Last month, I shared that the Metaverse can be viewed as a natural progression in the interaction between humans and computers — but for many, the Metaverse is still a foreign concept and a bit out there. This month, I want to share a few thoughts on what we can expect as the Metaverse evolves — and what its evolution could mean for the practice of law in the real world.
As the Metaverse expands, we can anticipate a number of innovations, and we can expect consumer-oriented applications to get traction first. Take entertainment and live events, for example.
For those of us who saw the NFL Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago: imagine watching the game on Oculus headgear and being able to view it (virtually) from different locations in the stands and on the field. Players equipped with motion sensors, microphones, and a helmet camera could be enough to render a virtual world with lifelike avatars simulating the actual game in the Metaverse. With enough computing power in a few years, the simulated game could be rendered and synchronized to the live stream of the event.
It’s hard to say now whether there would be such demand; but as technology advances, the economics will become more favorable, and some innovative souls will find virtual experiences that people will buy.
We could see more business applications emerge as well. Telemedicine might be an example. Could an MRI be analyzed in real time by a doctor in another state? Would someone trust a specialist in a particular type of cancer to perform laser surgery from thousands of miles away? There is already precedence for remote surgery, so the possibilities may not be that far off.
Overall, what we can expect to see is the Metaverse’s increasing ability to enable virtual transactions and experiences that we had not previously thought possible — and the world of legal technology may be no exception.
Let’s examine where the practice of law is today. The legal industry has made many strides and there is a frenzy of legal tech investment right now. Much of that investment is directed at law departments in corporations where technology is embraced and where automation and repeatability are expected. That makes sense, as work that can be automated tends to move in-house now.
That leaves law firms with high-value work that someone would expect from an expert professional. At the same time, however, that creates a strategic problem for law firms, as much of that high-value work is bespoke, driven by unique thoughts, manual work, and more-artisan approaches. In short, law firm work can be very valuable and very inefficient at the same time, and that poses a problem when thinking about how technology can accelerate the practice of law in firms. So how might the Metaverse help to solve that problem?
One possible answer could lie in the Metaverse and the ability of online platforms to automate and implement technology to enable a more sophisticated level of work that lawyers could delegate to software.
In the tax industry, there are already some examples of efficiencies created by integrating specialized industry knowledge with technology. Intuit’s TurboTax service has set a high bar of excellence for interviewing and taking in “client” information and marrying it with tax law to create an income tax return. More complicated income tax returns can still be reviewed by a tax professional, but automated processes enable a significant amount of work to be completed. In the future, I would hope that we would see many legal applications marry client intake and fact patterns with logic that encodes the law to create more automated solutions for legal advice, much like TurboTax does for income tax returns.
But here’s the challenge: a law firm building a system for its client and its attorneys will not scale in the same way a software company could in order to build a system that can serve the entire industry. If the software company has embedded logic that is interpreting the law, then the software might technically be practicing law — and that is not allowed.
In the near term, law firms can take steps to standardize client intake and the steps in transactional work. They can and should leverage knowledge management systems to find and leverage prior work, and they should leverage legal research systems and innovations (like brief analyzers, for example) to make the development of legal arguments more efficient.
In the Metaverse, many rules that will govern interaction will be defined by terms and conditions in the contract signed to participate on a Metaverse platform. Arbitration clauses may keep disputes in an alternate universe of arbitration and out of courts. The Metaverse could also enable automation and implementation of smart contracts and other similar applications — and that could create real opportunities (or competitive pressure) to introduce similar concepts in the real world to drive standardization and efficiency.
Law firms are enjoying high demand for services and premium rates right now. But in the long term, there are some strategic issues that law firms as an industry will need to work through if they want to embrace more technology and take steps to delegate more work.
We’ll tackle that strategic issue in Part Three!
Ken Crutchfield is Vice President and General Manager of Legal Markets at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S., a leading provider of information, business intelligence, regulatory and legal workflow solutions. Ken has more than three decades of experience as a leader in information and software solutions across industries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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