This week at AvenueHQ, we held our latest LegalTech in Leeds event in partnership with Calls9, focusing on the fast-evolving world of the Metaverse, discussing the legal and tech implications of developments such as NFTs, Tokenisation, and Crypto.

LegalTech in Leeds is an initiative co-ordinated by Whitecap Consulting which aims to bring together the legal and digital sectors. Calls9 is a strategic partner of LegalTech in Leeds and has been instrumental in the design and creation of the LegalTech in Leeds website as well as working closely with us over recent weeks to design this event. To date, LegalTech in Leeds has delivered 8 events, with this week’s session attracting more than 90 signups.

Julian Wells, Director at Whitecap Consulting, opened the event with a brief overview of the initiative and the agenda for the day, thanking all of our sponsors and partners for their continued support: Addleshaw Goddard, Bruntwood SciTech, Barclays Eagle Labs, Calls9, CSP, DAC Beachcroft, Leeds City Council, Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Leeds Law Society, Leeds Trinity University, LawtechUK, rradar, The University of Law, Walker Morris.

Chloe Thompson, Consultant at Whitecap Consulting then gave a progress update, detailing what LegalTech in Leeds has achieved so far. This included an overview of the past and upcoming events; a demonstration of the LegalTech in Leeds website and a summary of how fast the LegalTech in Leeds social media and brand presence has been growing. Since September:

  • LinkedIn followers have increased from 69 to 210 (+204%)
  • Eventbrite followers have increased from 18 to 60 (+233%)
  • Email subscribers have increased from 300 to 480 (+60%)

Up next, Liam Angus, Lawtech Innovation Lead at Barclays Eagle Labs, spoke to us about what Barclays Eagle labs has to offer through the growing network of business incubators designed to help the entrepreneurial ecosystem to scale at pace. Liam highlighted the LawTech partner organisations that have committed their support to Barclays Eagle labs as well as local and national organisations that deliver mentoring and coaching on the programme.

We then heard from Tom Matusiak, Director at Leeds Law Society and Legal Director at Stewarts, who reminded us of the strength of the Leeds legal sector by stating, “Law is one of the pillars of the Leeds economy, with a full range of law firms, legal service providers and in-house legal teams giving excellent service to a full range of regional, national and international individuals and corporates – it is ‘The UK centre of excellence for legal services outside of London’.”

Tom then gave his thoughts on how we are already seeing elements of the Metaverse impacting the legal sector. For example, seeing court decisions looking at the legal status of cryptocurrency and NFTs and considering the duties of cryptoasset systems and software developers in relation to access to cryptoassets.

In his talk, there were also examples of how the legal industry has been evolving to meet the requirements brought about by crypto and NFTs, such as the ‘Legal Statement’ on cryptoassets and smart contracts by the the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce of the LawtechUK Panel.

Tom finished with the quote, “as society and technology evolve, change and innovation in law and procedure, combined with change and innovation in legal service delivery, legal regulation and legal education build a stronger society through improved relevance of the law and access to the law.”

Adam Roney, CEO and founder of Calls9, took us on a journey through the history of Web1, Web2 and Web3, detailing its core principles of decentralisation, ownership, self-sovereign identity and native payments. Adam gave multiple examples of corporates that are already showing us the possibilities of Web3 including Starbucks ‘Odyssey’ and Nike’s ‘Swoosh’.

Moving on to the Metaverse, Adam provided the following definition, “it’s a new way of experiencing content, communicating & collaborating with others”, making the point that there is no single metaverse.

Diving deeper into what it means for the legal sector, Web3 Lawyers and Addleshaw Goddard were both used as example law firms that are already dealing with cases related to Web3 and the Metaverse. Adam closed his talk by stating that whilst there will be a number of challenges and risks created by the introduction of Web3 and the Metaverse into the legal sector, there will also be a large amount of opportunity.

Our next speaker was Melanie Ellyard, principal at Sure Valley Ventures. Mel provided a summary of the capital fund which invests in high potential private software companies, which solve significant real-world problems through disruptive AI, IoT, Immersive Technology and Cybersecurity platforms and products. Now focused on fund 2 (£95m), Sure Valley Ventures wants to engage with more LegalTech/ LawTech firms.

Mel also spoke about the ‘Include Me’ diversity and inclusion initiative which aims to give a platform to underrepresented and unheard entrepreneurs. The #Unmute campaign provides a communication tool in the form of events, podcasts and discussion groups, encouraging open conversations that are often difficult and uncomfortable.

Lastly, Mel pointed us to the ‘D-List’, a collection of exceptional entrepreneurs, innovators and thought leaders from a variety of backgrounds who are innovative and successful in their industry. The D-List showcases unique business leaders and provides role models to current and future generations.

James Grice, Head of Legal Services Design at Eversheds Sutherland joined us next to pose the question: “Is VR the future of meetings and collaboration?”. James began his session by asking the audience how many people had experienced Virtual Reality (VR) and in what context, making the point that it is not just a gaming device and that there are multiple uses including workouts and social gatherings. He then revealed that according to Gartner, “by 2026, 25% of all people will spend at least 1hr a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social and/entertainment.”

James then shared an anecdote from the Meta Connect event which he attended through VR, discussing how he became totally immersed during the event when connecting and collaborating with other attendees, stating “the interaction I had at the event alone has sold me on how immersive this can be.” Lastly, James played a short video which displayed just how realistic avatars, highlighting some of the potential ramifications of this.

Our last speaker was Leigh Sagar, Barrister at Quartz Barristers who discussed crypto litigation and disputes involving DeFi investment. Leigh made a comparison between a tangible and intangible machine, one where everything is hidden and one which is completely transparent.

In the case of the intangible machine, even though you know everything that is happening in the background, there are still risks and challenges to consider. For example, if the parameters change or if the DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations) disagree.

To finish the session, we had a panel discussion chaired by Julian Wells, featuring our speakers including Adam Roney, James Grice, Leigh Sagar as well as Louise Wood, Employment and Skills Manager at Leeds City Council and Sherin Mathew, CEO & Founder of AI Tech UK.

Louise started by giving us a detailed overview of Leeds City Council’s ‘Future Talent Plan’ which focuses on skills across all sectors, recognising the need to invest in upskilling the workforce as much as possible.

Louise spoke about the focus that Leeds City Council has on educating people across the city on the career opportunities that are available to them through different events and initiatives, including the Apprenticeship Recruitment Fair and SEND Next Choices, an event to support young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

We then heard from Sherin who, after observing the digital skills gap across the North and the associated challenge for startups to fill their skills needs, founded AI Tech UK. As well as this, Sherin also founded Open Ethics which as a spinout from research into AI and regulation, helps and supports business leaders, universities and the local ecosystem to consider and apply ethics to tech in a strategic way.

The audience asked the panel “how will the laws we have now translate into the virtual world and will we need to change the way laws are formed?”

Sherin replied by stating that it should be “best-practice led” and that we can’t wait for the legal sector to create laws to determine how companies should act and behave in the virtual world. To which Adam added, “we need the legal profession to start to try and solve some of these key challenges and barriers.”

A final question from the audience asked, “will the future of work all be in the virtual world and if so, will businesses have to reassess what sort of people they employ?”

James shared his thoughts and concerns about maintaining a strong company culture in a totally virtual working world, stating “a lot of firms are finding it difficult to uphold their culture with so many people working from home so there’s always going to be value in the face-to-face interactions. I don’t think we’ll ever end up totally virtual”.

Louise added a final comment on the challenges that have arisen from distant/ virtual learning through the pandemic and the inability for students to develop the social skills that are increasingly important to employers.

Overall, we had a fantastic range of speakers which provided an excellent, thought-provoking session.

We are now looking forward to our second Legal Innovation Talks on 6th December, 08:30 – 11:00, held in partnership with Bruntwood SciTech at Platform, Leeds. See the full details and register for this event here.

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