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Hanging shingles in the metaverse

Pioneering firms explore becoming avatar attorneys at law

Laura Brown//March 4, 2022

businessman in vr glasses headset, digital hologram of blocks in metaverse, virtual reality and futurism image

Hanging shingles in the metaverse

Pioneering firms explore becoming avatar attorneys at law

Laura Brown//March 4, 2022

Entering 2022, law firms are buying property. But they are not buying new physical office space as more attorneys return to the office. Instead, law firms are buying digital space in the metaverse. Previously characterized as a trend, the metaverse has started to be taken seriously by professionals, including attorneys, and some are looking to be among the first to hang out their digital shingles.

For anyone under 25, the metaverse is as normal a place to hang out as shopping malls or malt shops once were. As for everyone else, it may still be a little bit unclear about exactly what the metaverse is. The metaverse is a digital world, a three-dimensional social network. People walk around as avatars, and much of the landscape looks like something out of a cartoon. The appearance makes it easy to dismiss as childish. But many people believe that the metaverse will someday soon be something that everybody is on, and it will be as ubiquitous as social media or the internet.

The communities within the metaverse are much more robust than what you may expect. Inside one can find dance clubs, comedy clubs, and even yoga. With that growing community comes business opportunities. JP Morgan predicts that the Metaverse market size will eventually be worth $1 trillion. The metaverse market was already worth $46 billion in 2020. Thousands of new jobs will be created. Facebook recently rebranded itself as “Meta,” emphasizing its shift in focus to the metaverse. It is creating 10,000 new jobs at Facebook across the European Union alone to build the metaverse.

The metaverse is not a new concept. The virtual world platform “Second Life” had its moment in the 2000s, even featuring in an episode of Law & Order SVU in 2007.  Law firms had virtual offices in Second Life. While Second Life still has users, its popularity waned.  But then the pandemic happened. The pandemic spurred interest in the metaverse, offering shared virtual environments for social interaction when people were restricted from in-person gatherings. Users were also able to create a world that they wanted — free from the strife that has plagued the world for the last two years. The major jump, however, came from seeing the platform as only a place for social interaction to viewing it as a true world, where people not only come to play but to work.

A world, whether real or virtual, needs lawyers. And though it has not been a sprint into the metaverse, lawyers and law firms are headed there.

Arent Fox made headlines earlier this month when it announced that it will be building a virtual office in Decentraland. (Decentraland is a metaverse.) Arent Fox Chair Anthony V. Lupo said in a press release: “Arent Fox is opening an office in the Metaverse because that’s where our clients are going. We like to point to our tagline as ‘Smart In Your World’ — and now our clients’ world includes the Metaverse. We understand that serving as go-to advisers on blockchain and digital asset business issues means playing a part in shaping this new frontier.”

Large law firms are not the first in the space. In December 2021, New Jersey personal injury law firm Grungo Colarulo launched an office in Decentraland. Richard Grungo, Jr.’s 11-year-old daughter built the office. In Decentraland in Parcel -36, 150, potential clients can get information about injuries and employment discrimination. Then they will be directed to offices outside of the Metaverse.

Grungo wrote, “The metaverse is a rapidly growing community. It provides yet another opportunity to create meaningful relationships but in a digital world. The metaverse also provides another opportunity to provide legal information to anyone searching for help in the metaverse. They are calling this Web 3.0 for a reason.”

Steve Vondran, an intellectual property lawyer in California with VondranLegal, remarks that while there are obvious areas where lawyers will be needed — specifically with respect to cryptocurrency, blockchain, NFTs — the other traditional areas that lawyers are needed will also be necessary in the metaverse.

People are buying up virtual real estate and assets. Upon death or divorce in real life, there are questions about what happens to those assets, Vondran asserts. “Will this real estate be gifted to their kids, donated, put into a trust one day?” Or if a couple get divorced, Vondran asks, “How do you split up ‘digital assets’? What is actually owned?”

Vondran attests that there was an incident where someone allegedly was “groped” while others looked on. “Will avatars standing around and encouraging this type of deplorable conduct? Will they pass laws making certain things in the metaverse a crime?”

Additionally, areas such as M&A, IP, and contracts are areas in which forward-thinking lawyers could get established early. Because the metaverse world is so new, legal issues may exist in five years that do not exist now. The difficulty of the metaverse, like the internet 20 years ago, is that it is hard for many to understand its scope. But given projections, it seems evident that the metaverse is the future, regardless of personal understanding or interest, and will likely have effects even on legal practices firmly outside of the metaverse.

Vondran advises: “Any lawyer or law firm should be thinking about a FUN and CREATIVE way to open up a shop on one or more of the metaverse platforms. Stuffy things will not work, but maybe holding free seminars in a virtual master class would be something that people may want to drop into or transport into for a few minutes to learn something new.”

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