Metaverse 101 for Lawyers
You’ve likely heard or read the term “Metaverse” at some point over the last year, but may not know what it means. If so, you’re not alone! Up until very recently, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it, and I write about technology every day.
The good news is that if you’re not sure what it is or why it might matter to you or your practice, you’re in luck! Today’s article will provide you with the lowdown. In it, you’ll learn why lawyers need to, at the very least, understand the basics of the Metaverse.
First, let’s define it. According to the Merriam-Webster definition, the metaverse “generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work.” Typically you do so in the form of an avatar, and access the virtual world using your computer and/or virtual reality (VR) goggles.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the virtual worlds accessible using VR goggles since that’s what I believe is the wave of the future.
Traditionally the biggest stumbling block to the adoption of VR technologies has been the lack of technical knowledge and of a user-friendly interface. With the release of the Meta Quest 2 goggles in 2019 and Facebook’s (aka Meta’s) rollout of its virtual playground, Horizon Worlds over the past year, VR has become significantly more accessible.
I write from experience. I bought a pair of Meta Quest 2 goggles last week and found them to be easy to set up and use. Once you put them on, the interface is readily viewable and easy to interact with. Among other things, you can download apps, visit virtual worlds, watch 3D videos and movies, and play games.
It’s the virtual worlds that are the crux of what the “metaverse” is truly about. In theory, these “worlds” are where everyone will interact, consume content, and conduct business. Each world is similar to a social network in that it is a contained environment in which people can move about and engage with others.
Horizon Worlds is but one of many virtual worlds. I don’t believe the tipping point will occur until users eventually settle on one or a small handful of worlds in which to interact. But once that happens, and as the VR goggles improve and become lighter and more affordable, I believe VR will, for better or worse, become the next wave of online interaction and will ultimately surpass the impact of the Internet on our culture.
Currently, the only thing lawyers absolutely must do when it comes to VR is have a basic understanding of the concept of VR and the Metaverse. After all, that’s what the duty of technology competence requires: that you keep abreast of changes in technology, including requisite risks and benefits. Once you have that knowledge, you can make an educated decision as to whether or not to use and interact with specific types of technologies – in this case, the Metaverse.
If you choose to interact in the Metaverse, or even establish a virtual law firm, you’ll need to apply all of the same ethical standards that you do whenever you interact with others on or offline. Fortunately, when it comes to the Metaverse, you’ll find that the already well-established ethical guidance regarding online interactions – including issues related to attorney advertising, forming attorney-client relationships, and preserving confidentiality – will likely translate easily when applied to Metaverse interactions.
Also important is understanding the legal issues that may arise in the Metaverse when users interact. The data regarding those communications may ultimately become relevant in a case that you’re handling. Or you may end up representing someone in relation to a contractual or tortious matter that arose in the Metaverse.
For all of those reasons, it’s imperative that you at least take steps to understand the concept and implications of the Metaverse. This article is a great start.
Now that you’ve read it, make sure to keep an eye out for the latest news and updates on the Metaverse. After all, you never know how, or when, it may impact your law practice, and you’ll have an advantage over your opponent if you’re already in the know. Wouldn’t you rather be informed than caught flat-footed?
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and Senior Director of SME and External Education at MyCase legal practice management software. She is the nationally-recognized author of "Cloud Computing for Lawyers" (2012) and co-authors "Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier" (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors "Criminal Law in New York," a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.