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The March ABA Journal has an article (linked below) about lawyers in Second Life, in which I am quoted. Unfortunately, the article incorrectly identifies the in-world bar association I started, the Second Life Bar Association, as the “Linden Bar Association,” [the article initially misidentified the in-world bar association I started -- the Second Life Bar Association -- as the "Linden Bar Association," but after I contacted the author about the problem, the online article was corrected, and a print correction will run in a future edition], and largely focuses on the now somewhat dated dust-up at the Confederation of Democratic Simulators over an attempt to create a formal code of justice.

It’s worth a visit anyway, if you are interested in virtual law. If nothing else, it’s nice to see the mainstream legal press paying a little attention to virtual worlds.

In vacation news… surfing is much harder than it looks, and thin-skinned “key limes” are way too sour for most traditional margarita recipes.

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9 Responses to “ABA Journal on Lawyers in Second Life”

  1. on 14 Mar 2007 at 11:40 amAshcroft Burnham

    I reproduce below an e-mail that I sent to the author of the article in question on the 7th of March. To date, I have had no reply.


    Dear Ms Ward,

    I have been shown this evening a preliminary copy of your article, “Fantasy World, Real Law” in the forthcoming edition of the American Bar Association Journal; I am the person known in SecondLife as “Ashcroft Burnham”, and the article was forwarded to me because I was mentioned in it.

    I must say that I am somewhat disappointed that, in your article’s coverage of what was, at the time, an extremely controversial set of circumstances surrounding the legal system in Neufreistadt/the CDS, you chose to take “Beathan Vale’s” account at face value, and not also talk to me about what transpired, particularly considering the number of other lawyers in SecondLife whom you interviewed. Had you spoken to me, I should have told you that matters were not as straightforward as Cushman (and Van Der Velde) would have you believe. The legal system in Neufreistadt that existed at the time that Cushman joined was one that I had been entrusted to design by the democratically elected “representative assembly”, and one which had been agreed upon unanimously by all of them after extensive and lengthy debate. I had given up a huge amount of my free time to devise a legal system for the community, which I explained right from the start would be based principally on the English legal system, would be serious and professional in nature, would require the participation of skilled judges, and would require detailed procedural rules (there had been in the past no procedural rules at all, and a trial that had been held had run into substantial difficulty because of it, resulting in intense acrimony). A number of modifications were made to my original design, which were debated intensely over many months. The legal system had inspired a great deal of interest in the SecondLife community (as of January, about 10% of the population of the CDS (of which Neufreistadt was a part) – ironically including Cushman – were there in part in consequence of that legal system), and it had also featured on an edition of BBC Radio 4′s Law in Action, for which I was interviewed last October.

    When Cushman arrived, he was initially interested in becoming a judge, but was put off by the rigorous tests that I had designed (having been specifically required by the “representative assembly” to produce a formal qualification procedure for further judges). From that time onwards, he set about doing everything in his power to destroy the system that I had spent a great deal of time in creating. He went so far on occasions as to make numerous personal accusations against me on the Neufreistadt web forums, including repeatedly suggesting that I was literally insane for not backing down and agreeing with his ideas about how a legal system should be constructed. Furthermore, although at the time that the system was destroyed, I was the only serving judge, I had by that time qualified two further people to act as judges (both of whom had worked very hard to complete the qualification process, and one of whom, Benjamin Duranske, whom you also interviewed, was most annoyed at having his effort wasted), who were awaiting appointment by the very body that eventually destroyed the system, the same representative assembly that had unanimously voted in favour of it some months earlier (although the vote was not unanimous in favour of its destruction, and a considerable number of people outside that institution were also strongly opposed to its destruction).

    In fact, the system was so new at the time that it was destroyed that it had never heard a case, and therefore never been tested. A case was pending at the time (somebody had formally filed proceedings, complaining at being banished from Neufreistadt for inadequate reasons). That case has never been resolved, and the system that is presently in place for resolving judicial disputes (exactly the same system as had been in place before the system that I had proposed and been encouraged to develop was unanimously adopted, and exactly the same system as had had the disastrous trial last year) has not, to my knowledge, heard a single case since it was re-instituted at the beginning of January. Despite Cushman writing on Neufreistadt’s web forums at the time that a replacement system would be in place “within a month”, so far no efforts at all have been made to put in place any sort of formalised judicial system. Judicial disputes are presently resolved (in theory) by a council of people with no legal training or experience, whose primary functions are to run elections and vet the constitutionality of bills, and who are required to work out all the procedural rules afresh for every case. It is not true, therefore, that Cushman “prevailed” in making the judicial system more like the U. S. Supreme Court, as the present judicial system in Neufreistadt is nothing like the U. S. Supreme Court (or indeed any court of which I have ever heard).

    Despite, however, your unfortunate choice to relay only one side of the story about the extremely controversial rise and fall of a professional judicial system in Neufreistadt, the article provided an interesting insight into an area of considerable and growing importance: the law of (and in) virtual worlds. As you might have gathered by now, it is a topic in which I take a great deal of interest. In furtherance of that aim, I created at the end of last year a group within SecondLife called the Local Government Study Group, whose aim is to persuade Linden Lab, the people who make and run SecondLife, to integrate into its software the tools to enable governments (and, ultimately, legal systems) to form far more easily than at present, and to have more function. If that proposal is successful, I hope to see a good many more legal systems (ones that handle real case-loads) emerge within SecondLife in the future, a development which, if it transpires, I very much hope that you or one of your colleagues will cover. I should be most interested to read and/or participate in any future articles on the topic written by the A. B. A. Journal;

    yours sincerely

    (a. k. a. Ashcroft Burnham)

  2. on 19 Mar 2007 at 1:50 pmthehypokid

    Sorry to hear about the lop-sided reporting in the ABA article. I still found it interesting. Props for starting a video game law site: I too created one, Bloggey Kong, found at I already have your site linked.

  3. on 20 Mar 2007 at 11:28 amAshcroft Burnham

    As an update, I received the following reply yesterday:

    “We have received your letter. We assume it is intended for publication. We receive many more letters than we are able to publish, but your letter will receive consideration. We reserve the right to edit and excerpt letters for publication.”

  4. on 16 Apr 2007 at 7:27 amBenjamin Duranske

    I contacted Stephanie Francis Ward (the author) about the problem with the article’s identification of the “Second Life Bar Association,” and the ABA Journal is running a correction in a future issue. Better yet, they changed it in the online edition, so future searches will find the right organization.

    It’s nice to get that kind of responsiveness from a mainstream media outlet, so kudos to the ABA Journal for fixing the problem (well, at least my problem) with the article.

  5. on 16 Apr 2007 at 12:34 pmAshcroft Burnham

    Thank you for that note, Ben. I should be very grateful if you could let me know whether they do print my letter in the end.

  6. on 13 May 2007 at 1:29 pmBeathan Vale

    Actually — the ABA article was very well done and balanced. It did not take my side — and dismiss Ashcroft’s/ Rather, it reported the debate and the outcome as it happened. To verify this, anyone interested can read:

    The problem is that Ashcroft sees the world in Bushian terms — if you are not with him, you are against him. Compromise and consensus with such an authoritarian position is impossible.

    Beathan Vale

  7. on 24 Jun 2007 at 3:58 amAshcroft Burnham

    Beathan/Benjamin would say that, of course. He also omitted to refer to this description of the circumstances surrounding the judicial system debacle, written by Gwyneth Llewelyn, one of the founders of what became the CDS, and general SecondLife luminary.

  8. on 07 Jul 2007 at 7:18 amBenjamin Duranske

    Hmm. I’m probably misinterpreting something in Ashcroft’s post, but if there’s an implication in the comment above that I am ‘Beathan Vale,’ I should nip that in the bud. I’m not. I’m pretty sure Ashcroft knows that, so I suspect that there’s some other Benjamin/Bethan connection that I am just in the dark about. Anyway, wanted to clear that up in case anyone else is confused.

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