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Virtual law mini conference offers students a connection to real world legal experts

Second LifeUniversity of Florida Levin College of Law professor Michelle Jacobs is taking her class to the edge. The cutting edge, that is.

Jacobs is one of a handful of U.S. law professors experimenting with a relatively new computer technology called Second Life.

"Second Life is a virtual world that allows users to create an avatar, an animated character or persona, to enter in and network with other avatars in 3-D worlds that include everything from courtrooms to classrooms," Jacobs said.

Jacobs uses this technology to teach the course, "Criminal Law in the Virtual Context," and on Nov. 14, she used it to host the Second Life Bar Association (SLBA) Mini Conference. This free mini conference, sponsored by SLBA and the American Bar Association, Young Lawyer Division, allowed participants and legal experts in virtual-world law and social media to travel "virtually" to UF Law Gator Nation Island to speak with students and other interested participants about job opportunities in this emerging area of law.

"This mini conference is a unique opportunity for those interested in law as it relates to virtual worlds to hear from the experts about the issues they are facing and what they are looking for in potential employees," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said the mini conference speakers and participants who chose to attend via the Internet used avatars to enter the UF College of Law virtual world to find a state-of-the-art classroom complete with podium, a presentation screen, seats for avatars, and the ability to access PowerPoint, YouTube, Facebook and other social-media files.

J. Harlan McGuire, a third-year law student who is enrolled in Jacobs’ Second Life class, said the learning experience coupled with the opportunity to network with prominent lawyers and experts in the field of virtual-world law make this class and conference unlike any other offered at UF.

"This course has enriched my education because it has opened my eyes to the legal questions that present themselves in virtual worlds," McGuire said. "For example, during our class we had the opportunity to interact with H. Dean Steward, the attorney who recently defended Laurie Drew, the woman accused of conspiracy and computer fraud charges in light of the Megan Meier MySpace suicide. Having the chance to interact with a lawyer from a high-profile case like this is unique and exciting for any law student."

Benjamin Duranske, who specializes in virtual law, intellectual property law, internet law, and litigation at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, located in Palo Alto, Calif., said he tells students seeking advice on virtual world law to understand the technology and be flexible in adapting to the changes in the technology.

"We are finding that clients expect the lawyers on our team to understand their business, the technology and the legal nuisances that impact their model," said Duranske, author of a book titled, Virtual Law: Navigating the Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds. "Jacobs’ class and the upcoming mini conference will expose students to both the technology and the associated legal issues."

Duranske added that while many big law firms have not yet realized the lucrative practice opportunities presented by virtual world technology, they will soon, so employment with a firm is a real possibility.

"I know that our team would consider a student who took classes focused virtual world law more favorably that one who did not," Duranske said. "There are also jobs at in-house game companies, even for students right out of school. Finally, for students interested in teaching, there is possibly no better field right now, as there are huge opportunities to break new legal ground with creative thinking about these issues and writing opportunities abound."

William Page, UF Law senior associate dean for academic affairs and Marshall M. Criser Eminent Scholar in Electronic Communications and Administrative Law agrees that this emerging technology and mini conference offers students a unique way to meet and talk with potential employers.

"We view the Second Life campus as a promising new forum in which our faculty and students can communicate, both among themselves and with practitioners and scholars all over the world," Page said. "Professor Jacobs’ class provided the impetus for the project, but we hope that by creating this virtual space, we will encourage faculty and students to imagine new forms of legal education."

**For more upcoming conferences and symposiums visit http://www.law.ufl.edu/news/events/.

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