April 27th, 2007 by Benjamin Duranske
Virtually Blind met with ‘Solomon Cortes’ (avatar of Field Fisher Waterhouse partner David Naylor) in Second Life this morning to discuss his firm’s decision to become the first major, international law firm to open an office in a virtual world. Naylor is the FFW partner behind the project.
We discussed concerns the firm had before moving into this space, staffing, and the design of their new offices.
Virtually Blind: First off, why now? I know several major firms have considered this move, but everyone seems to be waiting. What motivated Field Fisher Waterhouse to move into this space now?
David Naylor: Well, we have a substantial new Media, Technology and IP practice, so we’re probably better positioned than many firms to launch right now, just because of our interest in the area and our client-base. Also, we have a tradition of innovating when we spot an interesting opportunity, and the firm was very supportive when I proposed establishing an office in Second Life. And we see scope right now to use the Second Life environment for some interesting collaborations and involvement with the Second Life community – it’s not like we took the view that we’d only get involved if we could see how to start billing immediately. We see this just as much as a fantastic opportunity to explore and learn about what’s possible in Second Life.
We see some interesting collaborations and involvement with the Second Life community – it’s not like we took the view that we’d only get involved if we could see how to start billing immediately.
VB: Who designed the office, and what went into the process?
Naylor: The offices were built and developed by Depo Consulting, and we worked closely together on the internal fit out. They have been absolutely brilliant. Very helpful, very committed. They own this whole business park area. We’re also working with them on some other interesting initiatives that we hope to be able to tell you about in due course!
VB: Do you plan to use the space for client meetings at all, or is it primarily for business development and marketing at the moment?
Naylor: We definitely intend to use it for seminars and other types of communications with clients where confidentiality / privacy isn’t a concern. But it’ll probably be a while (and we’d need to be very comfortable about security) before we think of using the offices for giving legal advice. We have a short presentation just playing downstairs for example which provides an intro to some of the legal issues in SL. No reason why we wouldn’t hold a seminar on that topic if the SL community was interested.
VB: Along those lines, how do you plan to staff the space? Will you have people here with some regularity?
Naylor: In terms of staffing, we have a group of volunteers from the firm, who have all agreed to visit and show people round when they have the opportunity.
VB: I met one of them while I was waiting for you. She was very helpful.
Naylor: In addition, we’ve set up an internal system to try to make sure any IMs sent to us while we’re out of world are picked up and responded to. And lastly, we’re in discussions about licensing a rather clever AI greeter, to enhance our visitor experience: at least, I hope she will!
We’re in discussions about licensing a rather clever AI greeter, to enhance our visitor experience: at least, I hope she will!
VB: Will she be better than those interactive customer service telephone systems?
Naylor: I hope she’ll be better than those computers, yes. She certainly dresses better!
VB: I’m sure she’ll be subject to round the clock “Turing Tests” here.
VB: You mentioned that you had a lot of support at the firm, were there any early concerns, and do any of those linger?
Naylor: Not too many concerns. Of course, we took care to ensure what we did was in compliance with our bar rules. We also felt that staffing the office effectively would be important to the visitor experience, so we thought that through a bit.
Naylor: The only other concerns I had were first, that we were clear about why we were doing this, and communicated the reasoning effectively – I didn’t want people to misconstrue what we’re doing. In particular, I didn’t want the SL community to think that some rapacious, litigious, un-commercial law firm had decided to make a quick foray into SL.
VB: Real world businesses are surprisingly well received if they approach the virtual world correctly and understand what they are getting in to.
Naylor: We’re here because we believe that this is an important, diverse and dynamic environment, and – if anything – we’d like to play a role in the community, help businesses and individuals work effectively together, and benefit from everything that SL has to offer.
I didn’t want the SL community to think that some rapacious, litigious, un-commercial law firm had decided to make a quick foray into SL.
Naylor: Lastly, I guess I was slightly concerned that people who don’t know about SL might think this was uber-geeky, and perhaps not what a respectable law firm should be getting involved in – just too much of a novelty.
VB: Well, it is uber-geeky. But I think that the presence of firms like FFW helps lift it above novelty. And it was bound to happen eventually.
Naylor: I’ve found that when you show even the worst skeptics round, they’re just bowled over – and pretty much start thinking about how they should be getting involved, too. Which is really refreshing!
VB: Well, congratulations on being the first major firm to stake out territory here, and thanks for taking the time to talk to Virtually Blind this morning.
Naylor: Thanks so much, Ben. It was a pleasure to meet with you!
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