Law Firms in Second Life? A report by ABA Journal

Second life is hot! Following my recent post on law firms in second life, the ABA journal published a report on the topic. It mainly describes and illustrates what second life is, and talks about how lawyers are generally using it for discussion, teaching, marketing and communicating.  There is also discussion about the possibilities of legal issues happening within the world itself, and the roles that lawyers can play.

What is most interesting to me is some current concerns about the practice of law in Second Life, and the impact Second Life (and disruptive technology in general) has on the law and legal practice. Below, I've summarized and adapted from the ABA Journal article:

  • There’s no expectation of privacy in Second Life, (Cushman, a lawyer) says, and he was not sure whether the server is secure. 
  • Dialog there that’s delivered through chat rooms and instant messaging is considered real-time communication, and many lawyer regulatory agencies consider that solicitation. Most states prohibit lawyers from contacting potential clients through the Internet, (with some limited exceptions
  • ...lawyers advertising their real-world services in Second Life should be ok- but real-world considerations would likely apply, such as obtaining approvals from regulatory agencies that police lawyer advertising
  • “Having your avatar give real-life legal advice could run afoul of ethics rules,” (Tuft) says. But offering counsel for virtual disagreements, such as a dispute over one’s Second Life home, would probably not interest any legal regulatory agencies.
  • “If there is an intention, and action on the intention, for people to obtain real-life clients, they fall under real-life rules,” says Will Hornsby, staff counsel in the American Bar Association’s Division for Legal Services. “If a lawyer is going to participate in this, the best practice would be to have some kind of disclaimer saying that nothing translates out.”
  • Cushman recently contacted the ethics hotline of the Washington State Bar Association to see if the agency had regulatory power over his Second Life activities. The person who took the call was not familiar with it...
  • Residents of Second Life...  also note that the profession is often slow to address technology that changes how law yers do their jobs.
  • “As virtual places like Second Life mature and people spend more time there, the places really aren’t arbitrarily related to any legal jurisdiction,” says Lessig, founder of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. He also founded Creative Commons, a nonprofit group based at the law school that encourages sharing of copyrighted works. 
  • It may be time to start looking for answers. 
    • "It really becomes effectively, if not legally or technically, like a new jurisdiction,” Lessig says of the virtual world. “The question of how the law deals with that—I don’t think anyone has a clear sense.”
    • Lessig mentions early trespass laws, which defined property from the “grounds to the heavens.” When airplanes became common, the law no longer worked, Lessig says, and the Supreme Court adjusted it. Likewise, if Second Life allows better access to legal services, Lessig wonders, why shouldn’t lawyers use it without fearing reprimands from attorney regulatory agencies?
    • “We ought to welcome new ways to deal with legal problems,” he says. “The thing to be suspicious of is a response that is designed not so much to solve a true legal problem but to protect particular interests in the legal system.”

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