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Attorney Avatars Create Virtual Bar, Virtual Law & Virtual CLE Courses

Posted Jan 8, 2008 3:29 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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In many ways, it looked like a standard bar association meeting. But the woman clad in an orange tutu and thigh-high black stockings offered one clue that the attorneys attending the Oct. 20, 2007 meeting in the Second Life Bar Association's conference room were actually avatars—animated characters created to represent on the Internet fictional personas in an increasingly realistic virtual world known as Second Life. Operated by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, it has drawn some 10 million participants from around the globe.

Those attending the SLBA meeting presumably represented the online personas of real-life attorneys—bar association president Benjamin Noble, for instance, who was clad in a conservative business suit, is the avatar of Benjamin Duranske, 33, a law graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. Formerly an intellectual property litigator in San Francisco, he founded the Virtually Blind law blog and now lives in Idaho, according to a January cover story in California Lawyer magazine. (The managing editor of the magazine, Chuleenan Svetvilas, attended the bar meeting as reporter avatar Manda Moran.)

Duranske is also co-chair of the Virtual Worlds and Multiuser Online Games Committee of the ABA's Section of Science and Technology Law, and, as his avatar announced at the SLBA meeting in October, the section plans to help the SLBA offer continuing legal education credits for some bar programs.

The bar association, which had 200 members at last report, is but one of many Second Life functions that mirror real life--and are, at least to some extent, motivated by similar concerns. The virtual community also boasts law offices and law courses (Harvard Law School's Berkman Center teaches several classes there, and a Stanford Law School academic plans to conduct some of her virtual jurisdictions seminar discussions on the Second Life site in the spring), as well as a CNN news bureau and career fairs hosted by major employers such as Microsoft, the magazine reports. Many other companies and professionals also are represented on the site, which is seen by many as a significant source of future business.

Although efforts are also afoot to develop a comprehensive system of virtual law that applies to Second Life and other such sites, it is lacking right now, and that gives some lawyers pause about participating too actively in current legal activities there, the magazine reports.

Sean Kane, an intellectual property lawyer at Drakeford & Kane in New York who serves as the other co-chair of the ABA section's virtual worlds committee, says he doesn't practice law at his Second Life office. The reason: it isn't clear what regulatory standards apply concerning issues such as legal advertising and unauthorized practice, largely because it isn't clear which licensing authority—or authorities—have jurisdiction over Second Life. (Possibilities include where he resides, where the virtual world server is located, and where other participants are located.)

"The virtual world is still a nascent area," he says. "So I have chosen not to push the boundary until there is more guidance."

ABA Journal: "Fantasy Life, Real Law"

ABAJournal Daily News: "A 'Second Life' Legal Career"

ABA Journal Daily News: "Real Suit Over Virtual Sex Machine"

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