About Legal Domains
Legal domain names are, essentially, the names or designations that lawyers and
law firms adopt as their addresses on the World Wide Web. When typed in the
address field (Internet Explorer) or location field (Netscape) of a user's Internet
browser, they connect the user's computer to the lawyer's web site, email or both.
While computers rely upon a long series of numbers and dots called an IP (internet
protocol) address to do this, domain names, allowing the use of letters, as well as
numbers and dots, were developed to make it easier for humans to remember a
web site's location. Some well known examples of domain names are "Yahoo.com",
"CNN.com" and "Business.com" (which recently made the news when it was purchased
as a domain name for $3.5 million).
Although the World Wide Web was quickly gathering steam as early as 1993, only
25 law firms had established a web site by the end of 1994. As recently as 1995,
lawyers in a state so populous as New Jersey, had yet to establish a single web site.
Five years later, at the dawn of the Millenium, virtually every large firm, and tens of
thousands of smaller firms in the United States have established a presence on the Web.
(According to Network Solutions, the number of lawyers establishing web sites has more than doubled in each of the last five years, and lawyers have led the way as one of the
top two industries in the world economy in the registration of domain names.)
As attractive and affordable Web site options for lawyers multiply, the rush of lawyers
to the Web continues. (We will soon list links to over 40 different legal Web directories for lawyers, ranging from free listings in simple directories, to free Web pages for lawyers, to sophisticated and elaborate Web services with all the "bells and whistles.
In the meantime, check our directory of lawyer freebies, which lists a number of free services for lawyers, including free web sites and free listings in legal directories.) The enormous migration of lawyers to the Web over the last couple of years is reflected in the fact that, along with internet services providers, lawyers are the largest segment of the world economy in the registration of domain names. For a ranking of the top registrants of domain names, check out the statistics maintained by Network Solutions, the leading registrar of domain names on the Internet. While many firms initially chose surnames, firm names or partners' initials as their domain names, a few of the more prescient adopted domain names reflective of their practice, and which aided them in the "branding" and marketing of their practices in the legal services arena. One of the best examples of an early descriptive legal domain is the adoption in 1994 of "visalaw.com" by Gregory H. Siskind. As an integral element of his Internet
marketing strategy, "visalaw.com" has helped to enable Mr. Siskind's to generate
nearly 100,000 "hits" (or visits) a week to his web site, and spawned the publication of
"The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet." (Published by the Law Practice
Management Section of the American Bar Association)
As lawyers and law firms grow in their familiarity with the Internet, and as they come to recognize the unique advantages and potential marketing opportunities of a descriptive legal domain name, there is an accelerating trend toward the adoption of descriptive legal domains as either a firm's primary domain, or as one of several domains directing visitors to the firm's Web site. As recently reported in the National Law Journal (April 2000), as law firms become more savvy in the ways of the Web, they are increasingly concluding that descriptive legal domains are effective tools for marketing to present and future clients. It is now becoming common for many firms to have multiple descriptive legal domains. (In our section on Marketing Tips, we give several examples
of the ways in which firms successfully employ multiple domains, including some
where descriptive legal domains complement a surname domain.) For most solos and
smaller firms, however, a single descriptive legal domain is all that is required to achieve
an identity in the legal marketplace through its "branding" characteristics.
domain can not. While the use of a surname domain is understandably a matter of
great pride for its namesake(s), its use as a domain name is redundant (the lawyer's or firm's name is presumably known to exisiting clients and already prominently displayed on
everything the practice produces), and represents the worst sort of wasted opportunity
for the "branding" and marketing of that practice. A legal domain name should be
selected, not to restate the obvious, but as a complement to one's surname or firm name,
to establish or strengthen one's standing in the marketplace.
The Benefits of a Descriptive Legal Domain Name
As mentioned previously, the use of a surname or surname initials as the only domain of a practice is redundant and represents a lost opportunity to create or strengthen a lawyer's or firm's identity in the marketplace. A descriptive domain, by its very nature,
instantaneously describes and defines the nature of a law practice to clients and
potential clients. Whether general, such as "TheWashingtonLawyers.com ",
or more specific, such as "InjuryAdvocacy.com", a descriptive legal domain distinguishes its practice and conveys a sense of stature.
While it has been a mainstay of commercial marketing for several hundred years, the concept of "branding", or creating a brand name for your legal practice, has worked its way into the planning lexicon of most legal marketing gurus in only the last decade. Now, it would seem, legal marketing consultants can agree upon at least two principles:
1. Establish your practice identity in the marketplace; and
2. Commit the resouces required to accomplish it.
Law firms of virtually every size and sort stand to reap significant returns from the
branding opportunities afforded by the right descriptive legal domain.
Benefits to Large Practices
The largest and oldest firms, having developed name recognition and associated good will within the legal community, would, understandably be reluctant to consider the adoption of a descriptive legal domain in lieu of the firm's name which, at this point,
Even the largest and most venerable of firms can enhance their marketing strategies,
however, by considering the employment of a complementary domain descriptive of their
geographic scope, such as "TheNationalPractice.com" or "TheInternationalLawyers.com", or descriptive of the specialties for which they are best known, such as "SupremeCourtAdvocacy.com". Firms frequently use alternative complementary
descriptive domains selectively, incorporating the descriptive domain on some materials,
and in some contexts, while using their surname or initial-type domain in others. The
largest firms must, at a minimum, consider the potential consequences of failing to now
secure the most appropriate descriptive domain(s) for possible future use, as the most attractive domains continue to disappear.
Another trend developing at the largest, and many medium sized firms, is the employment of multiple descriptive legal domains directing clients to various practice groups within the firm. The employment by a large firm of descriptive legal domains in this manner conveys to potential clients the firm's stature, expertise and awareness of Internet technology and trends. Large firms that fail to secure at least a geographically descriptive legal domain in the near future face the strong possibility that the most appropriate names for their firms will have been taken by their competitors within the next 12 to 24 months. (Domain names are registered at the rate of one every three seconds.) When weighing the relatively modest cost of securing an appropriate legal domain against the risk of losing a firm's most appropriate legal domain to the competition, it is clear that the prudent firm will protect against this risk by securing the right name or names, even if the firm does not intend to use it in the immediate future.
Medium Sized Firms
Medium sized firms of, for example, 20, or even 50 attorneys, share in many of the same marketplace issues as do the large firms, and derive the same benefits from a descriptive legal domain that a large firm does. For medium sized firms, however, it is likely to be more difficult to achieve widespread market branding than it is for the largest firms that may have been in existence for two, or even three times as long as a medium sized firm.
Medium sized and small sized firms are also generally more vulnerable to the defections, break-ups and spin-offs, which often change the firm name. Should a firm's name be changed for any reason, a legal domain incorporating the practice's surnames or initials would have to be abandoned and a new legal domain adopted. If a new legal domain again defaults to the use of partner surnames or initials, the firm remains vulnerable to the possibility of having to abandon its domain name once again. In these circumstances, a geographically descriptive legal domain, such as "TheCaliforniaLawyers.com," not only enhances the image and stature of the firm, it guarantees uninterrupted continuity in the firm's identity and its domain name.
And, like large firms, medium firms can also derive benefit from employing practice specific domains for specific practice areas within the firm.
Small Firms and Solos
In the overcrowded and constantly changing legal marketplace, small firms and solos face the greatest challenges in establishing and maintaining a practice identity or persona. Quite simply, it is enormously difficult for a solo or small firm to differentiate, identify and distinguish itself in the national, or even regional, marketplace. While a relative handful of specialty boutique firms have been able to successfully carve a well-known niche in their respective fields, the vast majority of small and solo practices have never quite been able to get to that "next level" in terms of market identity.
While a descriptive legal domain will not automatically guarantee the same success as that of the elite boutiques, it immediately provides the solo or small firm with an ascertainable identity in the legal marketplace and is a powerful tool for future marketing efforts. (See our section on Selecting the Right Legal Domain and Marketing Tips.)
The biggest mistake made by solo and small firms with web sites or a web page is relying upon the cumbersome and often incomprehensible URL of their web page provider. Whether the web page shows up in a subdirectory or sub-domain of one of the major legal web site providers, such as Martindale Hubbell or West, or even worse, as a long series of relatively meaningless characters, the message conveyed to clients and potential clients is that you are "renting" space and/or don't know what your domain is, or simply don't care.
Whatever default URL is assigned to your web site by your provider, you can change it (as many firms have done), by securing a descriptive legal domain and linking that domain to your web site in place of the default URL. (Although technically speaking, the default URL of the provider remains the "true" URL, the new domain name can be linked to the web page in such a way that it actually shows up as your domain name.) Many firms with web pages in the West directory, for example, have chosen to purchase and employ their own domain name in place of the subfile directory provided with the West service. Our web site is an example of the use of multiple domains. Depending upon how you arrived at our web site, you may find different URL's in the address box of your browser. For instance, every domain in our catalogue, as well as "AmericanLegalDomains.Homestead.com" and "AmericanLegalDomains.com" point to our web site. Try typing any of these domain names in the browser and you will see that each name that is typed appears as the domain name for the site. Because we are presently hosted in the Homestead web site system, our "true" domain is "AmericanLegalDomains.Homestead.com". However, in many of our marketing efforts we use the domain name, "AmericanLegalDomains.com", which is the domain name we purchased and pointed to our web site.
Start-ups and Spin-offs
Lawyers leaving a firm, individually or as a collective spin-off, and those "hanging out a shingle" for the first time, whether fresh out of law school or after leaving government employment, face the greatest challenges in developing an identity in the legal marketplace and, consequently, stand to benefit the most by securing and marketing with a descriptive legal domain name. Indeed, as legal marketing gurus have observed, the World Wide Web provides the greatest opportunity ever for "leveling the playing field" for solos and small practices.
A spin-off of seasoned lawyers from a major law firm may well face the same problems of name recognition as the new lawyer fresh out of law school. In both cases, the use of a descriptive legal domain that conveys stature and expertise, coupled with a quality web site, can immediately, "level the playing field" between the new practice and the established competition. In fact, the new practice with a quality legal domain and web site to match, may even quickly gain a significant marketing advantage over existing practices which have failed to keep up with the times by adopting their own descriptive legal domains.
In short, where name recognition is lacking, there can be no faster or more effective way for a new or emerging legal practice to establish its identity in the legal marketplace than by selecting and employing the right legal domain name in conjunction with a quality web site.
The value of a legal domain name is dictated by both traditional and non-traditional valuation considerations. The familiarly accepted considerations of valuation relating to supply and demand, comparable sales, and ratio of cost to return also pertain to the valuation of domain names in general, and descriptive legal domains, in particular.
Over 22,000,000 domain names, including nearly every word in the English language, have been registered as domain names, at the current rate of a new domain name registration every three seconds. The vast majority of the most obvious, descriptive and categorical domains for identifying a legal practice were registered several years ago. Most are in current use, while others are being held as web sites are being constructed, and a relative handful, such as ours, have been placed on the market for purchase or lease. While several thousand legal-type domains may be found at the major domain auction sites such as "GreatDomains.com" and "Afternic.com", almost all of these names have been registered by non-lawyers and would be worthless, if not embarrassing and counterproductive for use as legal domain names for a practice seeking to carve a respectable niche in its market. There are, in fact, only a limited number of variations of "injury," "accident," and "lawyer," which are suitable as domain names, and virtually all have been taken except for those listed in our catalogue and a few scattered among other domain name suppliers. The supply of truly effective legal domains is quite limited relative to the size of the American legal community, and is shrinking rapidly. Many of our domains may, of course, also be suitable for use by legal professionals in other English speaking countries, as well. As the size of the American legal community grows, and as more and more lawyers and law firms gravitate towards descriptive legal domains, it is clear that demand for quality legal domains will continue to increase indefinitely. This accelerating trend, combined with the finite and dwindling supply of quality legal domains, ensures that values of descriptive legal domains will continue to remain high and will inevitably go higher. It is, in fact, a microcosm is what is happening with respect to the domain name market in general. Cheesy, awkward and inappropriate legal domain names will remain plentiful, cheap, and ultimately, unusable. Quality legal domain names, which provide the benefits described in other sections of our site (see, for example, our section on Selecting the Right Legal Domain and Marketing Tips), are relatively scarce and will become even scarcer.
Because sales of legal domain names are rarely made public, the valuation of legal domain names requires a review of a number of indicators in addition to actual selling prices, including the list prices of legal domains on the handful of sites specializing in legal domain sales, a review of legal domain list prices on some of the general domain sales web sites which include a category of legal domain sales, a review of list leasing prices for legal domains, a review of specialty legal web page providers, and specialty legal sub-domain providers which, in effect, lease a legal domain to a law firm.
At the end of this review we provide a number of suggested links to other web sites offering legal domains for sale or lease, for purposes of comparative shopping, and invite you to compare the quality and price of the legal domains listed in our catalogue with those offered by other sites. A couple of documented sales of legal domain names are "Counselors.com" at $85,000.00 and "Lawyer.tv" at $25,000.00. Some of the current asking prices for prime legal domains on the Great Domains auction web site are "LawFirm.com" at $700,000.00, "PersonalInjury.tv" at $1,000,000.00, "Lawsuit.com" at $325,000.00, "ContingencyCases.com" at $250,000.00, and "InjuryVictims.com" at $100,000.00. It is worth noting that the average selling price of a domain on the Great Domains auction site for the first six months of the year 2000 was $36,187.00, up from approximately $14,500.00 last year. (A review of the list prices of our domains, by comparison, will reveal that the vast majority are listed from $2500 to $14,000.00 .)
Our own list prices, for both purchase and lease, have been thoughtfully established after months of carefully reviewing the legal domain market.
Net Cost, Return and Residual Value
Any discussion of the valuation of domain names, legal or otherwise, must take into account the ultimate true cost the purchaser which, in our case, involves at a minimum, consideration of the actual out-of-pocket cost to the purchaser and the current and ultimate return on that cost.
While a discussion of the tax treatment of the cost of purchasing or leasing a legal domain name is beyond the scope of this review, it would appear likely that some tax treatment involving deductibility as an expense or depreciation would be appropriate in most circumstances. Accordingly, the actual out-of-pocket costs to a purchaser or lessee must, of necessity, take into account the likely benefits of the appropriate tax treatment to determine the true net cost after any appropriate deduction (which are tantamount to a government subsidy).
Regardless of any subsidy provided by a tax write-off, a lawyer or law firm considering the purchase of a legal domain name cannot ignore the actual prorated cost spread over the anticipated useful life of the practice which the domain identifies. If the anticipated life of a practice is, for example, 35 years, the prorated cost of a $5,000.00 legal domain, even before any tax savings, would be under $12.00 a month (or about $143.00 a year).
While the "return" on any intangible asset can be difficult to quantify, particularly when tied to marketing efforts, the instant branding provided by a descriptive legal domain immediately conveys to every client and potential client the firm's unique stature in the legal community, and provides a positive and lasting impression of the practice which it identifies. Furthermore, if the firm decides to avail itself of the "free advertising" provided by Internet search engines, an appropriate submission to Internet search engines and directories can significantly enhance the firm's ability to be identified and listed during an Internet search by a potential client. (We offer a link on the front page of our web site to a search engine submission service, which can assist your firm in submitting its web site to Internet search engines and directories. For more information on submitting your web site to search engines and directories on the Internet, see our section on Marketing Tips.) The submission of your web site through search engines can, in many cases, provide the most effective "free advertising" in the world.
The residual value of a well-chosen legal domain name is potentially enormous. As the supply of available quality legal domain names dwindles, and as demand increases and interest in such domain names continues it's exponential growth, the prospects for appreciation are bright, indeed. Consider, if you will, what you would have paid for prime beachfront real estate 35 years ago.
The ".com" Factor
The endings after a domain name ".com", ".net" and ".org" are known as the Top Level Domains (TLD). When domain names were implemented as a counterpart to numerical Internet addresses in the early 1990's, these were the three major original TLD's available to the public for web site addresses. (Some others were ".edu" for educational institutions, and ".gov" for governmental entities.) ".Com" was established for commercial and for for-profit enterprises; ".net" was established for network service providers, and ".org" was established for non-profit organizations.
Although these restrictions on the use of these top level domains have been lifted over the past several years and, although these domains have been made available for registration for any of those purposes, the origin, evolution and association of these top level domains with their originally intended purposes have ultimately defined their value in the domain marketplace.
Because of these factors, the ".com" domain has become embedded in the American and international consciousness and has achieved a special significance as the most credible and prestigious, as well as the most recognizable domain, on the Internet. In point of fact, virtually all of the major corporations of the world, such as IBM, Microsoft, Ford, General Motors, and Coca Cola have ".com" domains, as do most of the smaller corporations of the world, and those that don't are often willing to pay handsomely for the privilege, as demonstrated by the eagerness of "beyond.com" to pay a reportedly enormous amount to upgrade from its prior ".net" address on the Internet.
As with bricks and mortar real estate, the value of Internet real estate (domain addresses), is dictated in largest part by location. Would you rather own or rent on the beach front, or on a back alley?
For better or worse, the connotation of domains other than ".com" for commercial purposes is often one of awkwardness, inferiority or worse. As a general rule, the fair market value of a ".com" is at least four to five times greater, if not more, than the fair market value of a ".net" domain, and at least ten times greater or more than a ".org" domain.
There is another very practical and utilitarian reason that ".com" domains are far more valuable than alternative domains: web browsers such as Internet Explorer and Netscape automatically default to the ".com" domain ending, rather than any others. This means, as a practical matter, that, if an Internet user types in a domain name, such as "americanlegaldomains," the browser will automatically take that user to the domain name with the ".com" ending, rather than to a ".net", ".org" or any other domain ending.
With respect to domain names for lawyers, there is one particularly notable exception to the general rule that ".com" domains are always far preferable to any others. If yours is a firm that advertises its services on television, and only if it advertises on television, a ".tv" domain name has enormous commercial potential. Most firms which advertise their services on television seek to maximize the public exposure afforded them on television by identifying their firm in the minds of the viewers as the "television law firm" or the firm that "advertises on television." There is no more memorable, succinct or apt way to identify such a firm in the minds of the viewers than to adopt a domain name such as "TheLawyers.tv," "TheLawFirm.tv," or "TheAttorneys.tv." There are only a handful of, perhaps a dozen or so, ".tv" domain names which are appropriate for lawyers who advertise on television, and there are hundreds of firms which undertake such advertising. Virtually all of the most appropriate names for such firms are included in our catalogue.
While we offer the best ".tv" domains for lawyers who advertise on television, and while we have included a small number of particularly attractive domain names with a ".net" ending, we have, for the most part, chosen to stock our catalogue with legal domains which are practical, prestigious and valuable in every sense, and that means, in the vast majority of cases, domains with a ".com" ending.
No introduction to legal domain names would be complete without mention of the possible interplay between legal domains, trademarks and legal ethics. We have carefully selected the domain names in our catalogue to avoid a conflict with any known trademark. As an added precaution, we have provided a link on our site to enable prospective purchasers or lessees to conduct their own trademark searches, and, where appropriate, to effect their own trademark registration. Before finalizing any purchase or lease, a final trademark search should be conducted to ensure the absence of any trademark issues. Should any party be aware of any possible trademark issues involving any of our stock, we welcome the opportunity to be contacted and review the particulars.
We have also included a link to legal ethics resources so that any prospective purchaser or lessee can ensure that their selected domain name would not run afoul of any ethics canons in their jurisdiction. Most evolving issues regarding lawyer web sites do not involve the choice of a domain name for the web site, but rather, issues of web site content, solicitation, interjurisdictional practice, etc.
Two issues of ethics potentially applicable to legal domain name selection in some jurisdictions are:
1. The appropriateness of comparisons with other lawyers; and
2. Limitations on the term "specialist," unless certified in that field.
With one notable exception ("largestverdicts.com"), we have carefully screened any domain names which would provide such a comparison. ("largestverdicts.com" was chosen because of its potential use as a domain name for a site dedicated to providing content regarding verdicts and verdict trends.)
If you are considering a domain name containing the term "specialist" and are not certified in that field in your jurisdiction, it is suggested that you carefully research any possible ethical issues before finalizing the transaction. A few jurisdictions may actually require approval of a lawyer's postings on the web site. Obviously, we cannot be responsible for the resolution of any ethics issues involving a purchaser's or lessee's use of a particular domain name, but we have provided a link to one of the best starting points on the Internet for conducting research on any legal ethics issues. As a general rule, descriptive legal domains are in widespread use throughout every jurisdiction, currently comprise approximately ten percent of all legal domain names in use, and are increasing as a percentage of the overall market of legal domains chosen by lawyers.