Solomon Cortes greets his guest at reception, shakes hands and makes small talk about his firm’s new floor-to-ceiling tropical fish tank before leading him into a meeting room and offering a chair.
There is nothing unusual in this scene – except that it is taking place at a virtual law firm, and Solomon Cortes is in fact the sunglasses-wearing digital alter ego of David Naylor, an intellectual property partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse.
Thanks to Mr Naylor and his team of tech-savvy lawyers, FFW yesterday became the first major UK law firm to open an office in Second Life, a fast-growing online community with more than 5 million inhabitants and a self-sustaining economy worth $2 billion (£1 billion) a year.
The two-storey virtual office boasts the same meeting rooms, corporate art collection and giant presentation screens that can be found at any self-respecting City firm. It even includes a roof terrace with a water feature that, according to Mr Naylor, was designed for “hosting client receptions”.
Mr Naylor devised the office with the intention of putting FFW at the forefront of a fast-emerging market for legal advice on how to conduct business in alternative digital worlds.
Multinational businesses such as Dell, Nike, Mercedes and Calvin Klein have sought to establish their brands in Second Life and Mr Naylor hopes that having a virtual presence will help attract them as clients in the “real world”.
As the complexity of online worlds such as Second Life increases, so do the legal issues surrounding them, Mr Naylor said. “By setting up an office in Second Life, which is already being used to transact hundreds of millions of dollars of business a year, we are showing clients that we understand the business and legal issues involved in working in the virtual world.”