I recently talked about law firm names. But it’s not enough just to come up with a good law firm name. You also need to come up with a good law firm domain name. Otherwise, people will have trouble finding you. If you have your own firm, or think you might possibly someday, you need to become master of your domain, and you need to do it now.
When I started practicing in 1994, the Martindale-Hubbell directory was how people found out about your law firm. If you weren’t in there, you weren’t legit. That’s all changed now. If people want to learn about your firm, they either enter in your domain name (or your likely domain name if they don’t already know it), or they use the Google to find your website.
Nowadays, this is often how prospective clients (as well as opposing counsel) get their first impression of you and your firm. If your website looks like it would have been at the cutting edge in 1998 or 2002, you’re already sunk. Firm website design is a topic for a different day. Today we’re just talking about your domain name, because without a good one, you may never get found in the first place.
If you have your own small firm, or think you possibly may someday, read on for eight tips on choosing the right domain name.…
1. Don’t have a dumb domain.
Too many law firms go for a domain that’s either confusing or intentionally cute. Neither is appropriate if you want your firm to be taken seriously.
2. Don’t be too long.
As I said in my post on firm names, too many law firms go with the ego-massaging, superlong name sporting every partner’s moniker. This can lead to unwieldy domain names. Since no one’s going to remember or use the third partner’s name (except her), no one’s going to remember the domain, either. The interwebs allow you to have a domain name up to 63 characters long (excluding the .com part). But don’t take advantage of that fact. As with firm names, the shorter the better with domains.
3. Unless you’re IBM, abbreviations are dumb.
Just as people can’t remember long strings of surnames, people also can’t remember long strings of meaningless letters. Internally, you might refer to your firm by its initials. To the outside world, though, those initials are useless. You’re not IBM.
But too many firms still want to use their initials as a domain, and all the two- and three-letter domains are taken. So they add “law” or “firm” or “lawyers” or, heaven forfend, “esq.” to the end of their initials. “Smith & Smythe, LLP” becomes sslawfirm.com, which is just as bad. And makes me think of Gilligan’s boat, the S.S. Minnow. And we know how that turned out.
(Actually, sslawfirm.com points to an actual law firm with a different “S&S” name. But the site’s so 1997 that I can’t bring myself to name it or link to it. Look away, people. Nothing to see here.)
4. Don’t be generic.
A lot of people get taken in by the allure of a generic domain name. I know, because I have myself. I’ve had, or still have, the following domains (and some may be for sale):
The problem with generic domains is that they do nothing to advance your brand. And they tend to be easier to forget.
5. Don’t be hard to spell.
If people can’t spell it on the internet, they often can’t find it. And people generally suck at spelling. So try to come up with a domain that’s easy to spell (and for that matter, that sounds like it spells). Also, watch out for possible misspellings. If your firm name is difficult to spell, try to grab up domains with likely misspellings.
When I started my firm in 1998, I called it “Shepherd Employment Counsel.” Knowing that people cannot spell the simple English common noun “Shepherd” — all because astronaut Alan Shepard’s family couldn’t spell — I decided to go with employmentcounsel.com as my domain name. Back in 1998, it wasn’t impossible to buy a domain consisting of two common nouns; today, you can basically forget about it. Plus, as I said, generic domains aren’t a great idea anyway. We never ended up owning the phrase “employment counsel.”
When I added a partner and we became “Shepherd & Ebel,” our domain name reflected that change: shepherdebel.com. But taking into account my oft-misspelled surname, we also bought shepebel.com. (Ironic aside: Most people named “Shepherd” or some misspelling of the name end up with the nickname “Shep.” My father was “Shep” as a kid, my brother has been called “Shep” — even my wife was “Shep” when she worked as a DA. I, on the other hand, have never been “Shep.”)
A few years later, when the firm became “Shepherd Law Group,” I picked up the matching domain name shepherdlawgroup.com. To go with it, I picked up sheplawgroup.com, as well as the misspellings shepardlawgroup, sheperdlawgroup.com, and shephardlawgroup.com.
And watch out for doubling of letters. For example, Victoria’s Secret’s domain name is victoriassecret.com. But the doubled S looks weird to us (and, appropriately, spells “ass” in the middle), and so people are apt to type victoriasecret.com. The company figured that out, and owns that domain as well.
6. Only get .com.
Don’t be fooled into buying any of the other top-level domains (the part of the address that follows the last period). No one ever remembers .net or .biz. or .whatever. Yes, there are a few exceptions. But that’s why they call them exceptions. If you want to be taken seriously and remembered easily, get a domain that ends in .com.
7. Get your domain candidates right away.
Even if you’re not sure, don’t wait around. A domain only costs you $12 to register at Go Daddy, and that registration is good for a year. If you come up with a bunch of candidate names and then take a few weeks or months to decide, you might find that someone else has snapped up your choice. Don’t delay.
8. Seriously: Get a freakin’ domain already.
There’s nothing stupider than a lawyer using an AOL or Hotmail address. Why would I trust a lawyer who can’t figure out how to get a domain name with something as sophisticated as my legal problems? That might have been acceptable in the midnineties. Today, it’s absurd, and shows that you’re a hack.
The final piece of advice? Remember your Seinfeld (from “The Contest”):
JERRY: But are you still master of your domain?
GEORGE: I am king of the county. You?
JERRY: Lord of the manor.
Make sure you’re the master of your domain. You won’t go blind, but your clients might have trouble seeing you otherwise.
Jay runs Prefix, LLC, a firm that helps lawyers learn how to value and price legal services. Jay Shepherd also spent 13 years running the Boston management-side employment-law boutique Shepherd Law Group. He writes the ABA Blawg 100 honoree The Client Revolution, which focuses on reinventing the business of law, and Gruntled Employees, a workplace blog. Follow Jay on Twitter at @jayshep, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.