2022: The Year Lawyers get Legless in the Metaverse? – The Time Blawg

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2022: The Year Lawyers get Legless in the Metaverse? - The Time Blawg

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

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

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