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Second Nature

By Megan Kinneyn | Aug. 2, 2007

Law Office Management

Aug. 2, 2007

Second Nature

Attorneys are going online to use Second Life for meetings and communications, turning this online virtual world into something more than just a game for geeks. By Jeanette Borzo

By Jeanette Borzo
      An online virtual world offers lawyers more than fun and games.
      Just as early adopters of the personal computer once stood out at law firms, a new vanguard of attorneys is now attracting attention for its use of Second Life. This make-believe online world may seem like no more than the latest online distraction for geeks. But some lawyers expect the increasingly popular Second Life?and other virtual worlds like it?to eventually become counsel's latest communications tool, taking its place alongside technologies such as fax machines and websites.
      San Francisco's Linden Lab opened Second Life to the public in 2003 as something of a souped-up social- networking site with a twist: Participants create onscreen avatars who live second lives in this virtual world. Now with 6 million avatar "residents"?who buy land, drive cars, earn money, and go shopping?Second Life boasts a multimillion-dollar economy.
      This fantasy world appeals to attorneys for many of the same reasons other folks like it: It offers a parallel existence where they can create a new identity and socialize. But with a "bar association" boasting more than 150 members (mostly lawyers and law students), Second Life is also turning out to be a place to meet other attorneys, hold initial client meetings, and even open virtual law offices?which, just like a website, can promote a law firm's real-world services or provide a point of contact.
      "Second Life is something worth paying attention to," says Jeffrey A. Cohen, a partner at Los Angeles?based Chapman, Glucksman & Dean who chairs its Internet and Technology practice group. "I've had people who have consulted me in Second Life, asking about real deals related to Second Life [commerce]. I see this offering new methods for doing business."
      Thanks in part to its humanoid avatars and surroundings that appear to be three-dimensional, Second Life stands apart from the chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards of old. In online client meetings, says Cohen, "you get the feeling you are sitting across the table from someone."
      That illusion enhances Second Life as a networking tool for lawyers. Stevan Lieberman of Greenberg & Lieberman LLC in Washington, D.C., for example, met an English attorney on Second Life last year, with whom he's since traded work. Then in December, Lieberman met Judge Richard A. Posner when the legal luminary?represented by his avatar?stopped by to give a guest lecture.
      "In the real world, I would never have a chance to walk up to Judge Posner," says the intellectual property attorney. But in Second Life, "I was able to walk up next to him and ask him a couple questions."
      Some attorneys who specialize in cyberspace issues see Second Life simply as the place to be. Connie J. Mableson, a partner at Dodge, Anderson, Mableson, Steiner, Jones & Horowitz Ltd. in Phoenix, says she participates for fun and to work with Second Life entrepreneurs who are developing businesses there. "I've always kept abreast of what is happening on a legal level in cyberspace," says Mableson, who created Second Life's Intellectual Property Resource Center in 2005. "I am amazed by the creative and entrepreneurial impulses that are coming together."
      "Second Life is a forum for exchanging ideas," adds Dominic G. Flamiano, a litigator at Aguilar Law Offices in San Francisco who says he also tracks the latest lingo among young Second Lifers to help him "decipher" what his own kids are talking about.
      It's too early to imagine all the ways attorneys may eventually use this electronic universe. Even though plenty of virtual-world legal issues are yet to be considered, some expect Second Life and its ilk to become mediation venues of the future, or convenient locales for legal seminars. Judge Posner speculates that with an upgrade in audio and graphics capabilities, attorneys could use virtual worlds like Second Life to practice for trial.
      As Lieberman sees it, "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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