Legal Profession Slow to Embrace .law Domains
The .law top-level domain (TLD), one of several new domains targeting the legal community, opened for business in October 2015. As a business concern, .law has struggled. That’s not news, and it’s not my intention to waste 3,000 words pointing out that .law is among the many domains struggling to get a foothold in the challenging new top-level domain market.
Instead, this post will take a look at what is actually going on in .law. My hope is that this exercise will prove enlightening for lawyers considering whether — and what — to register in the .law top-level domain.
High Expectations at the Start
The .law top-level domain is one of over 1,200 new TLDs approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers since October 2013.
Like any entrepreneur, Dot Law Inc., the registry operator for .law, had high hopes for success. In the fall of 2015, revenue and registration projections were rosy indeed:
Lou Andreozzi, CEO of the domain and former chairman of Bloomberg Law and former CEO of LexisNexis North American Legal Markets, estimates the U.S. market is about 1.2 million attorneys, while the worldwide market approaches 2 million lawyers. Andreozzi says his goal for .law in the next 12 to 24 months is to reach 10 percent market penetration, or around 100,000 sales.
At roughly $200 per year (plus a $10 verification fee), the domain is looking at an annual market north of $200 million, and potentially exponentially more when offensive and defensive purchases are figured in.
ABA Journal, New .law Could Set Off a Domain Gold Rush (Oct. 1, 2015).
The .law TLD is going to fall considerably short of Andreozzi’s prediction of 100,000 registrations in the first two years. According to nTLDStats, the .law top-level domain had 6,765 registrations as of March 9, 2017.
It’s pretty easy to see that the .law TLD has not come anywhere close to revenue projections asserted in the ABA Journal article. According to my (English major) math, .law has so far achieved 3.2 percent of Andreozzi’s projected $20 million annual revenue in the first 12-24 months. (Note: My revenue guesstimate fails to account for premium and sunrise registrations, both of which would be priced well above the $200 per name going rate in October 2015. These numbers are proprietary, hence unknown to me.)
Pricing in .law is heading south. The annual registration fee for a .law domain has dropped from the original $200 to $99 today. (Registrar pricing varies quite a bit for .law. I found prices as high as $350 at Instra Corp. with a low of $99 at several registrars.) Renewal pricing is currently advertised at $99 per year though, according to the Dot Law Terms and Conditions, the renewal price is subject to change at any time.
Competition from other new top-level domains is likely a factor in .law’s situation. Rightside Registry’s .attorney (7,568 registrations; $24.99 on Godaddy) and .lawyer (12,238 registrations; $24.99 on Godaddy) target the legal market and are less expensive.
We’ll Always Have .law
The fact that .law has been a little slow out of the gate does not mean that registering a .law top-level domain is a bad idea. There is little chance that .law will evaporate one day, leaving its registrants dot-homeless.
It is possible that increased attention to marketing or to the development of .law-only add-on services might improve registrations in .law, brightening the operator’s balance sheet. Alternatively, the .law TLD might make a good acquisition target. A money-losing proposition in the hands of a single registry operator might be a profitable product for larger registries that have economies of scale such as centralized backend operations and dedicated marketing staff.
Finally, ICANN has procedures in place to keep TLDs operating in the event that the registry operator fails for economic reasons.
In short, .law is not going away.
Eligibility for Registering Domains in .law
None of the following is going to make sense unless the reader understands how .law functions. So bear with me.
According to Dot Law’s eligibility criteria, the following groups may register .law domains:
- law firms;
- judicial tribunals;
- law schools; and
- legal regulators and state bar associations.
Anyone who fits within the above categories may register one or any number of domains in the .law top-level domain. Proper names, brand names, generic terms, and geographic terms can all be the source of a domain name in .law. Provided, of course, that the domain name does not violate trademark or anti-cybersquatting laws.
Anyone who qualifies to register a .law domain may use that domain for any lawful purpose. In other words, a lawyer can register poker.law and use the domain to sell playing cards and poker chips. He or she is not required to offer legal services at the domain.
Domain names in .law are sold according to a tiered pricing model. Sunrise names are pre-sold to trademark owners at one price, premium names are sold at another price level, and general availability names are sold at a lower, fixed price. Today, the general availability price in .law is around $99.
The registry operator’s designation of some names as “premium names” or “reserved names” reflects the registry operator’s best business judgment as to which names within its inventory are the most valuable properties. These are sold at higher prices.
Registry operators do not publish lists of premium names or pricing for those names. Pricing is disclosed to prospective registrants on a per-name basis.
What’s Going on in .law?
Examining the behavior of AmLaw 200 law firms is a good way to understand the legal profession’s approach to any particular topic. This is definitely true in the area of marketing, where fresh ideas, best practices and occasional outbreaks of herd mentality are always on display. Large firms have good lawyers and marketing specialists, and they take a long view of the law business. They’re worth watching.
As it turns out, the country’s top law firms are divided over the value of registering a .law top-level domain. According to my inspection of the .law zone file, 59 percent of the 1981 law firms have registered domains in .law.
As of March 9, 2017, these 116 AmLaw 200 firms have registered domains in the .law TLD that reflect their name or a variation:
- Adams and Reese
- Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
- Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis
- Alston & Bird
- Andrews Kurth Kenyon
- Armstrong Teasdale
- Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer
- Baker & Hostetler
- Baker & McKenzie
- Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz
- Bradley Arant Boult Cummings
- Brown Rudnick
- Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
- Bryan Cave
- Carlton Fields
- Covington & Burling
- Cozen O’Connor
- Cravath, Swaine & Moore
- Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle
- Davis Polk & Wardwell
- Day Pitney
- Dinsmore & Shohl
- DLA Piper
- Dorsey & Whitney
- Drinker Biddle & Reath
- Faegre Baker Daniels
- Fenwick & West
- Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner
- Fish & Richardson
- Fisher & Phillips
- Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto
- Foley & Lardner
- Foley Hoag
- Fox Rothschild
- Gibbons P.C.
- Goodwin Procter
- Goulston & Storrs
- Greenberg Traurig
- Hinshaw & Culbertson
- Hogan Lovells
- Holland & Hart
- Hughes Hubbard & Reed
- Hunton & Williams
- Ice Miller
- Irell & Manella
- Jackson Lewis
- Jackson Walker
- Jenner & Block
- Jones Day
- Katten Muchin Rosenman
- Kaye Scholer
- Kelley Drye & Warren
- Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton
- King & Spalding
- Lane Powell
- Latham & Watkins
- Lathrop & Gage
- Littler Mendelson
- Locke Lord
- Lowenstein Sandler
- Mayer Brown
- McDermott Will & Emery
- Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy
- Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo
- Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
- Morris, Manning & Martin
- Morrison & Foerster
- Munger, Tolles & Olson
- Norton Rose
- O’Melveny & Myers
- Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart
- Paul Hastings
- Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
- Pepper Hamilton
- Phelps Dunbar
- Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
- Polsinelli Shughart
- Proskauer Rose
- Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan
- Reed Smith
- Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi
- Ropes & Gray
- Schulte Roth & Zabel
- Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton
- Shook, Hardy & Bacon
- Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick
- Sidley Austin
- Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
- Snell & Wilmer
- Squire Patton Boggs
- Steptoe & Johnson
- Stoel Rives
- Strasburger & Price
- Sullivan & Cromwell
- Sutherland Asbill & Brennan
- Thompson Coburn
- Troutman Sanders
- Vedder Price
- Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease
- Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
- Weil, Gotshal & Manges
- White & Case
- Williams & Connolly
- Willkie Farr & Gallagher
- Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr
- Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker
- Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice
As of March 9, 2017, these 81 AmLaw 200 firms had *not* registered domains in the .law TLD:
- Arent Fox
- Baker Botts
- Ballard Spahr
- Barnes & Thornburg
- Bingham McCutchen
- Blank Rome
- Boies, Schiller & Flexner
- Bracewell & Giuliani
- Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney
- Burr & Forman
- Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft
- Cahill Gordon & Reindel
- Chadbourne & Parke
- Chapman and Cutler
- Choate, Hall & Stewart
- Clark Hill
- Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
- Crowell & Moring
- Davis Wright Tremaine
- Debevoise & Plimpton
- Dickinson Wright
- Dickstein Shapiro
- Duane Morris
- Dykema Gossett
- Edwards Wildman Palmer
- Epstein Becker & Green
- Fennemore Craig
- Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy
- Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
- Frost Brown Todd
- Gardere Wynne Sewell
- Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
- Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani
- Haynes and Boone
- Herrick, Feinstein
- Holland & Knight
- Husch Blackwell
- Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell
- K&L Gates
- Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman
- Kirkland & Ellis
- Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear
- Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
- Kutak Rock
- LeClairRyan Lewis and Roca
- Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith
- Loeb & Loeb
- Manatt, Phelps & Phillips
- McCarter & English
- McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter
- McKenna Long & Aldridge
- Michael Best & Friedrich
- Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, PLC
- Moore & Van Allen
- Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough
- Nixon Peabody
- Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
- Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler
- Perkins Coie
- Porter Wright Morris & Arthur
- Quarles & Brady
- Robinson & Cole
- Saul Ewing
- Schiff Hardin
- Sedgwick Seyfarth Shaw
- Shearman & Sterling
- Shutts & Bowen
- Stevens & Lee
- Stinson Leonard Street
- Stroock & Stroock & Lavan
- Sullivan & Worcester
- Thompson & Knight
- Thompson Hine
- Vinson & Elkins
- Wiley Rein
- Williams Mullen
- Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
- Winston & Strawn
Looking at large firms outside the United States, I noticed that Clifford Chance (cliffordchance.law), Linklaters (linklaters.law) and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (freshfields.law) all registered domains in the .law TLD.
Common Registration Strategies
Name Partner Variations
Most law firms registered a single .law domain corresponding to the name of the first or first-and-second named partners. Another common approach was to register the first and the first-second combination. For example, Fish and Richardson registered fish.law and fishrichardson.law. Vedder Price registered both vedder.law and vedderprice.law.
Still others registered their law firm name as well as their dot-com domain name. For example, O’Melveny & Meyers, which currently resides online at omelveny.com and omm.com, registered both omelveny.law and omm.law.
It’s not clear to me why a law firm would register a .law name comprised of the same acronym they are using as a domain name in .com. In many cases, that old .com domain name was less than optimal, the best domain they could get at the time. In all cases, the .com domain reflects a marketing strategy that, today, is roughly 20 years old.
Consider these examples. The Texas-based law firm of Walters Balido & Crain is currently on the Internet at wbclawfirm.com. That’s not (in my opinion) a very good domain name. In .law, the firm registered wbc.law, waltersbalidocrain.law, and wbclawfirm.law. But they declined to register walters.law.
Similarly, another Texas law firm, Weisbart Springer Hayes, replicated its wshllp.com domain with wshllp.law. Yet the firm neglected to register weisbart.law or weisbartspringer.law.
Perhaps there is a hole in my understanding of this topic. I don’t see how wbclawfirm.law is an improvement over wbclawfirm.com. It seems to me that this firm, when presented with an opportunity to write on a fresh slate, signed up for a slight variation of its earlier poor domain. Perhaps there is some SEO value to registering the .law equivalent of a weak .com name (though I doubt it). Perhaps these firms believe that their clients commonly refer to them as “wshllp” or “wbclawfirm” (though, again, I doubt that is the case).
Also, the terms “lawfirm” and “law” seem redundant in the .law top-level domain.
A short, memorable domain name is best. But if you have to choose, memorable is better than short. That’s going to exclude most acronyms.
Covering All the Bases
A few law firms registered large numbers of .law domains. Looking over their choices, it’s tempting to surmise that these firms have worked through typical domain name-related problems on behalf of their clients.
The Eversheds law firm is the volume leader with 27 registrations:
Clearly, Eversheds has branding and practice-building in mind. And they don’t want to be the victim of a “sucks” campaign. Only two other firms registered a “sucks” domain. “Sucks” registrations in .law reflect an abundance of caution, inasmuch as registrations in .law are limited to the legal community. The .law TLD is an unlikely (and possibly unethical) venue for a “sucks” campaign.
Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr jumped in with both feet, registering these .law domains:
In addition to branding and a few practice area priorities, Wilmer Hale’s registrations reflect a desire to catch as much type-in traffic as possible: it registered numerous combinations of its name, including typos and misspellings.
Ands and Ampersands
Firms responded differently to the presence of “and” and “&” in their names. Some dropped these terms, others kept them in the domain. Some went both ways.
Williams & Connally, for example, registered williamsconnally.law and williamsandconnolly.law. White & Case registered whitecase.law and whiteandcase.law.
Strasburger & Price dropped the ampersand (registering strasburger.law and strasburgerprice.law), as did Arnold & Porter (arnoldporter.law).
The recent trend among large firms of dropping “ands” and ampersands for branding purposes pays dividends when it comes to domain name registrations. To pick one example, it seems to me that vedderprice.law is infinitely better than vedderandprice.law.
Business Entity Designations
Nearly every firm declined to register domains with “llp,” “llc” or similar designations. But not all.
Armstrong Teasdale registered both armstrongteasdale.law and armstrongteasdalellp.law. Williams & Connally registered both williamsconnallyllp.law and williamsandconnollyllp.law.
Personal injury firm Morris Bart registered both morrisbart.law and morrisbartllc.law.
Laws and Lawmakers
The names of laws and government agencies occasionally appear in the .law zone file. For example, Davis Polk & Wardwell has doddfrank.law, a reference to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The domain fcc.law (Federal Communications Commission) is registered to Lucas LaFuria Gutierrez and Sachs (the firm is currently located at fcclaw.com.
BuckleySandler picked up cfpb.law (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).
The domains ftc.law (Federal Trade Commission) and fisa.law (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) have not yet been registered. My guess is these domains — as well as other law and government agency names — are premium domains, offered for sale at prices well above $99.
The domains capital.law and congress.law are available as premium domains. But capitol.law can be registered for $99.
Geographic names are available for registration in .law, often as premium names.
The domain arizona.law was picked up by class action firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, a national class action firm with offices around the country. The Denver-based personal injury firm Bachus and Schanker registered colorado.law.
State names are premium domains in the .law TLD. However, state abbreviations are not. Domain names containing short state names such as mich.law and ariz.law appear to have escaped the premium names list.
County names also appear to be generally available domains. The domain cookcounty.law is registered to Chicago-based, general practice law firm Hughes Socol Piers Resnick in Chicago. In Florida, the Ft. Lauderdale-based Jones and Alexieva Law Group registered broward.law.
Quite a few county names are available for registration in .law.
Some, but not all, of the Hawaiian Islands are registered in .law. The domain oahu.law is registered to the Delaplane Law Firm in Honolulu. But maui.law is available.
As for cities, it appears to me that nearly every city with a population over 100,000 is offered as a premium domain in .law. So newyork.law and chicago.law won’t be cheap. However, many domains containing the names of smaller cities are available at general registration prices. The domain coralgables.law is available, as is the domain for my hometown, muskegon.law.
The .law zone file contains many examples of city names paired with practice areas. For example:
This is the same behavior we’re used to seeing in .com.
Generic and Brand Names
You bet. Plenty of generic terms have been registered as domains in the .law TLD. Too many to mention. intellectualproperty.law, internet.law, agile.law, lean.law, insurancedefense.law, workplace.law, 1800accident.law.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman registered blockchain.law and cybersecurity.law, in addition to pillsbury.law.
Some of domains containing generic terms are offered as premium names. Others can be had for standard registration prices.
As for brand names, the prospective registrant is playing with fire here. If, after navigating the various trademark owner protections included in ICANN’s new top-level domains program, the registrant manages to register somebody else’s brand as a domain, the registrant faces the possibility of claim filed against it under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy or the Uniform Rapid Suspension Service. Matters could get worse: a federal trademark or anti-cybersquatting lawsuit, both carrying the possibility of ruinous damages and attorneys’ fees.
That being said, many common brand names are technically open for registration in .law, assuming they aren’t in the Trademark Clearinghouse. For example, costco.law, walmart.law, and verizon.law are all available for a $99 fee.
Who’s Missing From .law?
After looking over the 6,000 or so names in the .law zone file, I came to the conclusion that .law is doing poorly with law schools, courts, regulators, state bar associations and other legal profession regulators. All of these groups are conspicuously absent. One exception was flabar.law, registered by the Florida Bar. They are not using it, however.
In fact, very few of the .law domains I checked today resolve to a working website at that address. Many merely redirect to the law firm’s .com address, or fail to resolve at all.
My Two Cents
Here’s what I think about all this.
It’s Just a Domain Name. If you believe that a domain name is anything more than an address on the Internet, do yourself a favor and don’t make important life decisions until that feeling passes. A domain name is an address, no more than that. A domain name is not the content on your website and it has no relationship to the legal services delivered by your law firm.
Mistakes Are Trivial. Registering a weak domain name is not the end of the world. At most, it’s a $99 mistake. Failing to register a good domain name in .law is not the end of the world either. Cybersquatting can occur in .law, but it is very unlikely because .law permits only lawyers to register domain names.
(Unlikely but possible. The UDRP decisions involving minnesota.life and tes.co might be relevant in the event that a challenge is made to this abovethe.law registration. Above the Law owner Breaking Media LLC has a federal registration for ABOVE THE LAW.)
Drop the LLP, LLC Etc. Very few firms are registering domains containing this information.
Stay Away From Acronyms. Acronyms are short, but they’re not memorable.
Law, Law Firm, Lawyer. These terms are all redundant in the .law top-level domain.
No Enhanced SEO Value to .law Domain. Nada.
No Difference Between .com and .law. The .law top-level domain is being marketed as “the trusted domain for legal professionals.” As I write this, on March 9, 2017, there is no truth to this statement. Consumers trust law firms on .com domains to the same extent that they trust law firms on .law domains. I haven’t seen any evidence that .law domains are more trusted than .com domains. In fact, I would be surprised if any such evidence exists because there are so few live .law domains for comparison.
Hundreds of thousands of lawyers are happily doing business today on .com domains.
In order for a specialty domain such as .law to thrive, consumers of legal services must trust .law websites more than they trust .com websites. There are several reasons why this is not going to happen in the near future. The first reason is the one I’ve mentioned already: consumers are already accessing legal services at .com addresses without complaint.
The second reason is that trust is a foundational attribute of the legal profession. Lawyers are trusted by reason of their education, by the fact that they are licensed by a state regulatory body, by their track record of good work, by their wins and losses, by the quality of service they deliver, and by the image of professionalism and trust projected in their communications, online and offline. A .law domain name adds very little to any of this.
The third and final reason is that changing consumer attitudes requires a large marketing effort that simply has not materialized yet from the domain name industry. Consumers won’t believe that the only trusted place to find lawyers is via a .law domain without relentless messaging designed to drive this point home.
We’re not remotely close to a future in which consumers expect that all, or most, legal services will be delivered by websites at .law domain names. We may never get there.
Improvement Over Current Domain Name. The best reason to register a domain name in .law is to improve on a weak domain in .com. For example, the hypothetical law firm Smith Jones Thomas Walsh LLC could vastly improve on sjtwlawfirm.com by picking up the smithjones.law domain.
Another reason would be to make the firm’s domain name consistent with other branding efforts.
Chicken Soup. Finally, there’s the idea that dropping $99 on a .law domain is a small price even if the value is dubious. In other words, it won’t hurt. Registering a .law domain might be useful at some point in some hypothetical future. The “chicken soup” and “future-proofing” rationales are valid. If that’s where you’re at, I won’t try to talk you out of it. Just don’t complain that the domain name industry is forcing you to register domains you don’t really need. Nobody is forcing you to do anything.
Registrars Offering .law Domains
Qualified registrants can obtain .law domains from the following registrars. Pricing varies from lows of $99 at name.com to as much as $350 at Instra Corp. Additional services are often bundled with domain name registrations, so registrants should read policies carefully in order to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
- Com Laude
- CSC Global
- Dot Law (registry/registrar)
- Etorno Digital
- Global Village
- Instra Corp.
- Mark Monitor
- Open Provider
- Ports Group
- Super Registry
Note: Dot Law has a really irritating way of providing information about .law domains. The search function at join.law returns a “Reserved Domain Name” response whether the domain is already registered or is being sold by Dot Law as a premium domain or is unavailable for some other reason. For purposes of this article, I am assuming that a domain is a premium domain if Dot Law calls it a “Reserved Domain Name” and it is not in the zone file and not in the WHOIS database maintained by Dot Law.
- My AmLaw 200 list shrunk to 198 after accounting for mergers. ↩