In the past weeks, a video has circulated on Twitter that supposedly shows how Walmart envisions the shopping experience in the Metaverse.
Imagine this: You are in control of a virtual avatar that clumsily moves through the supermarket aisles browsing through the shelves, picking virtual items and trying to move them into your virtual shopping cart with a pair of virtual hands that give you the body control of a 4-year old. You are constantly bothered by a legless woman in the top right corner trying to convince you to impulse buy a new flatscreen tv. On top of that, the graphics make the whole experience resemble a first-person shooter game from the 2000s which leaves you with the impression that there could be a zombie somewhere near the cereal aisles.
Is this a joke, you wonder? Is this fake news?
You get worst from two worlds. In physical shopping, you have to do the job of finding stuff and moving around but you get your groceries right away. With online shopping, you can sit comfortably and find the things you need using a search bar. With this example, you have to go through the trouble of locating your goods in the store, AND you have to wait a day or two to receive them. It just doesn’t make any sense.
It turns out the video was made for Walmart by a digital agency to impress at the SXSW in 2017, so the video is already dated. However, this vision of our next verse is by no means unique. Law firms have also started taking over our brave new virtual world and it’s a terrible idea that proves to me that something has gone very wrong with legal innovation.
Lawyers are taking over the Metaverse
To be fair, Field Fisher Waterhouse has been there since they built an office in Secondlife in 2007. A state of the art building with fish tanks, a balcony for cocktail parties, exposed beams and a conference room. There was even a Bar Association within a brick house with dark wooden floors, a globe, a banker lamp and other pointless skeuomorphisms (yes, this is a new word I learned researching for this article. Google it).
In December last year, Law.com reported that the first law firms had opened in the new Metaverse. The New Jersey-based firm Grungo Colarulo launched a virtual 3D office in Decentraland because they felt this was “another opportunity to really solidify that connection with the client (...) if they want to show up as an avatar to a meeting, we can do that.”
Let me take a wild guess here: Nobody is going to do that.
Kudos for the publicity stunt. Well done. But chances are that if you are already deep in a crypto-based alternative world, you are most likely not the ICP of a traditional New Jersey-based law firm. And in case you really need legal support, who would then choose to meet in a goofy cartoon world rather than connecting with an actual human being via Zoom.
But let’s take the virtual tour of Grungo’s office - La Finestra - that they posted on Youtube. The office has an “unobstructed view to the North”, some classic office furniture, a logo on the wall and an espresso machine. But what can you actually do there? Well, there is a link to their website, their social media profiles and you can also find their phone number. As The Time Blawg rightly suggest: “All seems an awful lot of effort to go to in order to contact a law firm! Would you not just Google them?”
And it’s a terrible idea!
Their article inspired me a great deal, because who actually wants legal advice from an often legless, anonymous avatar without body language? And who wants to move a cartoon figure around to find information you can look up in a search engine in 5 seconds? I bet the phone book was quicker, but I’m too young to remember.
Okay. So there is a law firm pulling a fun and well-made marketing stunt. Actually no. They are not alone. Falcon Rappaport & Berkman and a firm called Metaverse Law has apparently been there for a while as well.
It says a lot about the state of legal innovation. Since the legal tech movement really took off 7 or 8 years ago, too many firms have been too occupied with writing press releases, setting up anthropomorphic robots and buying fancy AI tools that don’t actually work. It’s a kind of innovation-washing to hide the fact that nothing is really happening.
We don’t need more hype. We need real solutions to solve real problems for real people.
Another problem that I have is the lack of imagination. With the metaverse, we have the chance to rethink legal services from the bottom. This is a blank sheet. You can do almost anything. So don’t design chesterfield sofas, banker lamps and lacquered mahogany tables. It was alienating and old-fashioned in the first verse, and it will remain so in the next.
If you really want to solidify the connection with our clients, here is what you should do. You should get in touch with me and form a partnership where we sell legal documents prepared by you, automated by us. Joke aside. (You should though! My email is email@example.com). You should start with the basics. Rethink the way you offer services, team up with innovators, help your clients navigate the legal tech market and pick the right solutions with them. Show them how you can help them make legal work easier, simpler, quicker and cheaper to solve.
Innovation is offering more for less. Not offering more of the same in a new verse. Let’s start by innovating this universe and when it’s time to get real, then let’s reimagine legal services for the next dimension in a proper way. I’m more than happy to share my ideas in a call. We can even meet in Decentraland if you prefer.