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Get a Life -- a Second Life!

How can lawyers inject a little more life to the practice of law? By getting a life, or more accurately, a Second Life. As Stephanie Francis Ward reports in this detailed article, Fantasy Life, Real Law, (March 2007), lawyers are joining the virtual community Second Life, creating new laws, serving as judges, marketing to clients and even meeting legal celebrities, like 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner, who even autographed virtual copies of his most recent book.

Most lawyers who use Second Life do so for enjoyment or as an outlet for an active imagination. Some lawyers have helped develop legal systems for virtual communities, complete with constitutions and legal codes. In doing so, they gain autonomy and power that they don't otherwise find in the real world. Another lawyer, a paralegal instructor, helped set up an appellate court that he hopes will be used for virtual appeals or mock trials.

Other lawyers  represent other Second Life residents in virtual transactions and are compensated with Linden dollars, the Second Life currency (there's a 1 to 270 exchange rate of Lindens to USD). For example:

[one] woman a litigation associate, placed a classified advertisement in Second Life detailing her online legal services. So far, she has represented another partici­­pant imprisoned for indecent exposure at a virtual location modeled after the Old West. And she provided advice to someone with a large virtual-real-estate portfolio. Her advice was based on Second Life’s terms-of-service agreement, and he paid her in trees for her virtual home.

Others participate in Second Life for real-world legal business. The article describes:

Real-world rainmaking is the primary reason that D.C. lawyer Lieberman—aka Navets Potato—participates in Second Life. “I build out a lot of Web sites to bring clients in,” Lieberman says. “Up until finding Second Life, that’s what I’d do at night when I was sitting at home watching TV.”  Lieberman has a virtual law office in Second Life. Visitors teleport between floors, and the structure includes renderings of stained glass windows. Like the East Coast associate, Lieberman placed an advertisement in the Second Life classified section, but his listing also directs viewers to his real-life law firm Web page. As of December, he had picked up about $7,000 in business from Second Life.

Naturally, the concept of doing real or virtual legal business online raises legal ethics questions. So far, at least one bar association hotline has indicated that Second Life is sufficiently "gamelike" to stay below the bar's radar. But Will Hornsby of the ABA advises caution:

“If there is an intention, and action on the intention, for people to obtain real-life clients, they fall under real-life rules,” says Will Hornsby, staff counsel in the American Bar Association’s Division for Legal Services. “If a lawyer is going to participate in this, the best practice would be to have some kind of disclaimer saying that nothing translates out.”

Personally, I've never been a fan of fantasy lives, as I barely have time to live my real one. But for those lawyers who view Second Life as an outlet for imagination that is wasted in a day job or as an underutilized way to attract new business, more power to them. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 9, 2007 at 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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