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‘No reason why’ metaverse can’t facilitate legal services

Singapore’s Second Minister for Law is excited about the “new frontier” for legal technology and the future delivery of legal services around the world.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 26 July 2022 NewLaw
‘No reason why’ metaverse can’t facilitate legal services
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Editor’s note: The Autumn 2022 edition of Lawyers Weekly’s quarterly digital magazine included a feature titled The Metaverse, the law and the future. To read that feature, click here.

Speaking last week at TechLaw.Fest 2022 in Singapore, that nation’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong SC (pictured) said that the metaverse — what he described as a conjunction of the word “meta” (meaning beyond) and “universe” and generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world — is an “exciting new frontier” for all forms of technology, including legal.

“What might seem impossible today, could be possible or a reality tomorrow, with the advancement of technology,” he mused.


“Whilst we cannot as yet be certain of the final state at this point on what the metaverse will evolve into, many are confident of its future,” he noted, with a recent Bloomberg Intelligence report having estimated that the market opportunity in this space is worth approximately US$800 billion.

To Minister Tong’s mind, there is “no reason why” legal services cannot be delivered in the metaverse, in the same way that “a highly personalised, very intimate, once-in-a-lifetime event, like solemnisation of marriages, can take place in the metaverse”.

“The pandemic has already shown us that even dispute resolution — once seen to be a physical, high-touch process. You must see the witness, look at the whole demeanour. Cross-examination was one particular skill that is needed to be very much in-person — can also be held almost entirely online,” he recalled.

“Many lawyers have already embraced it. And still do. Today, with life in most parts of the world returning to normal, virtual meetings and hearings remain widely used. I think most of us believe that post-pandemic, this will still be the case. We will not be ripped entirely of virtual hearings and virtual meeting spaces.”

Therefore, Minister Tong submitted, the question is whether such processes can be taken a step beyond just having the hearing or cross-examination done virtually. Can, he suggested, end-to-end dispute resolution services be offered on a single virtual platform, or even in the metaverse?

“One day, some of you might come across [judges] and their digital twins online. I believe we can be reasonably confident of the overall momentum and trajectory towards this outcome,” he proclaimed.

In order to meet the needs of businesses and individuals, governments will have to “continually update” their policies, legislation and services, so as to keep pace with global developments, Minister Tong noted. Singapore, he said, will explore building online replicas of what that nation offers in physical form.

Looking ahead to the future, he continued, building integrated platforms that amalgamate augmented and virtual realities, thereby allowing parties engaged in a dispute to feel like they are in the same room, “will make the whole dispute resolution process more convenient, efficient and effective” — even if, he said, users prefer and choose to do part of it offline.

“Some things are increasingly hybrid, so we can also take that as an approach,” he said.

Of course, Minister Tong stressed, the metaverse and related virtual platforms come with their own set of challenges, as well as “cutting-edge frontier legal issues”.

“For example, questions of jurisdiction used to be straightforward, issues of territoriality, and conflicts of law will be challenged in a borderless virtual world,” he mused.

“There are international efforts to try to address some of these rising issues. Two months ago, the World Economic Forum announced an initiative on ‘Defining and Building the Metaverse’. They convened more than 60 leading technology and other sector companies, as well as experts and academics, to develop the governance and policy frameworks around the metaverse.”

Furthermore, Minister Tong added, last month, tech giants came together to form a metaverse standards body to foster the development of stronger and transparent industry standards that would make the digital worlds compatible with each other.

Governments around the globe will have to closely study the characteristics of the metaverse, he posited, and attend to legal issues that will arise in bringing such services into the metaverse.

“For example, the immersive, interactive, decentralised or anonymity elements have the potential to pose risks to online safety, consumer protection, privacy, and protection of intellectual property,” he said.

As is the case in the physical realm, Minister Tong said, governments must seek to balance economic vitality, social stability and the protection of public security.

“International coordination of regulatory approaches to the metaverse and associated technologies will also be crucial, given the borderless nature of these technologies,” he said.