If, like most people, you find coping with existence in the real world confusing enough, the advent of the metaverse is mind-blowing. But it’s here and lawyers are venturing into this brave new world or—more accurately—worlds.
Metaverses combine virtual reality and augmented reality devices and blur the lines between the physical and digital. Through visual, auditory, and sensory experiences, metaverses convey a sense of actually being present in these alternative worlds and allow you (through your avatar) engage with people (through their avatars) and businesses in a realistic way.
Big name companies and wealthy individuals already have invested millions into the metaverse because they know it will be a valuable place to promote their brands and generate revenue.
Lawyers are not far behind
As clients increasingly migrate their businesses and brands to the metaverse, attorneys and law firms will have little choice but to follow. An April 2022 Above the Law survey found that:
- Over 97% of respondents reported that they know what the metaverse is;
- 43% of respondents believe that it would change their law practice within 1-3 years with another 25% thinking those changes would occur in 3-5 years;
- Over half of respondents (58%) believe the metaverse presents game-changing business opportunities; and
- Almost 76% reported that they are planning to establish a metaverse presence in the near future, with 50% reporting that this is a priority for them.
Early adopters hope to have a hand in shaping this new market as it inevitably expands.
First Flags planted
Lawyers, as avatars, are venturing onto metaverse platforms like Decentraland and Sandbox.
In early 2022, Arent Fox bought a digital address in the virtual world of Decentraland, becoming the first Big Law firm with an official presence in the metaverse. Its virtual office is located in the Fashion/Retail district, close to its fashion, retail, sports, media, and entertainment clients which already are doing business there.
Richard Grungo, the co-founder of the New Jersey-based boutique personal injury trial law firm of Grungo Colarulo, launched a “legal district” in Decentraland called LawCity.com in mid-April 2022. He plans to offer short-term leases in two five-story towers for law firms, developing a fully immersive office environment for lawyers as avatars meet with clients (also as avatars) like they would in their real-world offices. His theory is that having multiple firms in a single metaverse district offers a “support system” for law firms wanting to explore providing professional services in a virtual world.
Attractive to clients
Just as there was an easy transition to virtual meetings during the pandemic, using legal services in the metaverse may be similarly attractive to clients. Potential clients with time constraints such as single parents or other caregivers, or those with multiple jobs, or who just are too busy or geographically dispersed to take the time necessary for travel to an in-person meeting can quickly and easily access lawyers in the metaverse. Similarly, people with disabilities may be some of the biggest users of the metaverse because it has no mobility restrictions. It will be much easier for them to navigate in a virtual world than in the real world.
Potential clients also may be attracted to the anonymity of interacting as avatars. For celebrity, high net worth, or high-profile people, or those who seek counsel for sensitive issues such as domestic abuse, workplace harassment, racial or gender-related, and disability suits, there is an advantage to anonymously contacting law firms in the metaverse before revealing their identity or committing to an attorney-client relationship. Skittish clients may find that using an avatar who doesn’t look like them gender-wise, racially, or ethnically might allow them to feel freer when discussing sensitive issues.
A move to the metaverse also might help law firms better connect with their own workforce in a world where flexibility and remote work are increasingly critical to employee hiring and retention.
As with geographical law firm expansion, client demand will be the impetus for attorneys to open virtual offices. Lawyers go where their clients need them; thus, as clients increasingly move to metaverse worlds, so will their law firms.
Law firms already are advising a wide variety of clients about doing business in these virtual worlds. Since the metaverse is built on blockchain and cryptocurrency, Big Tech and finance are at the forefront. But the move to the metaverse is expanding to almost every industry sector, including fashion and luxury goods, sports, entertainment, video games, and more.
The high demand for advice about doing business in this new, fast-growing, varied, complex, and—at this point, experimental—arena means that multidisciplinary practice teams are required. IP, privacy, and data protection issues are key, but clients also need advice on corporate, regulatory, real estate, and tax issues. Criminal, labor and employment, and constitutional issues also can arise. The metaverse inevitably will open up whole new universes of potential litigation with many of the same disputes that arise regularly in the real world plus plenty of new and unique causes of action.
All of this is further complicated by the fact that the metaverse is not just one alternate world, but many. And, right now, due to a lack of interoperability between the worlds, currency in the form of tokens can’t be transferred easily from one world to another. What about conversion rates? Which laws will govern? Which courts will have jurisdiction over disputes?
A wild ride
Practicing law in the metaverse is largely unproven, unregulated, and untested at this point, which echoes the Wild West aspects of the internet’s early days. Just as having a presence on the internet quickly became a necessity for law firms and other businesses, having a presence in the metaverse most likely will follow a similar trajectory.
Fasten your seatbelts!