If You Are Not Talking About the Metaverse Yet, You Will One Day Soon — Law Firms Are Taking Notice Too
Companies are slowly investing resources into the Metaverse. A few law firms are starting to follow into this new unchartered world — the benefits and pitfalls that await them are numerous and unknown.
But first, what is the Metaverse? The term is a combination of the prefix “meta” (meaning beyond) and the stem “verse” (meaning the universe). The term’s very general definition is appropriate as the metaverse does not actually exist, and currently, it is unknown who will build it, who if anyone will own it, how it will work, or how users, consumers, businesses, and others stand to benefit from it. Generally speaking, however, the metaverse is understood to be an evolving means of communication, consisting of elements of and interaction between virtual reality, augmented reality, on-demand information, and application and translation of real-world objects and actions to digital assets and virtual experiences. Some see the metaverse as the evolution, or even the next generation, of the internet, while others predict that it will entirely replace the internet. The descriptions are therefore no less vague than the definition, with practical business applications still years away. It is intriguing to see then how and why law firms, which are typically not known for being on the leading edge of technology, find themselves at the forefront of this futuristic technology?
Companies are staking a claim, through time and financial investment, by purchasing digital parcels of virtual land on the various platforms (or worlds) that are competing to build the one metaverse. A literal, virtual land grab is taking place.
A few law firms are following their clients’ lead; they are buying plots of digital land and opening virtual offices. Some early pioneers of this new frontier see this as a strategic move into a new and expanding field of law. For others, it is because their clients are seeking legal assistance as they encounter new and unfamiliar legal issues and challenges, or are seeking to protect their investments. Certainly, it is not hard to imagine companies and law firms immediately facing contractual law, intellectual property, and copyright issues; other issues across a range of legal matters are expected to emerge in the future. These firms are rising to meet their clients’ demands and challenges for evolving legal services, while simultaneously becoming versed in navigating issues encountered in this new online environment. Still, others are hoping to expand their current business while unlocking new avenues for marketing and business development, or simply because they fear being left behind.
Law firms starting to do business in the metaverse should be aware of significant risks they are likely to face. The metaverse, in its current form, is the new Wild West, lacking any regulations while providing minimal security. Furthermore, there is significant volatility with regard to the pricing of land and other digital assets within the various metaverses. In fact, there is in fact no one metaverse, but rather a number of competing companies offering their versions of the metaverse that they hope will prevail, and which are neither connected nor in any way interoperable with one another. Furthermore, these early days of the metaverse have seen allegations of white-collar crime, money laundering, and fraud. The firms’ investments and even their reputations are at risk.
Still, it was not all that long ago that a firm’s website was seen as a novelty, and having an online presence was not essential for a law firm. Suddenly, almost overnight, the novelty turned into a necessity. Similarly, many in the world of technology believe that one day the metaverse will become as indispensable as the internet is today while being even more tightly integrated into our daily lives through advances in technology. It is therefore prudent for law firms to educate themselves and evaluate the manner and timing of their approach to this emerging universe.