understand it, and therefore have a view. Also, as a parent of a 6 yr old and 3 yr old where I believe this will be normal in their working lives, I need to try and stay one step ahead.

Me:

Good reasons.

Think for the 6 and 3 year olds it is more likely to be normal in their play worlds than working lives. Although hopefully that will be limited to occasional video games and they will still spend more time in real life on your pirate climbing ship!

For the reasons given in my blog post I really hope we don’t have to become like gargoyles to go to work. It seems to me like an unnecessary layer. Adding goggles as a screen to then watch screens within that screen and hand controls to control virtual hands to operate keypads within a virtual world seems counter intuitive.

For fantasy worlds/games I can see and understand the reason – if that is your thing.

For work I think we really need to remain firmly in the real world and use the tools we already have, in some cases maybe better. Like Tom Goodwin says in this post from yesterday https://www.linkedin.com/posts/tomfgoodwin_100-of-people-saying-the-metaverse-is-where-activity-6885321585033662464-0lQP

Alexander Low: 

Having spent the weekend tinkering, I am in awe of how incredible VR is, especially watching my 6 year old daughter grasp it so quickly. I can see this being more useful in the world of manufacturing, pharma etc where you can train people on massive pieces of machinery or train surgeons etc – that said, I can see how this could evolve meetings from Zoom / Teams into this world – for one it is so immersive, there are no distractions from the outside, like email. PwC have shared research on how this can massively improve retention when being trained on new things https://arpost.co/2020/07/24/pwc-virtual-reality-soft-skills-training/ – to your ref about Accenture and devices, this is probably going to be the biggest hurdle for overall adoption. So, maybe not tomorrow of even in a few years, but in my working life time, I can see it being more common place.

Alexander Low:

Having just synced my laptop to Facebook Workrooms, presented a PPT in a VR meeting from my physical laptop, to a virtual room in VR, this is the future, no gargoyles, no gimmicks, straight up meeting in VR. As they say, seeing is believing.

Me:

Thanks Alex. It is good to hear from someone using it for the first time.

I think the fact that your 6 year old daughter grasped it so quickly confirms my view that we don’t need to pay the evolving ‘experts’ to show us how an Oculus headset works.

I agree with your point about it being potentially more useful in the world of manufacturing, pharma etc where you can train people on massive pieces of machinery or train surgeons etc. This was demonstrated in the first episode of the latest series of Dragons’ Den when Peter Jones took a stake in Extend Robotics.

“Extend Robotics is building an intuitive human-robot interface software to hep people to work remotely by operating robots through an immersive virtual reality interface this way their job can be safer less travel, and even access to global job opportunities.”

It was explained that the robot was designed for healthcare, industrial and hospitality purpose.

This is using virtual reality for a direct purpose linked to controlling a robotic device situated in another place from the operator.

Very different from entering a metaverse world designed to resemble a poor version of our own with often no real purpose in mind.

So, yes, I think we do need to distinguish between specific purposes that virtual reality can be used for in a meaningful and useful way compared with jumping into a virtual world with no real purpose in mind.

Training could indeed be another area that virtual reality is ripe for. In the book ‘Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century‘, which is now 10 years old, Mitch Kowalski saw a future where the new recruit at fictional law firm Bowen, Fong and Chandri gets virtual training using a computer simulated game in which he is an Avatar.

But all of these things are very different from building real estate in a virtual world and creating a world to dive into that attempts (but fails) to replicate our own.

On the point about the need for equipment see the article ‘How the Metaverse Could Worsen the Digital Divide‘ which quotes Aron Solomon.

Me:

With regard to presenting a PPT in a VR meeting from your physical laptop, to a virtual room in VR does this not just add an unnecessary extra layer?

Would it not be simpler/easier to just share your PPT screen to your audience on Zoom or in Teams?

Alex G Smith highlighted on Twitter yesterday a Facebook patent showing the porting of a real computer into an AR/VR world for use while in the metaverse. As he said “You have a desk and keyboard in the metaverse? What happened to Minority Report swishy stuff?”

Facebook patent for porting a real computer into the metaverse

I think that if we are to find a real use for VR in the workplace (and I’m of course thinking of the workplace for lawyers) we have to rethink how/why we are using VR rather than simply attempting to replicate our real world in a virtual one.

Alexander Low:

The minority report swishy stuff appears to be what Microsoft Mesh is all about, but at 3 grand for a hololens, not exactly accessible for the mass market – https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/p/microsoft-mesh-app-preview/9p64lj74ngw0?rtc=1&activetab=pivot:overviewtab – I get your point just do it in Teams/Zoom (Oculus have announced an integration with Zoom) its the fact that you can use all your “real world” content in VR, but this gives so much more flexibility if interaction, engagement etc – it’s really hard to articulate because the experience just doesn’t translate in 2d or words!

Me:

Maybe I need to invest in an Oculus headset and let you show me the metaverse!

Although seeing on social media people asking “what do they do now?” after purchasing Oculus invariably leads to a list of games to play especially something called Beat Saber. I assume that is this: https://www.beatsaber.com/

My worry is that the purchase of Oculus will lead you down a gaming rabbit hole rather than the pursuit of anything productive or business orientated. Have you managed to resist that particular rabbit hole so far?

Alexander Low:

I have played Beat Saber, but I am to your point I am actively avoiding gaming and looking at it from a work perspective at the moment, not saying I wont dabble, but I want to understand it from this viewpoint. IMHO it’s worth it as it is so hard to articulate!

Me:

I’ll be in touch when I purchase my Gargoyle outfit!

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Shaun Jardine (Legal Disruptor/Value Pricing fan /Marketer/Mediator/Solicitor):

Amazing post Brian really enjoyed it.

Dare I say this should be essential reading for all lawyers.

I think before we start worrying opening offices in the Metaverse we ought to try and get the business model right down here on planet earth!

One question Brian, are the lawyers in the metaverse still charging bitcoin as an hourly rate?

Me:

Thanks Shaun.

There is certainly a lot for lawyers to sort out on planet earth before they contemplate entering the metaverse!

I see an evolving ‘expert’ (currently known as a ‘metaverse lawyer’) charging $US (not bitcoin) on a hourly rate to provide metaverse consultation services. Somethings never change even when you enter the metaverse!

Shaun Jardine:

Thought so…. will send my Oculus head set back..!

Peter Carayiannis (Lawyer. Entrepreneur. Speaker. President @ Conduit Law):

Looks like this meta verse firm is charging bitcoin billable hours. https://www.canadianlawyermag.com/resources/practice-management/law-firm-embracing-web3-with-new-metaverse-office-property-and-crypto-salary-option/362932

Me:

I mention them in the blog post for opening a virtual office in a virtual New York. But had forgotten the fact that they take payment in bitcoin. Thanks for highlighting that. Although I do wonder to what extent firms that say they accept payment in bitcoin ever actually have/do. Also law firms will need to be very careful when accepting bitcoin to ensure they have fully covered all source of funds and anti-money laundering requirements!

Peter Carayiannis:

I can’t even begin to imagine the law society auditors having a meltdown trying to determine if the meta verse law firms are complying with trust account rules for crypto deposits….

A brave new world indeed.

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Jane Clemetson (Business-oriented lawyer: media, IP, commercial, tech and data protection | European Woman of Legal Tech 2020 | Affable, unflappable, authoritative | FRSA):

Very enjoyable and lots of good sense and food for thought – as usual. “Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow” as T S Eliot said – albeit in a different context

Me:

Thanks Jane. Nice quote. Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mark Zuckerberg can’t see his shadow 😉

Jane Clemetson:

Indeed.

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Steven Mather Solicitor (Legal Superhero – Your Business Lawyer – buying/selling businesses, drafting/reviewing contracts, employee issues, trade marks, dispute management and just general Legal Superhero stuff):

What a comprehensive blog on the metaverse. Must have taken a while to compile so kudos to you Brian. Good work.

Me:

Thanks Steven.

I enjoyed compiling it and learned a lot along the way.

I reckon a lot of lawyers who are jumping feet first into the metaverse haven’t given it a moments thought before doing so. It’s just new and shiny. So they are attracted to it.

Hopefully, if they read my blog post first they will think twice before jumping down the rabbit hole.

Me:

Although when I say “new and shiny” they think it is.

It is, of course, as I point out in the blog post, 19 years since Second Life launched and there were metaverses of sorts in existence before that.

This fact seems to be conveniently forgotten my the cheerleaders of the ‘new’ metaverse.

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Michael Burne (Rebel with a cause. Working with like-minded folks to change the way legal services works. Like taking photos):

Brilliant read. I got educated and reminded all in one post. Thanks Brian for putting it together and confirming I’m all for real life and real intelligence, not artificial intelligence and metaverses. There’s just not enough hype about an everyday story about ordinary folk if you ask me!

Me:

Thanks Michael.

Good point about the lack of hype about an everyday story about ordinary folk!

We should tell those stories more often or otherwise we might forget the importance of them.

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David Flint (Commercial Law Consultant at Inksters; Visiting Professor at Creighton University School of Law):

Why the the Metaverse any different from Second Life (& similar SIMs)?

Me:

No different. But people seem to think it’s something new and different when it’s not really. Mark Zuckerberg changing Facebook to Meta seems to have been enough to create all the current hype around it as though it is something new and shiny. People often have short memories.

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Miikka Rosendahl (CEO of ZOAN – a leading European VR-studio):

Thank you Brian Inkster for a great article!

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Liisa Hämeen-Anttila (Lawyer in Social Insurance, labour mobility and remote work, social impact. The Agentic Group):

Dare I say already at this point of 2022: The Post of the Year! This really cleared my head, thank you. And in addition of being educational and to the point, the read was funny too!

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Graeme Johnston (Let’s map legal work, together!):

Great work Brian, and that final line and gif really made me laugh!

Me:

Thanks Graeme. Always glad to bring some humour to the world of law 😉

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On Twitter the following comments have been made:-

Highland lawyer (@HiglandLawyer): 

Seecond Life 2.0

Me:

Exactly. Although in a WEb 3.0 world whatever that might be!

Highland Lawyer:

That is with added cryptocon (yes, intended spelling)

Me:

🙂

Highland Lawyer:

A truly forward thinking tech co would start off with the Zoom type video conference with background removal, then place that in a virtual setting that enhances the functionality, all within an environment of guaranteed data security. No blockchain, no data harvesting.

Me:

Some existing video conferencing setups can provide quite lifelike reality + virtual integrations without the need for a separate virtual setting as such. e.g. https://pecars.com/video-conferencing/

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Natalie Anne Knowlton (@natalalleycat):

Natalie Knowlton's TL DR version of metaverse and lawyers post

Nick Rishwain (@NickJRishwain):

So Brian being Brian. I’ll give it to him for consistency.

Me:

You can always rely on me for a dose of reality in a sea of hype 😉 #LegalTech

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LeelaBlue (@JustAnOthr):

Here’s to not being a metaverse lawyer! Thanks for a great, informative read.

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Jeremy Hopkins (@Jezhop):

Love this. Great insights, plenty of humour and a lot of home truths… 👏👏

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Katherine Thomas (@katathom):

Fabulous article. I learned a lot, like….with strip malls and ‘real’ estate etc, the metaverse is/will be the worst of the world we have now. Who on earth would want more of that?!

Alex G Smith (@alexgsmith):

Katherine – you’ll be able to go back to an office virtually and sit in cubicles and then meetings and then the watercoolers, limitless watercoolers … think of the innovation.

Neo Matrix mouth

Katherine Thomas:

I can’t wait.

Me:

But with virtual selfie sticks!

Katherine Thomas:

🤣 Serious point though – as with remote work, what we’re seeing is a replication of the current way of doing things, rather than a re-imagining of how work/life could be. Humans can be so disappointing.

Alex G Smith:

No imagination, creativity or innovation? Must be because we all can’t get back in an office to whiteboard it. Agree Katherine

Katherine Thomas:

Totally. Creativity only occurs when there’s an office and a watercooler to facilitate it.

Me:

Indeed. Accenture plan pods in their offices like in this illustration – so that you can go to the office to then enter a virtual office with your colleagues. Just crazy!

Nth floor Accenture

Katherine Thomas:

It makes me feel a bit sick to see that. Honestly.

Alex G Smith:

That’s the physical world not another fantasy in metafacebook? Wow … alpha males will love this to do all the physical mansplaining gesture they’ve been unable to on zoom. At least they are safely locked away from society … but that is awful.

Alex G Smith:

Why is he wearing a suit? That pointless right .. he could strangle himself in real life and not even know it … #reversematrixaccident

Logans Run

Me:

Dress code at Accenture offices. They might, in the fullness of time, expect him to change into an Oculus full body suit when they launch.

Alex G Smith:

Will it still have a tie 😉

Me:

Of course (but integral):

oculus bodysuit with tie accenture

Me:

Meanwhile PwC are advertising for a Ready Lawyer One. The big boys are really buying into this crap in a big way.

PwC - Ready Lawyer One Advert

Alex G Smith:

So they are looking for an IP/IT/general commercial lawyer then? 😭

Me:

Exactly!

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2 Replies to “2022: The Year Lawyers get Legless in the Metaverse?”

  1. Love your article and Katherine Thomas makes a really interesting point about replication vs how working from home should be.

    It’s an interesting problem because on one hand, most people love the flexibility of working from home. However, we can’t escape our primal desire to socalise.

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