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Queen’s hosts law conference via Second Life

|Written By Matt Powell

The lines between virtual and physical realities continue to blur. Online tools are common in everyday routines and quite often necessary.

In the meantime, virtual reality tools can add to the experiences of online communication. Second Life is one of the more popular ones, something the Queen’s University Faculty of Law has decided to take advantage of by hosting an online conference later this month that will connect law faculties from around the world through a virtual world.

Called Human Autonomy, Law, and Technology: A Virtual Conference in Honour of the late Professor Emeritus Hugh Lawford, the conference on March 18 will bring participants together to discuss technology in the law through the use of Second Life’s virtual conferencing tool.

Participants will only have computers and an Internet connection and will log on as avatars in their respective cities.

“These days, it’s important for young lawyers to understand how technology will affect the practice of law,” says Erin Durant, a second-year law student at Queen’s who was recruited to help organize the event.

Durant says she has been surprised by the geographic range the event is achieving, with participants from places like Scotland, Pakistan, and Korea already registering. Jim Chen, dean of law at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, will read the keynote speech.

According to Durant, such technologies could have the ability to change how litigation is performed, erasing physical boundaries and making use of the Internet in ways that haven’t been tapped before.

“I think these technologies could change how litigation is done,” she says. “Technology is significant now, and the Internet is a leading tool. I don’t think using these technologies will take away from anything.”

The event will focus on the ways lawyers can react to the continuously changing world of technology, privacy issues, and the impact these tools will have on the law. Durant explains the university has developed a virtual island that the conference will use as its platform. Universities from around the world have already taken advantage of Second Life, including Harvard, Stanford, Texas State, and the Open University.

In Canada, Loyalist College in Belleville, Ont., has used the program since 2006. For example, students in the customs border services program use it to simulate border crossings as new laws since 9-11 have restricted real-life training, according to the school’s web site.

At Queen’s, the idea was to explore ways of making law conferences more accessible, according to Durant. Usually, these kinds of conferences are held in big halls with even bigger price tags after appearance fees and food costs are paid for. A virtual conference can increase participation by allowing users to create their own avatars and get involved for free.

“This has been made possible by the development of an online education tool by the faculty of education at Queen’s,” says Durant. “We’ve never used Second Life for a conference before but we have had no problem finding presenters for the event.”

Those wishing to take part in the conference can register at