Remember a couple of posts ago where I discussed the difference between a virtual lawyer and an eLawyer? I made some assumptions about the virtual lawyer that apparently aren’t all that true in every case. My assumption was that a virtual lawyer is a flesh and blood attorney practicing law in the real world, albeit sans the confines of the brick and mortar office . The true virtual lawyer apparently lives as an avatar and is a member of the SL Bar Association.
People are connecting on-line in a variety of ways. According to the Legal Technology section of the ABA Journal, legal dinosaurs are going to have to adjust to the virtual practice of law in this Brave New World that is increasingly relying on blogs, social networks and virtual communities. The results of a survey presented during a recent ABA Tech section talk are telling: as stated by the speaker Nick Abrahams, “if you’re over 35, you’re the loneliest person on Facebook because only 1 percent of workers in that age group are using it.” Contrast this with 25 percent of workers between 25 and 35 and one-third of workers under 25. Abrahams suggests that embracing rather than blocking access to these networks makes more sense as it avoids the risks of disenfranchising the growing percentage of workers using such sites.
Back to the SL Bar Association. SL stands for Second Life, of which many WordPress readers and contributors likely are well aware. For those of us just emerging into the glow of this concept, it helps to have a definition, such as this one from Second Life’s own web page:
Second Life® is a 3-D virtual world created by its Residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by millions of Residents from around the globe.
From the moment you enter the World you’ll discover a vast digital continent, teeming with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity. Once you’ve explored a bit, perhaps you’ll find a perfect parcel of land to build your house or business.
You’ll also be surrounded by the Creations of your fellow Residents. Because Residents retain intellectual property rights in their digital creations, they can buy, sell and trade with other Residents.
The Marketplace currently supports millions of US dollars in monthly transactions. This commerce is handled with the inworld unit of trade, the Linden™ dollar, which can be converted to US dollars at several thriving online Linden dollar exchanges.
Is it me, or does this all sound just a bit fantastic? The SL Bar Association has its own networking site with 52 members. The home page has its own Virtual World Law News and there are even virtual courses, such as one for Trademark Infringement in the Virtual World or one for Internet Legal Research, held at a virtual address, but giving actual CLE credit. The real and the unreal collide when you attempt to navigate to the SL Bar Association’s office – you need to click the “teleport” link.
SL has also been used in the real world as a tool to support a legal research class at the Nova Southeastern University Law School. According to the article by Rob Hudson linked above, SL was used as an interactive exhibit for the students of the issues arising and agencies involved in international law. The class also attended a lecture in the SL world held by a member of the European Union Parliament. Finally, a student employed SL to present, in avatar form, a legal research project he was required to complete but could not present in class on the scheduled date.
Why do lawyers get involved in SL? Carolyn Elefant posits that SL serves as a creative and entertaining release for lawyers, who get to create legal systems and courts. Other lawyers represent SL residents in legal transactions and court battles in exchange for Linden dollars. Still others form their virtual firms in SL with links to their real world law firms in the hopes of generating actual U.S. dollars. Ahh. There’s the marketing angle.
Then there is the clash between real life lawyering and virtual lawyering: In May 2006, U.S. attorney Marc Bragg brought an action against SL’s creator, Linden Lab, claiming it had unfairly terminated his SL account and confiscated his property portfolio, barring access to land or other investments. The causes of action include conversion, fraud, unjust enrichment and breach of contract and the case is continuing.
Needless to say, navigating new frontiers brings thorny problems regarding ownership, ethics and boundaries. It will most certainly be interesting to watch. Or maybe even to jump into.