In January of 2022, Toronto-based Grinhaus became the first law firm in Canada to open an office in the virtual reality landscape known as the metaverse. The building, made of pixels instead of concrete, is a place to meet clients and a way to keep up with new technology. “It wasn’t okay if you didn’t have a fax machine in 1985,” says Aaron Grinhaus, the firm’s founder and co-chair of Osgoode Law School’s Web3, blockchain and metaverse law program. Here, he explains what it was like to set up (virtual) shop, what the crypto crash means for virtual real estate and why this modern workplace requires park benches and elevators, but not bathrooms.
Grinhaus Law was among the first Canadian companies to launch an office in the metaverse. What inspired you to go virtual?
I’ve always been interested in cutting-edge technology. In 2018, I wrote the first ever textbook on blockchain technology and the law. Later that year I became the co-director of Osgoode Hall’s program in Web3, blockchain and metaverse law. This kind of innovation requires regulation. If you’re a law firm, or any kind of business that wants to set up a presence in the metaverse, there are a lot of legal questions that go along with that. I kept getting questions from colleagues and clients: How does this work? How do I implement this technology into my practice? I couldn’t give advice before testing it out myself, and that was the push we needed to create our own virtual office.
How does one go shopping for real estate in the metaverse?
First, you have to decide where you want to buy real estate. There are several platforms in the metaverse, the more popular ones being Facebook’s Meta, and Roblox, which is a global gaming platform. I chose to buy in Decentraland because—as the name suggests—it’s decentralized, meaning the platform is co-owned and operated by its users. There are a few dozen different districts within Decentraland, where people congregate based on their interests: there’s a fashion district, Chinese district, dance district, yoga district, etc. We wanted to keep things professional and academic, so we bought a parcel in the university district for five figures. “Land” comes in the form of NFTs or non-fungible tokens, so you have the exclusive ownership right to that land and can build whatever you want on it.
READ: The makers of the metaverse want you to give up on reality
When you say build—are you hiring a virtual architect? Or is it more like buying a house in Monopoly?
There are prefab home options, but we built our office from scratch. (I was lucky to have employees who had some experience with this.) It’s like a Lego set: you have different options for windows, walls, stairs and banisters that you can use to build your space. Some of the basic options are free and you can pay for upgrades. Our building is a two-storey square divided into four rooms, and the front of the building is transparent so you can see inside. We have a fountain out front with benches and trees where we hold meetings with clients. It’s always sunny in the metaverse.
Welcoming our partners in (helping people avoid) crime @OutlierCanada (https://t.co/tx6ljLlRux) & https://t.co/CCbIO0T7Cb to our #Decentraland #Metaverse office!#Blockchain #cryptoregulation
Come visit us to discuss latest Web3 legal/regulatory trends AND SEE OUR COOL FOUNTAIN! pic.twitter.com/CYKhMjvSV1
— Aaron Grinhaus 🇨🇦 (@A_Grinhaus) February 18, 2022
Did you buy furniture? Do you decorate?
We have chairs and tables for meetings, but nothing fancy. We’ve recently added some NFT artwork—virtual paintings that I purchased as investments—on the walls. Compared to some of the buildings that have gone up recently, our place is pretty modest. We’re doing some renovations to accommodate our new tenant Outlier Solutions, an anti-money-laundering company, and because we just launched MetBA, a metaverse bar association. Anyone can open a law office in the metaverse, but how do prospective clients know that the person offering legal advice is actually qualified? Our association will recognize lawyers and offer professional development workshops and conferences.
How do you access your virtual workplace? Do you need an app? A fancy VR headset?
The Oculus headsets create the most immersive VR experience—it feels like you’re actually in the metaverse, shaking hands with clients or sitting around a desk. But you can also access it via the Decentraland website on your laptop or phone, moving your character around like you would in a video game. In either case, your presence is represented by a customizable avatar. We’re not in the metaverse 24/7: it’s only used to meet prospective and current clients.
This all sounds cool and futuristic, but I’m wondering what the point is. What problem is a Metaverse office solving that hasn’t been already solved by Zoom?
Why use Zoom when you can use a telephone? Or why bother inventing the telephone when we already have the telegraph? New technology will drive us forward, create efficiency and allow for seamless communication, which is essential to our work. Of course, there is some hesitancy. For the longest time, lawyers resisted email and now we can’t do our job without it. We wanted to lead the way in this space and so far, we have no regrets.
But practically speaking, how often are clients asking to meet you in the metaverse? And why?
We host meetings there on a weekly basis. A small but growing number of clients working in the blockchain space approach us through the metaverse or because they’ve heard about our office there. These include clients running NFT platforms; cross-border clients looking to make transfers more seamless with Web3 technology, and any other business that wants to increase its reach by marketing in the metaverse. These clients want to make sure we know what we’re doing and that’s why we often meet in the metaverse. At this point, we’re waiting to see where it goes, but it’s already proven to be a good investment.
Even with the massive crypto crash earlier this year?
We’re not a bank or investment firm, so we weren’t really impacted. We bought real estate at the height of the NFT market when land was going for 10 times what it is now, but the office isn’t a real estate investment for me. I’m not making money off the firm’s physical office at Yonge and Eglinton either, but it’s an effective way of meeting and retaining clients. The same has been true of the metaverse.
Some bosses have insisted that working from home is bad for innovation: less brainstorming around the watercooler, etc. Could a metaverse office be a middle ground?
Even when they’re in the office, my employees tend to communicate mostly via messenger. Office culture evolves with technology. Watercoolers were a big thing at one point, but now we have different channels for interacting, so people choose what works for them.
Is there much after-work socializing in the metaverse? Like, would you ever take a client to a bar for a “drink”?
There are bars in Decentraland, and if a client wants to grab a drink after work, we’re more than happy to (though you’re just chatting, not actually drinking). There are also places to play ping pong or go bowling. We just threw a party to celebrate the new bar association. There were no drinks, but we handed out virtual T-shirts with our logo that people put on their avatars.
I notice your office doesn’t have any bathrooms. I guess there’s no need?
As far as I’m aware, there are no bathrooms in the metaverse. We’re trying to replicate the best parts of the real world. Our updated office will have an elevator, which is a bit weird. How tired are you going to get climbing virtual stairs?