The Internet’s governing body, ICANN, has been steadily moving forward with a naming revolution. Top-level domains—the letters to the right of the dot—are set to expand dramatically.
When the Internet was originally conceived, just a handful of top-level domains (TLDs) existed—.com, .net, and .org being the most-recognized today. These generic endings were augmented by about 200 country-code TLDs—.uk, .fr, .de, etc.—which proved popular outside of the US.
However, while the Internet has grown at a pace that few of its founders foresaw over the last 25 years, domain names, which directly impact branding, search, navigation, and identity, have not changed significantly since they were invented in the 1980s.
The familiar .com and Latin alphabet country-code TLDs were simply proving not enough to serve the diversity of languages and interests around the world.
A new way to name websites was needed. So ICANN opened up the process, letting anyone who was able to meet its criteria apply for the name or names of their choice. And around 1,400 applications came back for just over 1,000 words in a wide range of languages and scripts, from cultural-linguistic communities, cities and regions to brands and interest groups—including professional groups.
As a consequence, a number of new TLDs purporting to serve the legal community are being introduced into the Internet’s root zone, including .law, as well as .lawyer, .attorney, .legal, .esq, and, in Spanish, .abogado.
So what do all these changes mean to me?
The new TLDs offer the same challenge to lawyers as they do to many other markets and professions—how to use them to identify, brand and advertise. It means that, if you have a name or names that you use regularly, you may want to consider registering those names in the TLDs that you think will have an effect on your business. You can register these from a defensive posture—I don’t want anyone else to get my name—or, as we recommend, from an affirmative, marketing position.
But why should I bother—won’t .com still cover all my needs?
The company behind a .com domain name may be a lawyer, a blogger in Outer Mongolia, a porn site, or a bank. You just don’t know; .com names are available to anyone. That serves a certain kind of public interest, but it doesn’t serve the specialized needs of the legal community.
The advantage of a .law or a .abogado domain is that it instantly lets people know that you’re a lawyer licensed with the accrediting body in your jurisdiction. If you’re a lawyer, you can register a .law domain name. If you’re not, you can’t. This means that if you’ve got a .law domain, you are a lawyer, and if you don’t have one, you may not be one.
The other top-level domains targeted at the legal community—.esq, .lawyer, .attorney, and .legal—don’t verify their registrants.
It’s expensive to switch—why would I?
It’s a common misconception that you have to switch—you don’t. It’s very easy and inexpensive to get a new domain name and point it at your existing website. You’ll have plenty of time to decide when and if you want to put your new name front and center. You can have multiple domain names too—marketers often use different domain names for different campaigns, unique goods, or separate products.
What are the differences between these TLDs?
The first is in the name itself—do you think .law looks or feels or works better than .legal? How do you style yourself and, more importantly, how do your clients think of you?
The second very important consideration is the reputation of the TLD. In .lawyer, .legal, .esq, and .attorney, you can easily, quickly, and cheaply get a name, but so can anyone else. In .law and .abogado, the names are more expensive and take longer to register, but because only verified, accredited lawyers can get a name; the public will know that a .law website leads to a real lawyer.
What should I be considering when I select a name and an address?
When businesses choose a trading name, they have a basic choice—do I name my business something generic (garagedoorhandyman.com), so that people know what I do, or do I try to create a unique brand (apple.com), that acquires meaning over time. Good reasons apply for either, and you may have excellent reasons for doing both! Generic names like divorce.law could be an excellent choice for a specialist practice or a large firm with a specialty practice area. In both instances, the firm would be as likely to register their firm’s name as well.
When should I do this?
You should register your domain names in a law-focused TLD as early in the process as you can to have the best choice in names.
When is all of this happening?
The .law and .abogado TLDs will launch in early 2015 after the verification procedures have been verified. Other law-focused TLDs may be available earlier.
Whom do I contact to register my name or my company’s name?
Most ICANN-accredited registrars sell law-focused domain names.
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