Michael L. Goldblatt is Associate General Counsel of Tidewater Inc. of New Orleans. He is also webmaster for FindLaw's lawyermarketing.com's site and author of several books and articles on marketing for lawyers.
Thousands of law firms have launched web sites, and the number continues to grow rapidly. Many of the National Law Journal 250 largest U.S. firms have created sites, or at least reserved domain names. Selecting a domain name is a critical first step in launching a site.
The elements of a domain name are the "forename" selected by the firm and an extension chosen from abbreviations adopted by the Internet Network Information Center, orInterNic: .com, .cc or .to for commercial organizations; .edu for educationalorganizations; .gov for government agencies; .org for nonprofit organizations; .mil formilitary agencies; and .net for networks.
Initials or Image?
Among the NLJ 250, most firms have selected forenames derived from the initials oftheir names, such as http://www.phjw.com, the site of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky &Walker LLP. The objective is a domain name that is easy to remember and consistent with aprofessional image. Boyle, Adley and Deeds might want to avoid using http://www.bad.com.
Firm marketing administrator Kimberley Griffith, of Los Angeles' Paone, Callahan,McHolm, & Winton LLP, notes that other firms have opted for forenames comprising someor all of the words in their names, such as http://www.paone.com, which is used by herfirm. Domain names with less words are easier to recall. Marketing consultant Kevin Brownkbmarktg@aol.com) notes that his law firm clients have integrated their images into theirdomain name selection. If a firm is known by an abbreviation, such as ABC, he recommendsusing it in the domain name. If a firm has an area of specialty, such as intellectualproperty law, he suggests including that in the domain name, such as inhttp://abc-iplaw.com.
Outside the top 250, some small and boutique firms have chosen forenames that projectimages of their specialized practice areas. In this camp are Nashville, Tenn.'s Siskind,Susser, Haas & Devine in immigration law (http://www.visalaw.com); Miami's MartinHoward Patrick, P.A. in real estate law http://www.dirtlaw.com); Frisco, Colo.'s Oppedahl& Larson LLP in intellectual property law (http://www.patents.com); and Lexington,Ky.'s Miller, Griffin & Marks, PSC in equine law (http://www.horselaw.com).
The web site's domain name often serves as the basis for lawyers' e-mail addresses aswell. Most Internet service providers offer domain-name services for both web hosting andInternet access. Consultant Jerry Lawson (firstname.lastname@example.org), author of a forthcomingAmerican Bar Association book on the Internet, advises that the most prestigious e-mailaddresses are those that use the law firm's domain name rather than the name of an ISP.Thus, email@example.com is preferable to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As with all other marketing activities, ethics is an essential consideration inselecting a domain name. It is important to avoid conveying an impression ofspecialization unless the firm is board certified in the area of practice conveyed by itsdomain name. An abundance of ethical considerations arising in Internet marketing isdiscussed in articles linked to the articles page at The Practicing Attorney's web site.
Reserving a Domain Name
There are several ways to check the availability of, and to reserve, a domain name.Most ISPs and web-hosting companies will provide this service for a nominal fee. Inquiriescan also be e-mailed to email@example.com, and domain names can be searched viaInterNic's web site (http://www.internic.net) by selecting "whois" from themenu. Jerry Lawson suggests negotiating if another organization already has registered thelaw firm's first-choice domain name. He notes that New Orleans' Phelps Dunbar L.L.P.successfully negotiated with a small business that previously had registered the domainname http://www.phelps.com.
To avoid litigation, the firm should select a domain name and immediately register itwith InterNic, even if the site launch or commencement of e-mail access is not imminent.Another litigation avoidance technique is to register the domain name as a trademark ortrade name. Prompt action is warranted here, because most desirable specialty names, andmany two- and three-letter abbreviations already are taken as forenames within the .comextensions. If a desired name is not available, the firm should consider using a variationwith the word "law," as in http://www.jwlaw.com, the site of New Orleans' Jones,Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carrere & Denegre.
InterNic's introduction of new extensions, such as .cc, have added to the inventory ofavailable domain names. However, a firm risks misdirecting visitors away from its site byusing a .cc extension for a name that already exists with a .com extension. By way ofanalogy, intended visitors to the American Corporate Counsel Association's site(http://www.acca.com) sometimes happen upon the site of the Association of AirConditioning Contractors of America (http://www.acca.org) by mistake.
For more in-depth treatment of trademark and trade name issues associated with domainnames, see Steven H. Bazerman and Jason M. Drangel, "Domain Name Disputes: TrademarkDilution to the Rescue," New York Law Journal, Dec. 9, 1996, athttp://www.ljx.com/courthouse/public/vendors/martindale/http/internet/1209tm dl.html.
There are several print publications available to marketers seeking information aboutlaw firm web sites. Recommended reading includes ABA Law Practice Management publicationslike The Lawyer's Guide to Creating Web pages (1997), The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing onthe Internet (1997), and Law Law Law on the Internet: The Best Legal Web Sites (1998).These and other publications can be ordered through the publications page of the ABA'ssite (http://www.abanet.org/abapubs/home.html).
Names already selected by law firms can be checked via links to the directories of lawfirm web sites posted on the sites of Law Journal Extra! , HierosGamos , Yahoo and FindLaw . Articles about lawfirm web sites have been published online and listed at Lawyer Marketing and LawGuru .
Web sites have a vast potential for furthering law firm marketing goals. The audiencereached by law firm sites include clients, prospects, recruits, vendors, media, the legalcommunity and the general public. Web sites are essential for an online presence in thisage of increasing reliance on the Internet as a medium for research and entertainment.Selection of an effective domain name is a critical first task in the process of creatinga firm web site. Firms should act quickly to select and register domain names, as thenumber of available, desirable names will dwindle as more firms establish presences on theNet.