Nitin Kumar

Introduction

Virtual Reality, as technology, holds much promise for the legal profession in the future. It has proved multiple use cases in other industries, and the technology itself is gathering momentum and maturity towards mass adoption. As this decade unfolds, VR will transform many industries and have a tangible impact on the Legal industry. VR is gearing up to become the fourth-generation compute platform, i.e., the first generation of applications ran on the PC, the second generation on the world wide web, and the third generation on mobile phones. Spatial computing, as it is called, is growing in its promise, and in a matter of time, it will deliver value at scale for the practice of law.

Range of Use Cases

There is likely a two-pronged adoption curve here, with the low-hanging use cases being marketing for law firms and service providers and immersive collaboration for corporate legal teams. Let us examine some specific legal use cases, nuances, and barriers to adoption in this article.

1. Borderless Legal

Many high-profile, international cases could hold public trials in VR and even in the jurisdiction of where the crime occurred. Jurors and witnesses with VR headsets could be participating in the trials, and meeting with clients could be more engaging and immersive. Courts could be replaced with VR spaces eliminating the constraints of physical space processing multiple cases in parallel with people’s ability to go in and out of spaces at will.

2. Crime Scene Recreation

VR imparts the immersive ability for legal professionals to move past whiteboards, sticky notes and experience direct immersion into an accident, crime scene or recreate scenarios that mirror real life. During deposition, legal professionals, experts, witnesses, jurors, etc., can be in the same room as the testimony wearing VR headsets.

3. VR Training

VR training can enable witnesses, jurors, lawyers, and even judges to virtually walk the crime scene to understand context, intricacies, and possibilities and quickly train themselves on highly complex cases.

4. Litigation Management

Although critical rules and laws regarding evidence need to evolve so modern technologies can be accommodated, the possibilities are real. Judges and juries can go through details of the evidence directly experienced during a crime scene, creating better empathy and fairness in the system.  Depositions can become more effective where scheduling, location, and time zones become a critical path. VR-enabled ecosystems will reduce costs related to space, interviews, depositions, discovery, making the economics easier for clients and attorneys.

5. Sentences and Punishments

Virtual Reality can also produce unpleasant environments complementing soothing experiences. Many of these environments can be designed for sentences or punishments as an outcome of the trial. These virtual environments can provide milder sentences or corrective measures for juvenile delinquents. 

6. Immersive Collaboration

Virtual spaces can be effectively leveraged without being in one location; this use case is suitable for global or multi-location teams on time-sensitive matters, cases requiring detailing, standardized procedures, e.g., M&A, contract negotiations, etc. Clients can also be dispersed globally and effectively collaborate with law professionals via an immersive experience.

7. Marketing

The legal services economy, i.e., law firms and service providers, can leverage VR for marketing via promotions and advertising. There are a few different avenues for this ranging from affiliate advertising, VR client experience, case simulations, thought leadership, etc.

Barriers to Adoption

Although many of these use cases appear incredible, the significant barriers will need to be addressed legally, commercially, and operationally to remove adoption obstacles. There are limited to no VR workspaces dedicated to run legal operations in corporations or law firms we know. The legal industry is traditional, and where change is voraciously resisted and justified in the name of legal risk itself, it has historically been challenging to introduce radical shifts into the legal industry. There are multiple barriers to adoption which will need to be addressed. Let us examine prominent issues below:

1. Technology Asymmetry 

Leveraging VR technology is not easily accessible financially or operationally for everyone. If one of the plaintiffs or defendants cannot afford this technology, then one party could be a victim of technical asymmetry, putting them at a disadvantage.

2. Forensic Maturity

VR forensics is new, emerging, and fast-paced. The maturity of this domain is nascent and lacks an adequate number of domain specialists, making widespread adoption harder.

3. Change Management

The time, effort, and resources deployed to make VR acceptable in the courtroom can be non-trivial. VR is a radical departure from traditional e-discovery, and procedures will need to be amended to allow the use of rendered evidence. Many legal professionals will be averse to embarking on this arduous task.

4. Cost of Infrastructure

The cost of deploying VR infrastructure is high and requires considerable investment. The infrastructure includes servers, 360-degree cameras, hardware, software, trained personnel, etc., and many public courts and law practices are unlikely to see viable returns or advantages from these investments. Technology in VR is fast-maturing and will likely see short upgrade cycles adding to these costs in the near term.

5. Medical Limitations

Virtual Reality is an immersive technology, and it pressures the physical attributes and conditions of people. People have felt motion sickness, disorientation, and risk artificial sensory overload. People with mental ailments like anxiety and autism could also be challenged with the technology, and due considerations must be accounted for before assuming VR is universal.

6. Privacy Concerns

Accessing VR via mobiles or headsets can compromise privacy ranging from location to retinal access. The ambiguity around privacy laws in VR will hinder adoption. Bodysuits provide opportunities to create more data about the user, e.g., body language, emotions, health, behavior, reactions, etc. Surveillance bots could also be deployed to identify individuals via faces, fingerprints, retina, gestures, walk, or even their VR footprints.

The Dark Side of VR

As promising as the world of VR sounds and as real as the barriers are, one must remember that there will also be a need for laws pertaining to VR crimes that must be established. Although still in its early stages, VR is already a fertile ground for a range of crimes from extortion, money laundering, terrorism, prostitution, stalking, child abuse, identity theft, etc. Traditional law is yet to come to terms with all this, even if the harm and implications caused by virtual worlds are understood to a fair degree. Lawyers, psychologists, etc., are looking intricately at the boundaries between actual crime and virtual crime depending on the damage caused. Many questions are yet to be answered, e.g., a sexual assault on another person in a virtual world may cause mental trauma than a physical violation, so how should it be treated?

The rules of conduct also get reconfigured in VR environments by attaining superpowers, e.g., flying, invisibility, shapeshifting, etc., and could add new dimensions to the set of crimes possible in the realms of physical Reality. Even if the risk of being murdered, raped, or physically assaulted in VR is low, the lack of actual consequences could encourage people to engage in such acts causing psychological trauma to the victims.

What can be done today?

Given the immaturity of VR, any legislative attempt to regulate it will have error-prone and may also cripple the innovative evolution of technology. To begin with, VR companies should self-regulate themselves, the environments, and the interaction models by adhering to ethical and legal principles to the extent possible. Governments and legislative bodies can proactively extend local privacy laws to contain the information collected in VR environments. Liability definitions must be clarified, and early blueprints of VR laws must be developed quickly. Disruptive technologies will scale rapidly and exponentially; hence, we may not have several years to address the risks and harness the opportunities.

Concluding Thoughts

Virtual Reality is here to stay, evolve and grow. Industries like Media, Healthcare, Military, etc., have all embraced VR to enhance their customer insights and experience from planning surgeries, training, mission simulations, or help first responders with risk reduction. The use cases outlined above promise that it is a matter of time barriers are removed, driving endless possibilities through the adoption of Virtual Reality in the Legal Industry. As the modern technologies power, the new future filled with VR, artificial intelligence, autonomous operations, etc., traditional legal industry must establish laws governing these new virtual worlds, which intersects with the existing physical world.

Nitin K
Nitin Kumar

Nitin Kumar is a two-decade veteran in the Hi-Tech industry. His career has spanned many intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial roles in executive positions across Software, Services, and Management Consulting. His passion is propelling organizations to greater levels of success through strong relationships and differentiated products. He is considered a business builder, thought leader, and pioneer of many innovative approaches. He has grown, transformed, and pivoted many software businesses and successfully scaled businesses during his operating and consulting roles. Nitin is currently the CEO of Ligl, a pioneer in digital discovery orchestration, is an author of many articles, and is often seen speaking at conferences on AI, IoT, SaaS, and Blockchain. He is a veteran CEO and has added value to 1,000 plus M&A transactions in his career.

Posted in Guest Articles By Nitin Kumar   Date September 28, 2021

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