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A Second Wind for Second Life, and Its Lawyers

It's been more than a year since I last posted about lawyers using Second Life and for a while I thought the site might be on the decline, not just for lawyers, but for all users. Apparently I was mistaken because, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports, life for lawyers in Second Life is as bustling and bizarre as ever.

Consider a dispute last year over an interactive bed designed to facilitate digital dalliance between avatars online. Second Life user Kevin Alderman created the bed and when another user started selling copies, Alderman hired real-life lawyer Francis Taney of the Philadelphia office of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney who successfully enjoined the competing sales. Taney tells the Chronicle he now devotes 20 to 30 percent of his practice to virtual law issues.

Even though the initial media buzz that once surrounded Second Life has subsided, the reality is the virtual world continues to grow, according to the Chronicle, with monthly transactions between users increasing about 30 percent in the past year to 25 million in March compared with 19 million a year ago. In fact, I'd venture to guess that the downturn is further fueling growth: Unemployed folks have more time on their hands to venture into Second Life, while those stressed out by the economy might welcome the escape to a fantasy world. As transactions grow, so too does the possibility for disputes -- both in real-world courts and before judges and mediators within Second Life.

Because most bar associations haven't created virtual world counterparts (though the State Bar of California last year allowed lawyers to earn CLE credits via a course put together by the Second Life Bar Association), there aren't any rules on unauthorized practice of law. While some real-life lawyers have set up offices in Second Life, there are also those who market themselves as lawyers even though they haven't passed the real-world bar exam. Still, as one lawyer cautions in the Chronicle, lawyers don't leave their professional obligations at the door when they enter Second Life. Conversations with clients in Second Life aren't confidential because Linden Lab, which developed Second Life, has access to all of the communication. So to the extent that a Second Life attorney is dispensing real-life advice to a Second Life client, he'd be best off taking the conversation offline.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 27, 2009 at 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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