Prospects and Challenges for Legal Professionals in the Growing Metaverse
In today’s competitive landscape, businesses seek to gain an edge over industry peers by implementing novel capabilities and solutions while also trying to gain a foothold in unexploited segments that provide fresh opportunities.
The legal industry is no exception, with attorneys and law firms implementing technological developments to improve workflow and adopting marketing strategies that leverage their online presence.
Undefined Regulations Present Novel Difficulties
Web3, aka the metaverse, is an online medium enabling individuals to socialize, interact, trade, transact, or own digital assets on virtual platforms such as Sandbox, Somnium Space, and Decentraland. Accessing the metaverse requires virtual or augmented reality (VR/AR) headsets that provide an immersive experience.
As with every new development that can become a game changer, high-tech optimism requires a similar dose of prudent and mindful caution to balance out expectations. For legal professionals, the challenges of the unregulated metaverse include questions regarding vital aspects such as data privacy and security, liability attribution, the legitimacy of digital contracts, and many more hypothetical issues.
When using VR/AR headsets to access metaverse platforms, users could lose touch with their surroundings and risk suffering minor or even severe injuries. In such cases, the headset manufacturers and software producers could face legal consequences for the harm their products cause. However, if injuries involving such technologies occur during business meetings requiring VR/AR technology, the employer’s liability could also potentially be called into question.
As most metaverse platforms are in their early stages of development, their limited privacy and safety features may be targeted and exploited by unscrupulous individuals. On top of expected issues such as the illicit manipulation of virtual identities, digital asset fraud, and biometric data safety, attorneys handling cases of online harassment, bullying, and stalking that cause real life mental trauma may find it more difficult to solve cases involving the fledgling metaverse than those occurring on traditional online platforms.
Hoping to capitalize on unexplored opportunities, some law firms have even proposed solutions that would allow netizens to get married in the metaverse, including options for virtual prenups. However, such ceremonies and agreements are more of a modern novelty, as they’re not officially recognized by any state or federal authority, or at least not at the moment.
While not carrying any legal weight, metaverse marriages where the virtual partner isn’t the actual spouse could be seen as a sign of infidelity and lead to divorce in real life. At the same time, digital assets like NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and virtual “real estate” could become subject to asset splits amongst legally-married couples who’ve decided to separate in real life.
How Will It Play Out?
The speculative issues that may arise from litigation involving the metaverse range from pertinent questions of the potential role and application of AI and algorithm-based solutions in the legal process to more farfetched notions like alimony for digital spouses following virtual divorce or child support for cyber-offspring.
Until state and federal authorities develop a legal framework effectively regulating metaverse platforms and providing more clarity on essential legal aspects, the law firms that have already established their virtual presence are optimally positioned to take advantage of the currently available opportunities.
The firms and legal specialists that were the first to gain a foothold in the metaverse are also the first to advertise their services in a fast-developing online medium, host interactive webinars, and gatherings in their virtual offices, offer detailed information on specific legal matters, and organize virtual meetings with clients that find it easier to interact in the impartial metaverse.
Even though detractors are quick to equate metaverse platforms to the early-2000’s Second Life which failed to live up to expectations, the fact that its format has been successfully adopted, improved upon, and popularized in other interactive online mediums is often overlooked. With VR/AR technology only becoming more popular, it’s likely that metaverse platforms will increasingly become subject to regulations just as any online game or social media website and application currently are.
About the Author
Sean Cleary, Esq. is the founder, owner, and head attorney of the Miami, Florida-based Law Offices of Sean M. Cleary. Mr. Cleary assists individuals in complex personal injury cases and helps high-net-worth divorcing spouses bring their union to a fair and equitable conclusion.