All firms expend significant resources to protect their brand. Business names and trademarks are registered, style guides, colour palettes and graphics are designed, while being the right ‘fit’ is essential for any staff hire. Non-compete and non-solicitation provisions are negotiated and ruthlessly enforced.
While each are undeniably important, have you ever Googled your firm? What about a specific office or lawyer? What have former employees said about your firm on Glassdoor? Blogs and social media pages devoted to exposing the juiciest parts of firm life flourish (then disappear). Any internet search will almost certainly reveal that there are less-than-flattering comments and reviews about your firm within the first few results available for everyone to read.
This is the first article in a three part series focusing on issues relevant to lawyers in the context of digital brand protection. Our second article on internet search and advertising can be read here, while our third third part about social media use by lawyers is accessible here.
Your firm’s website is an integral part of your digital brand.
But it’s relatively easy for fraudulent websites to recreate it. To deny that opportunity many of the largest brands to own multiple domain names to prevent fake websites having legitimate looking domain names. By, for example, incorporating misspellings, having multiple top-level domains (for example, .com and .com.au) or domains to include alternative business names or abbreviations.
But your firm should be already doing that.
Lawyers need to know that the release of the new top-level domains ‘.law’, ‘.legal’ and ‘.lawyer’ means that new domain name combinations are now possible. Firms should take proactive steps to secure appropriate domain names incorporating these new top-level domains – especially for any firms whose business name already incorporates ‘law’, ‘legal’ or ‘lawyer’.
However, it also creates the possibility of individual lawyers creating their own website for professional purposes – one independent of, and outside the control of, their firm. Having a profile independent of the firm might make switching firms significantly easier. Of course, there’s also the potential for impersonators and even competitors finding a use for those websites.
While lawyers having individual website profiles has always been a possibility, the unavailability of any meaningful domain name meant creating such a website wasn’t practical. The proliferation of all-in-one services like Squarespace, Wix and Strikingly means that programming and website development skills are no longer a prerequisite either. Having had no difficulty securing the .lawyer address for my relatively common name, whether or not firms should be proactively purchasing domain names for individual lawyers must be considered as an essential part of protecting your firm’s digital identity.
What can you do?
As a minimum, firms need to actively monitor and regularly consider and revisit these issues. We’ve set out a list below of some of the top questions to ask internally.
- Is your firm’s name being used as part of any other website?
- Are any domains available which your firm should register or purchase? In particular, in multiple countries, to incorporate abbreviations of the firm’s name or misspellings?
- Do you have a policy about individual lawyers operating their own websites for professional purposes? Should you register or purchase domain names to either permit or prevent this?
At the very least, we think a compelling business case can be made for pursuing each of these as part of a preventative strategy, saving the cost and expense of a reactive, heavy-handed “old-law” solution.
Want to know more?
The rapid development of internet law makes it a challenge to keep up. For such an integral aspect of business in the digital economy, we believe all lawyers should know something about the topic. Fortunately, there are a range of fantastic resources dealing relating to the content of this article and also to extend your professional development. We recommend reading:
- Jennifer Wolfe and Anne Chasser, Domain Names Rewired: Strategies for Brand Protection in the Next Generation of the Internet, 2012.
- Gerald Levine, Domain Name Arbitration: A Practical Guide to Asserting and Defending Claims of Cybersquatting Under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, 2015.
- Torsten Bettinger and Allegra Waddell, Domain Name Law and Practice: An Intentional Handbook, 2016.
- Konstantinos Komatis, The Current State of Domain Name Regulation: Domain Names as Second Class Citizens in a Mark-dominated World, 2010.
The Digital Lawyer is able to assist lawyers, firms and consultants with anything discussed in this article. If you’d like to get in contact with us, please use our Contact Us form.
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