Lawyers hang their virtual shingles online in Second Life

Originally published in The Lawyers Weekly

Do you pass lumbering purple dinosaurs, desiccated corpses smoking cigars and go-go dancers as you fly like Superman to your meetings? If not, you should register in the 3-D online digital role playing game, Second Life (

Many lawyers have hung up a shingle in Second Life, opening virtual law offices, including Vancouver-based Davis LLP. Second Life even has a bar association, the Second Life Bar Association (SLBA), founded by Benjamin Duranske.

For the uninitiated, Second Life is a massive virtual world created by Linden Labs in 2003, which boasts 4 million members or “residents” around the globe. The residents of Second Life not only interact inside the digital environment, but also help create it, by building virtual dwellings and habitats.

Unlike online communities of yore, which I found had pokey command prompt interfaces, Second Life offers residents a graphical interface that closely resembles the real world – buildings, sidewalks, islands, sky and myriad other details. Residents walk through (or fly around) Second Life as “avatars,” which are animated online (sometimes fanciful or idealized) depictions of themselves.

Second Life’s popularity has prompted many major corporations like Coca-Cola, IBM and Nissan, as well as smaller businesses and entrepreneurs, to set up virtual shops. Business objectives include marketing and selling products, recruiting employees, conducting employee training, holding business meetings and generating awareness.

In real life, Duranske, the founder of the SLBA, is an intellectual property lawyer living in Boise, Idaho with his wife, Sarah and their Dalmation, Sienna Milkdud. Online, Duranske’s avatar goes by the moniker “Benjamin Noble” and he can be found either in his virtual office ( or blogging at

Shortly after Duranske joined Second Life in 2007, he established the SLBA. “I was just trying to find something in this world that could add value and let me experience it in an interesting way,” he said. By mid-August, Duranske’ creation had attracted more than 180 members.

The former IT manager and self-avowed fan of cutting-edge technology noted that legal professionals are already on the Second Life bandwagon. Busy lawyers meet, network and attend events at the SLBA, as well as other virtual law organizations. Kate Fitz (aka “Cat Galileo” online), a Sacramento law librarian, runs a Second Life law library ( The Harvard Law School Berkman Center for Internet & Society holds mock trials for students in Second Life (

While solo practitioners and smaller firms dominate the legal landscape on Second Life, some big law firms in Canada, like Davis LLP, have plans to toss their hat in the ring. Chris Bennett, a video game and intellectual property lawyer with the Vancouver office of Davis LLP, says that  his firm hopes to launch an office in Second Life in September.  “At first, we were hesitant, because of the time involved in maintaining a digital office. However, there are some associates who were very keen on the idea.”

Duranske says certain practices, like intellectual property, information technology and new media, may soon require Second Life offices for the sake of credibility. “It would be odd to say they know how it works and not have an office in Second Life.”

A handful of lawyers actually work in Second Life. Some consult with clients in-world, earning about 1,000 Lindens (a virtual currency with real cash value – 1,000 Lindens is about US $4.10) per half-hour. One lawyer allegedly, garnered $20,000 of real-world work by marketing his services in Second Life.

Others, such as David Naylor, (aka “Solomon Cortes” online), regularly spend time in their Second Life offices, meeting clients, recruiting for their firms and speaking with journalists. Naylor, a partner at the UK firm Field Fisher Waterhouse ( and president-elect of the SLBA showed me the foyer and boardroom on the ground floor of his firm’s Second Life property, all graphically based on the look of his firm’s website. “Upstairs, we have another large meeting room, private conference rooms, an art gallery and a sun terrace,” Naylor typed.

One of the last things Naylor did during our interview was to invite readers of The Lawyers Weekly to visit his office in Second Life. Before he could give me the location, though, my avatar froze – I could no longer move and whatever I typed Naylor could not “hear.” I shut down and restarted the program to clear the problem, but not before Naylor had to leave for his next appointment.

Occasional software glitches are one of the possible snags people face once in Second Life. Just to get there, one’s computer must sport a powerful video card. Corporate network safeguards and computer administration policies  (especially those that prevent potential Second Lifers from installing the required software on their computers) may also prevent lawyers from logging on.

Even though Second Life looks like the real world, the learning curve can still be steep. Starting at Help Island, one can take between 20 minutes to several hours to master the interface. People who have played “first-person shooter” video games and understand instant messaging will progress faster.

Lawyers who plan to hang up their shingle in Second Life can find assistance at the SLBA. Membership costs 500 Lindens, which covers a classified advertisement in the “Search” function each week so others can easily find the SLBA.

While members of SLBA are still deciding the direction they will take, Duranske envisions the SLBA becoming an information resource; providing pro bono representation; facilitating contacts that could turn into real-world cases; creating a referral system for people seeking an attorney in Second Life; sponsoring a networking forum, social and educational events; offering services to attorneys; and staying open to all, not just lawyers. “I don’t want to run a Second Life bar exam,” he joked.

“You can’t treat it like any other media, or you will fail,” Duranske advised. “It must be interactive. You need to keep people in the ‘office’ for it to be interesting to Second Life residents.”

Bennett noted that there are no courthouses in Second Life, and although users are creating them, he questioned the need. Bennett noted that real world courts are fully capable of handling online disputes. He referred to a recent copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Eros LLC, creator of “SexGen Platinum” a software program which enables avatars in Second Life to engage in sexual acts, against an anonymnous Second Life user for allegedly copying and selling the code. This case is playing out not in Second Life, but in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, Florida.

“How is the law going to be applied in the virtual world in the future?” Bennett mused. He likens Second Life to the Internet, once considered the “Wild West” where many thought the laws of the real world would not apply. “That all played out,” he said, and aside from jurisdictional issues, “real-world laws still work.”

Leave a Reply