Written by Allen Watson: Founder & CEO of Blue Seven Content (Updated Aug 2022)
Legal marketing in the metaverse – that’s a phrase you probably never anticipated hearing. However, the metaverse is inescapable right now. Ever since Facebook rebranded to Meta in late 2021, the idea of the “metaverse” has taken the world, and businesses, by storm.
Facebook (Meta) is certainly not the only company that is investing big in crafting a metaverse reality. Google, Apple, and Microsoft have all poured billions into this new era of online interconnectivity. As a law firm or legal marketing agency, the time to learn about how you’ll be a part of the metaverse is now, not later. If you wait too long to at least dip your feet into this arena, you’ll inevitably be playing catch-up at some point down the road.
- What is the Metaverse?
- COVID-19 Primed the World for the Metaverse
- The Benefits of Legal Marketing in the Metaverse
- The Downside of Legal Marketing in the Metaverse
- We’re Moving Towards a New Digital Future – Don’t Get Left Behind
- How do You Advertise in the Metaverse?
- How do You Pay for Metaverse Advertising?
- The Time to Learn the Metaverse for Law Firms is Now
What is the Metaverse?
When computing met the internet, just about every interaction was based on text input and output (chats, emails, IMs, usernames). We’ll call this Web 1.0. Then we moved, slowly and almost without realizing it, to an internet that was media-based (photographs, videos, streaming). That’s Web 2.0.
Now, we’re moving to the next evolutionary stage in the process. “The metaverse is a 3D version of the Internet and computing at large,” Mathew Ball told Vice. We’re moving into Web 3.0.
Answering the question, “What is the metaverse?” seems like a question better suited for a philosophy class. There is no “one” answer, and any attempt to define it will end up leaving some vital piece of information out.
Have you read the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (or watched the movie by the same name)? If so, then you have an idea of what the metaverse could ultimately become. We’re in the early phases of building that world (though hopefully without the complete control of society by corporations…oh wait).
In Ready Player One, participating in society basically meant being plugged into a virtual reality universe. Yes, people physically existed, but they didn’t do much in the physical world. They’d plug into VR with varying levels of sophisticated equipment and interact with everyone else. While that may seem like a far leap from where we are today, the concept isn’t that wild.
Think about what you do in your life right now. Chances are you spend hours on your mobile device each day along with watching something on your TV. We’re already interacting with everyone through digital means, just not virtually on a large scale.
If we want to look at earlier attempts at developing a metaverse, we can examine the game Second Life. Released in 2003, Second Life was an online platform that allowed people to create an avatar of themselves to interact with other peoples’ created avatars.
Definition time: Avatar, in this context, is not the James Cameron movie. An avatar is a digital “being” that people create to represent them in a digital realm. Sometimes, an avatar will look like the person controlling it, but that doesn’t have to be the case. An avatar can look like anything a person can imagine. You can look like a human or an animal. You can change your gender. There aren’t rules to creating an avatar.
Second Life gained decent popularity, at one point reaching around one million users, but that’s where it peaked. However, it would be a mistake to think that Second Life was the only type of gaming metaverse environment.
How many of these names have you heard: Call of Duty, Fortnite, Halo, Minecraft, Roblox, World of Warcraft? These are all massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs. All of these games, and many others, have an avid-user base, players that do much more than just play the storyline. These games connect people through their computers, phones, X-Boxes, Playstations, and other devices to interact. Gamers develop friendships and even close relationships (marriages) based on their interactions on these platforms.
Right now, you are probably thinking, “Okay, this is all just games and such. This is a particular type of person.”
Even though the metaverse idea has revolved around what you may think of as “gamers and geeks,” you need to understand this – the world has changed over the last few years, and the metaverse clientele is rapidly evolving. The “3D version of the Internet” is going to fully immerse us in a world that we currently use devices to interact with.
When examining the latest data from October 2021 (which is outdated in the world of tech), we can see that there are approximately 50,000 regular users of Web 3.0 platforms, or the metaverse. However, this number does not include those who use or have purchased NFTs and/or use decentralized finance or cryptocurrency (all of this is defined below).
More telling is the number of Facebook users, which includes nearly 3 billion people. When we take FB users into account and then consider the total user base of the major companies investing in the metaverse, the only people who won’t have the opportunity for metaverse exposure are those without an internet connection, a number that is also dwindling.
Interestingly, many think Web 3.0 will or should be decentralized, that is, placing more power and autonomy into the hands of users as opposed to major companies. Web 2.0 has been dominated by companies profiting from using or selling consumer data. Web 3.0, in the eyes of many, should be a solution to this problem, and maybe even allow everyday users to begin to profit (or not if, they choose) by controlling their data and distributing it as they wish. It is humorous, then, that it’s the major companies investing most heavily into this next phase of the web. We’ll see how it develops.
COVID-19 Primed the World for the Metaverse
When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the world changed forever. No other global event has shaped society the same way in the last 100 years. This was the first global pandemic in a world as connected and globalized as ours.
Even though we certainly had the capability to go to classes online and work from home, the tech wasn’t that great. If nothing else, the pandemic forced a great leap forward in interconnectivity. We learned very quickly how to do as much as possible from the safety of our homes. Some people struggled at first, but now, most of us think nothing of “hopping on a Zoom call” or working with others in a shared document.
Law firms adapted as well. A vast majority of law firms shut their doors, at least temporarily. But they didn’t stop doing business. Most lawyers now offer initial consultations through video conference or by phone. Many court appearances moved to secured video chats, though there certainly were some mishaps.
Even though major companies had been developing metaverse ideas for years, the pandemic brought a new generation, arguably all of us, into the idea of virtual worlds. Even though we couldn’t see each other in person, technology allowed us to continue working and socializing remotely.
Then Facebook made the groundbreaking announcement – they were changing their name to Meta. The business world and individuals were thrown into temporary chaos, and the words “meta” and “metaverse” immediately trended on all search engines. When a company as significant as Facebook makes a change like this, everyone listens.
In their own words, Facebook says that “The metaverse is the next evolution of social connection.” You should take them at their word. You should also take note that Microsoft acquired the gaming giant Activision Blizzard for nearly $70 billion in early 2022. If you think this isn’t a metaverse play, think again. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the time that, “In gaming, we see the metaverse as a collection of communities and individual identities anchored in strong content franchises accessible on every device.” The company also said that the deal would “provide building blocks for the metaverse.”
Mark Zuckerberg and Nadella believe the future of their companies, and the future of technology, lies in the metaverse. Ready Player One-style? Yes. But we’re certainly not there yet. The groundwork is still being laid.
How Does the Metaverse Involve Cryptocurrencies?
The first to jump into metarealm, in an attempt to capture the forward momentum created by the Facebook rebranding, were projects related to the cryptocurrency world.
Definition time: A cryptocurrency is a digital currency (or a digital store of value for many) that is maintained on a blockchain. A blockchain is a record where cryptocurrencies are maintained and linked to many computers in a peer-to-peer network. You’ve heard of Bitcoin, the market-mover in crypto. Bitcoin is certainly not the only cryptocurrency. There are thousands. Tens of thousands. But only a few are successful. When crypto hits a bear market, like it does every few years, only the strongest cryptocurrencies survive, and the cycle starts again. Every crypto project has its own “goal,” though some are outright scams. Alas, the cryptocurrency industry is becoming immense. In late 2021, the entire market cap of cryptocurrencies topped $3 trillion, though that has fallen significantly since.
But how does this involve the metaverse?
Various metaverse projects that were created or gained popularity in 2021 were crafted around the idea of using their own cryptocurrency inside of their worlds. Some of the most well-known of these projects, and their associated cryptos, are:
- Decentraland – MANA
- The Sandbox – SAND
- Bloktopia – BLOK
- Enjin – ENJ
- MOMOverse – MOBOX
- Starlink – LINK
- Axie Infinity – AXS
- Gala – GALA
- Star Atlas – ATLAS
There are others, and more will surely be created. Right now, none of these is particularly great, and it’s clear that companies rushed this into reality so they could capitalize on the meta-momentum. But just because something isn’t good now doesn’t mean it’s a failure.
Remember how horrible search engines used to be?
The Benefits of Legal Marketing in the Metaverse
Why on earth would a law firm or legal marketing agency even need to think about the metaverse right now? After all, as we’ve just examined, these projects aren’t even really that good.
Remember, big companies are pouring billions of dollars into R&D for the metaverse. They aren’t rushing their projects, and they don’t do things without examining the risks and benefits. The metaverse is going to be a reality; it’s just a matter of when.
Most of us are used to Internet advertisement based on algorithmic decision-making – ensuring the ads you pay for end up in front of the eyeballs of the right consumers (or prospective clients in the case of a law firm). For pay-per-click (PPC), this advertisement is based on you paying for keywords and ensuring your firm pops up when a client types in the right phrases.
The metaverse, Web 3.0, is going to include a mix behavioral advertisement, but interactive. We’ll see, for the first time on a large scale, how the algorithms connect with our actual movements (our avatar’s movements) in a virtual world. It’s a mix of brick-and-mortar and Web 2.0.
Some law firms have begun to advertise in the metaverse, and there will be others. A few major reasons law firms and legal marketing agencies need to figure out the metaverse now, rather than later, include:
1. A Way to Find New Clients
New brands are moving on to the metaverse all the time. Coca-Cola, Nike, Gucci, Vans, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and thousands of others are already setting up digital land or advertising inside of the metaverse. As this realm builds, law firms can seek to increase their exposure by also setting up digital spaces through these metaverse platforms. You’ve seen how many attorneys have garnered popularity on newer social media platforms like TikTok. This is the same idea, just meta.
2. Accessibility for Clients
As we mentioned above, the legal industry, along with the rest of society, has moved towards a more remote operating system. In the metaverse, this takes the remoteness one step further and allows potential clients to interact and even walk into a digital office like they could not before. They could sit around a digital table (with their avatar) with their attorney and discuss their legal issue.
3. More Client Privacy
The “free consultation” model of yesterday’s legal industry is changing for the better. Clients these days want increased privacy when meeting with an attorney for the first time. Privacy allows a client to feel less judged when describing their personal legal issues and address substantive questions more efficiently.
4. New Litigation Trends
With any new technology comes new legal issues that arise. For example, this is going to open up an entire new realm of contract law, particularly focusing around non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Definition time: Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are a type of financial security system that consists of storing digital data in a blockchain, which is a distributed ledger. Once the ownership of an NFT is placed into the blockchain, it can be transferred by the owner to others, but is verified through whichever technological system the blockchain works on. NFTs can, in theory, form unbreakable contracts. Which can be used for various things, ranging from property exchanges, concert tickets, country club passes, loan notes, and more.
In addition to contracts and NFTs, the metaverse could usher in a new era of legal issues (and potential legal work) in a variety of different subject areas:
- Family Law: Imagine a couple getting married through the metaverse, owning property inside of a metaverse, and then divorcing. Can traditional domestic relations court address issues in the metaverse?
- Intellectual Property: The market for intellectual property defense domestically and internationally has exploded in the last ten years. What happens when trademarks and copyrights for solely digital products and services are being infringed upon in the metaverse?
- Criminal Defense: There have already been issues surrounding sexual harassment, cyberbullying, extortion, and fraud inside the metaverse. How will the criminal justice system respond to these changes?
- Smart Contracts: Contacts are changing, and crypto is leading the way. Smart contracts are agreements entered into on the blockchain and are intended to execute automatically when relevant portions of the agreements have been met. In theory, smart contracts cannot be broken.
This certainly tells us that metaverse issues are still in their infancy, and entirely new areas of law may be constructed based on human behavior inside this type of environment.
Towards the end of July 2022, high-ranking Singaporean government minister Edwin Tong, speaking at Singapore’s TechLaw Fest 2022, said that “legal marriage proceedings, court case disputes, and government services could one day be conducted using Metaverse platforms.”
Expounding further, Tong said, “It would not be unthinkable that, besides registration of marriages, other government services can soon be accessed online via the Metaverse. There’s no reason why the same cannot be done for legal services. The pandemic has already shown us that…”
The Downside of Legal Marketing in the Metaverse
As with any type of advertising or effort you’ll put forth as a law firm or legal marketing agency, the biggest downside is the expense. You’re paying money for something, and you hope for a return that is greater than the expense. With traditional advertising, it’s a must for law firms to set aside around 10% of their annual budget on client acquisitions.
The metaverse is new, which means it’s also an unknown. There aren’t any current studies that we can point to that show, “you’ll get an X percentage return for putting X amount of dollars in the metaverse.” Because this is so new and unknown, and because you’d be an early adopter of the metaverse, the returns may not show right away. Simply put, you may not have the eyeballs for any metaverse presence you have. At least not yet.
When it comes to the metaverse, at least right now, it would be better for law firms and legal marketing agencies to think of this as an investment. You’re investing in a new technology, just like the biggest companies. If they’re willing to put the money into the R&D, the metaverse is going to happen.
We’re Moving Towards a New Digital Future – Don’t Get Left Behind
We are moving towards a metaverse future. This will likely be a gradual process. Some people will dive into the metaverse much quicker than others. Other individuals may dip their toes in by experimenting with augmented reality first.
Definition time: Augmented reality is a way to interact with the real-world environment where objects inside of the real world are altered or enhanced by a computer-generated system. This can include technology such as cell phones, glasses with various types of heads-up displays (HUDs), and more. Currently, there is a significant development toward “smart” contact lenses that allow individuals to experience an augmented reality without taking their eyes off of their real-world surroundings.
Virtual reality has always been a tough nut to crack, particularly when it comes to developing a world that feels completely real to the individual user. Technology has changed rapidly, and virtual reality is becoming more and more real each day. Virtual reality headsets are a major part of the research and development going into the metaverse. A true metaverse experience lies in virtual reality.
There will always be people who say the metaverse won’t happen or that they’ll never participate. That’s okay. There are always going to be those who take their time getting into new tech, whether that be the Internet, smartphones, air pods, etc. You surely know someone in your life who held onto their Nokia indestructible brick phone for years.
All of this will require legal assistance. If a law firm is not involved in the metaverse now, it will be at some point in the future. It is not out of the realm of possibility to have an entire office inside of a law firm dedicated to metaverse issues, including virtual or augmented reality headsets that allow the attorney or paralegal to plug in to meet with clients.
How do You Advertise in the Metaverse?
There are various ways that law firms and legal marketing agencies can become a part of the metaverse reality. Some of the main ways to advertise in or become a part of the metaverse include:
- Augmented or virtual reality billboards. Just like we have billboards and advertisements in the real world, there are certainly opportunities to advertise in the metaverse. If you go look at any currently operating metaverse, you will see billboards for major companies. As more and more people start wearing augmented reality glasses or contacts, it is very likely that there will be billboard space to purchase that can be projected onto a person’s augmented vision in certain places around your city or neighborhood.
- Sponsoring content and social spaces. Inside of the metaverse, there will inevitably be ways to interact with others, aside from talking to them face to face. This can include using social media inside of the metaverse, which will likely consist of a mix between existing social media as well as new ones that come to life over the next few years. If you ever advertise on Facebook or Instagram now, you can do the same thing inside the metaverse socials.
- Product placement inside virtual for augmented reality games. You have various types of physical advertisements that you already use for your law firm, including pins, tote bags, coffee mugs, etc. These types of advertisements can also occur inside of a metaverse reality.
- Opening a virtual or metaverse office. You may want to consider actually buying virtual land and office space inside of the metaverse. This will consist of you purchasing the “land” and designing your office, similar to the way you have done in the physical world (though this would take much less time to set up). This way, individuals can walk right into your office (through their avatar) and meet with you (through your avatar).
- Infographics in the metaverse. At its core, the metaverse is visual, just like real life. Advertising in the metaverse should be more visually stimulating, something that will keep a person’s attention. Nobody is going to want to get to your law firm advert in the metaverse to read a full-length practice area page or blog. More likely than not, we’re looking at an infographic-type of visual with data and stats mixed in.
- Spanish audience. Even though the metaverse is global, you’ll primarily be focusing on your local audience. If you have a large percentage of Spanish speakers, you need to appeal to them if you want their business. This means ensuring that you’ve translated your material from English to Spanish properly. You can do this in the metaverse, but it takes proper planning. When you develop your metaverse advertisements or graphics, plan to have any English content translated into Spanish.
How do You Pay for Metaverse Advertising?
Paying for advertisement or land inside of the metaverse can be confusing. Remember how we discussed that the metaverse is currently pretty well intertwined with the cryptocurrency realm? Well, depending on which metaverse you choose to operate in, you would need to familiarize yourself with that metaverse’s native currency. Ultimately, you would have to use dollars to purchase enough of the native currency to advertise inside of the metaverse.
This is where you have to do a significant amount of research to figure out where you want to set up shop. Right now, there is no “single metaverse” out there. There is a smorgasbord of companies vying to be the leader in the space, though none has actually taken the lead. Major companies like Nike and Coca-Cola have purchased advertising and land in many different metaverses, basically hedging their bets by spreading out the advertising dollars. In an effort to not be left out, they are throwing money into as many possibly viable meta versus as they can.
The Time to Learn the Metaverse for Law Firms is Now
As major companies like Facebook (Meta), Google (Alphabet), Microsoft, and others continue to develop their own metaverse, it would be smart for you as a law firm or legal marketing agency to stay on top of any major metaverse developments. You should certainly start exploring the currently available meta versus, at least to familiarize yourself with the space.
The absolute last thing that you need to think is, “The metaverse is never going to be real.” Legal marketing in the metaverse is going to happen. If history has taught us anything, it’s that technology never stops evolving, and it changes rapidly. Most people did not really start using the Internet until the 1990s, but you see how quickly that changed. Amazon was just a bookseller in the late 90s, but now they basically run the world of retail. The iPhone was released in 2007, and that ushered in a completely new era of business and computing that we’re still adjusting to each day.
Anyone who initially missed out on these major technological shifts spent some time playing catch up. In fact, many law firms are still playing catch up because they took too long to shift toward the digital world. Unfortunately, some law firms still don’t know when it’s time to pivot to a new type of advertisement. An entire generation that has known nothing but interconnectivity is coming of age, and these are your future and even current prospective clients. The Minecraft and Fortnite generation will have no mercy on any company, including law firms and legal marketing agencies, that fail to move forward with innovation.
Do not be a law firm or digital marketing agency that refuses to explore the metaverse simply because it is something new and seemingly “impossible.” The world is moving towards meta, and your law firm needs to be moving along with it.