Improving Legal Outcomes With Virtual Reality

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Posted: 1st September 2020 by
Toby Pettinger
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Training solutions in the legal sector are growing ever more advanced. The use of Virtual Reality technology as a learning aid no longer feels like science fiction.

Toby Pettinger, Managing Director at MXTreality, outlines the benefits the legal sector stands to gain by becoming an early adopter of virtual reality solutions.

Before we look at the benefits of training lawyers with Virtual Reality and what’s possible, it’s important to first explain what we mean by the term and define what it is and what it is not. Most people think they understand what Virtual Reality is, but tend to use the term as a catch-all descriptor for Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality solutions.

Augmented Reality (AR) adds digital elements to the live view being experienced, typically by using the camera on a smartphone, like searching for virtual Pokemon Go characters in the real world.

Virtual Reality (VR) requires a totally immersive experience that typically replaces the world entirely, with headsets transporting users into a number of real-world and designed environments.

Mixed Reality (MR) combines elements of both AR and VR with scenarios that integrate real-world and digital objects to deliver realistic experiences.

The drive for realism in virtual worlds

The leading advocates in the sector now talk of ‘immersive environments’, which require more than just visual realism and include spatial sound, touch, motion and even heat/cold to increase the realism for trainees.

A totally immersive environment requires as many senses as possible to be stimulated, as recognised by Jonathan Steuer in his 1993 paper Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions Determining Telepresence. This sense of immersion within a created environment, where the viewer not only sees but interacts with objects, is critical to the suspension of disbelief and ultimately the quality of the outcome, whether it’s for entertainment or learning.

The leading advocates in the sector now talk of ‘immersive environments’, which require more than just visual realism.

The desire to create totally immersive MR environments is not just driven by a need to create scenarios difficult or dangerous to achieve in the real world, but to improve the training of skills already well-catered for with traditional methods. The construction industry has been one of the early adopters, recognising the benefit of safe, cost-effective, endlessly repeatable in virtual reality training for potentially dangerous situations, like crane operations, learning to drive a telehandler or spotting on-site hazards.

VR training delivers better learning outcomes

The idea of Virtual Reality as a training aid, not just to supplement but replace more traditional training methods is gaining wider acceptance, like the way surgeons practice their skills before they meet live patients.

Studies like the “Randomized, Controlled Trial of a Virtual Reality Tool to Teach Surgical Technique for Tibial Shaft Fracture Intramedullary Nailing”, show what’s possible when VR training scenarios are expertly constructed.

Last year’s study at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine divided 20 participants into two groups, one to receive traditional training and the other VR training. Once training was complete, the participants repaired a fracture in the tibia of an artificial model, with the results graded by an expert observer with no knowledge of the training each surgeon received. Compared to those traditionally trained, the VR trained participants achieved an overall rating 230% higher, finishing 20% faster and completing 38% more of the steps set out in a checklist.

What VR offers the legal profession

Even relatively dry subjects can now be made experiential to engage more closely with participants, whether to simulate a setting or scenario, like a tribunal, or the layout of courtroom, even down to the detail of a specific location to put attendees at ease. High-quality 360-degree photography has been used very effectively for simple familiarisation of particular courtrooms, but more can be done.

Even relatively dry subjects can now be made experiential to engage more closely with participants.

Experiential learning can bring a different standpoint to understanding the importance and impact of, for example, the Modern Slavery Act, with individuals able to experience the issue from the perspective of the persecuted. Immersive environments can bring to life the real-world experience of an abused partner, for instance with the sights and sounds of their existence made real for the trainee.

And it’s not just crash-test dummies in cartoon worlds. Software perfected to create the facial expressions of the Hulk in Marvel’s 'Avengers: Endgame', bring the virtual characters to life and ensure non-verbal communication is recognised to improve immersion and improve training outcomes. The viewer will react as the subtlest of facial expressions gives away the true feelings of the virtual character; fear, surprise, anger, pain, bewilderment, confusion are all possible and endlessly repeatable in different scenarios to help lawyers perfect their interactions with real people.

These same accurate portrayals of human emotions by virtual characters can also help law firms challenge any inherent bias within the firm and within their clients’ businesses, easily showing individuals what it’s like to face the outcome of bias to help change future behaviours.

The future is not all about VR as entertainment or the necessary technology, but how real empathy training can bring a wider understanding to complex issues, for the benefit of all concerned.

Taking VR from law firm to Court

With access to a Court or the scene of a crime, or an accident, VR professionals can quickly build an immersive experience that allows witnesses, jurors, lawyers and even judges to walk the scene themselves, to fully understand the situation and see what could or could not have happened.


Immersive experiences can help a law firm prepare clients and witnesses for their forthcoming court experience, with views of the actual courtroom recreated in highly detailed virtual reality to allow users to walk the room and envisage their position from every angle.

When firms sometimes have a learning day involving actors and/or their peers to help train more junior fee-earners, these can be replaced by Virtual Reality solution that can be repeated endlessly, with each new intake of training contracts. Not only is this a more cost-effective, flexible, immersive and enjoyable experience that will undoubtedly improve the learning procedss, but one that pitches the firm as a leader that understands the benefits of integrating the latest technology into its business.

Adoption in the Legal Sector has been slower than others in which application may be more immediately obvious. However, a growing recognition that outcomes can be improved, training can now involve empathy and emotion as well as hands-on experience, means that we’ll see greater traction in the year ahead.

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