What’s wrong with this life?

By Nick Holmes on April 27, 2007
Comments Off on What’s wrong with this life?
Filed under Virtual worlds

Last week Field Fisher Waterhouse became the first ever major law firm to open an office in Second Life, the virtual three-dimensional world.

The press and blogosphere have not been slow to pick up on this.

Nearly Legal counsels “Please, No. It’s just wrong.” I tend to agree.

The firm’s argument goes like this. Big brands such as Dell, Nike, Mercedes and Calvin Klein are establishing their brands in Second Life and, according to David Naylor, partner at FFW, “we are showing clients that we understand the business and legal issues involved in working in the virtual world.”

The corporate press release is slightly more expansive, saying:

Virtual worlds offer a compelling environment for communication and collaboration, as well as an important commercial distribution channel. By establishing a Second Life presence, we’re able to interact in new and engaging ways with our clients and the wider community. Businesses are moving increasingly rapidly into Second Life and other 3D internet environments and their advisers should be there with them.

We don’t see city firms setting up on the high street in order better to advise high street retail chains; we don’t see them setting up newspapers in order better to advise the mainstream media. Is the virtual world any different? Well, yes. Second Life and the new online communities in general are new and shiny and firms do not yet have the track record to demonstrate that they understand the new environments. So should they set up shop in the virtual world and what sort of presence should they develop?

Perhaps they should look at the lessons from the blogosphere. A number of big corporates have come a cropper by jumping on the blogging bandwagon, mis-understanding it and and mis-using it. We don’t see many larger law firms blogging, not because some of their (potential) clients aren’t there but because they appreciate the risks of getting it wrong.

By all means experiment on Second Life, but getting it wrong is a distinct risk and there are other ways to show potential clients you know their business.

BTW my own experience of Second Life is fleeting and unsatisfactory. I profess to know very little of what goes on there, save that I have had to adopt a ludicrous surname and don a fancy dress.