Lawyers and the Metaverse

Interview from Asian Legal Business published April 2022

How did you discover your passion for all things innovation and technology related?

When I was a young boy, I watched a movie that transformed my life then and by happenstance altered my path forward.  War Games, starring Matthew Broderick was about an inquisitive kid who unintentionally almost started World War 3 by hacking into a U.S. Government mainframe computer.  Broderick’s approach to solving problems was mind altering for me at the time.  More than anything that movie taught me the power of creativity in thinking and designing processes to accomplish tasks in a novel way leveraging technology, sometimes with computer code, sometimes by tying disparate technologies together.  Since that day I have been immersed in technology, starting with the beginning of the Internet via BBS (Bulletin Boards), setting up networks, peer-to-peer file sharing, designing websites World Wide Web, testing of mining cryptocurrency, creating my own tokens, white hat hacking, and then tinkering with electronics of all sizes.  Eventually, I added the professional layers from an undergraduate degrees of economics and sociology and a Masters in Business Administration and eCommerce, combined with my own interests in geopolitical trends, finance, and the legal implications of it all.  All of this really excites me to no end!

You’ve written about the Metaverse and the preparedness of lawyers, how widespread do you think use of this will be in the near future, and how can lawyers make sure they are sufficiently prepared? 

If by the near future we are saying 3-5 years, I would say 100% that the Metaverse will be used in various forms by the majority of the population in the industrialized world.  It has already started.  There are two forces at play which are enabling the Metaverse; one, blockchain, which is a unique way to store information in a provable, unalterable way.  Secondly, the coming hardware is key.  Likely to hit the mainstream when Apple releases their Virtual Reality or Mixed Reality headset in the coming year or so, this will force all of us to head into the Metaverse.  Just for perspective, VR is fully immersive, while MR allows you to see the physical world and places digital imagery on top of that.   

I have likely spoken to thousands of lawyers over the last several years.  Extraordinarily bright to a one that I have interacted with, the one limiting factor in this sense, is their dedication to their own craft.  Meaning, most often and understandably, they do not have the time to pick up their heads and see what is coming.  All of these emerging technologies will impact their practice in some way, as well as the business of law.  At a minimum, lawyers need the opportunity to focus on the big four: AI, Blockchain, Workflow, and the grab bag of General Emerging Technology.  There are a multitude of places to learn about these things, including at Joetechnologist.com but I would include some of the classics with Google alerts, Twitter threads on these topics and magazines like Wired, which should be a staple for everyone.

What kind of opportunities could the Metaverse give lawyers?

Imagine a world, much like what we have now, but only digital.  It is nearly as immersive and interactive, and then extrapolate out all the problems, issues, benefits, and challenges we have currently in real life, and think about where lawyers play a role.  It will be similar.  In the beginning much of legal’s play will be on IP issues and copyright.  Soon thereafter, insurance and contractual disagreements will ensue, but these contract issues could be interesting because of the nature of the platform a metaverse will be built upon.  Since it should rely on blockchain and smart contracts, these disputes could likely be easier to solve at the lower tier, leaving lawyers to resolve more complex issues.  

We’ve heard that tech adoption rapidly increased during the pandemic — what are some of the significant ways this has changed the way lawyers work, or indeed the legal profession?

The adoption of technology has been fascinating to watch across the legal landscape over the last two years.  My favorite part was how lawyers who were technologically phobic were gently pushed into the space and most thrived.  Bigger picture, the acceptance and now reliance on the Cloud has been massive.  Once upon a time, most law firms would have shuttered at the thought of its use.  Now Cloud has become nearly ubiquitous.  With that adoption has come greater use of workflow tools around document automation processing transactional documents much faster and more reliably for clients.  I have also seen greater openness to this idea of a Legal Platform, meaning an ecosystem like a portal which is first secure, yet open to applications, that can be used in a “containerized” fashion.  What that means are apps that are interoperable and secure, resulting in greater efficiency and productivity.  The last area of growth was around law firms open to APIs, or data feeds which allows them to bring in information, comingle it with their own, create new workflows, and leverage out of the box analytics tools to garner greater insights into both the business and the practice of law.

What can lawyers do to ensure they access all opportunities offered by the variety of tech innovations?

I firmly believe lawyers need to dedicated time, almost every day, be it 30 minutes, to read up on current awareness in technology.  Some days they will find a topic they could spend a week on, but they should try to unpack that in time, to better position themselves for the future of the industry, and more tangibly, in the short term to help their clients.

How does our engagement with digital worlds/environments shape the way we work and the kind of work we carry out?

If we presume we are moving increasingly into a digital world, then every nuance surrounding that space will become increasingly important.  Start with AI.  Algorithms will increasingly be able to make decisions for us.  Yes, this includes much of the lawyerly work out there.  These algos start of simply, but will become far more complex, freeing us from some decisions or work.  Stack on top of that blockchain, which is a trustless (trusted) database, meaning both AI and blockchain can work in tandem to begin doing some pretty impressive workflows that are automated.  When we move into the Metaverse for both fun and business, everything can be quantified, e.g. the house, shoes, art, tickets to a concert, via an NFT (Non-Fungible Token) which uses a blockchain.  Processes will increasingly be leveraging data and AI to make decisions which will rely less on human intervention.  I know this can sound frightening, and it could be, which is why as this progresses, we need the best legal minds to understand the implications, yet keep a progressive mindset to guide the path forward.  We do not merely wish to replicate everything we have in the real world, but try to evolve it to the best we humanly can, until AI takes over, kidding, not kidding.