Volume 20, Number 4
June 2003


Domain Names: This One's for You

By David Leffler

So you pat yourself on the back for figuring out how to use e-mail and actually knowing how to send and download attached documents. Now people tell you that you need your own domain name because that Hotmail or AOL address makes you look like an amateur.

What do people expect from you? There are only 24 hours in a day, and in addition to everything else on your to-do list, now you have to spend hours figuring out this domain name thing?  

No need to worry. I will show you just how easy it is to take this step up-without surrendering a weekend or paying someone a lot of money to get the job done.

First, how important is it to have an e-mail address with a personalized domain name? Well, how much time did you spend picking out the font for your stationery? Deciding whether it should be "Law Firm of" or "Law Office of"? Getting the placement of pictures and diplomas just right on your walls?

Most of us feel that appearance does have some importance in establishing a law practice. I slip up a bit in this regard because I actually have allowed my daughter Julia to hang a few drawings she has made (which include photos of our Pekingese dog, Lioba, and sayings like "Lioba Rocks!") on my office walls, and I don't take them down when clients come to visit. Julia assures me, however, that they will be worth a lot of money one day when she becomes a big movie star.

But I am still careful about the appearance of my business cards, stationery, and whatever leaves my office, and I use a personalized domain name for my e-mail address. Why? Because too often I saw the negative reaction of clients to my AOL e-mail address. Face it, having your own domain name looks more professional.
There are any number of companies on the Internet that will assist you in registering your domain name. You need very little technical knowledge to do it.
Let's go through the steps involved with the service that I use at www.register.com. There are lots of services cheaper than the $35 charged by Register.com if you only want to register a domain name for e-mail purposes, so ask friends and associates what are their recommendations. The procedures for registering a domain name are very similar no matter which service you choose.

At the top of the Register.com site it says, "Find a Web address," with an arrow pointing to a box preceded by the letters "www." All you have to do is type in the name of the site that you wish and click on the "Go!" button.
This will take you to a page that will inform you whether or not the domain name you want is available and with which extensions (.com, .net, etc.), along with suggestions for other names. I recommend that you try to find a domain name with the ".com" extension because this projects a more established image.

So, let's say that your last name just happens to be DiCaprio. Unfortunately, you will find that this name has already been taken, but perhaps this is not too terrible if you are related to the movie star by the same name and he can get you tickets to the Oscars.

You will probably find that your name has already been registered, even if it is not shared with a movie star. However, there is something that you can do about this. Try adding the word "law" to the end of your name and see if that is available. As of the date that I am writing this article, DiCaprioLaw.com is available for registration, and if DiCaprio happens to be your last name, this would be a good domain name for you to choose.

You will notice that Register.com suggests other names as well, such as dicapriolaws.com and dicaprio-law.com. These registration services want to help you find a domain name because they only make money when you purchase one. You could also add other things to create an available domain name, such as an abbreviation for your city or state, or add your first initial or initials at the beginning of your name.

For instance, using my prior example, if some lawyer with the same last name as you already has DiCaprioLaw.com and the initial of your first name is "L," try LDiCaprioLaw.com. Or if you live in California, try DiCaprioLawCA.com. Keep the name as short as possible because a long domain name will be difficult to fit on a business card and stationery. A long domain name also is more burdensome for clients and potential clients to type.
Once you have selected an available domain name, Register.com will ask you what level of service you want, either just an e-mail address, an e-mail address and a simplified website, or a more professional website, all for different prices. Register.com provides software that permits you to set up a website without any programming skills. If you want to create a website, consider using Register.com or another service that offers this type of "package deal" rather than just a bare-bones registration service. Check the support offered by each service as well (Register.com promises "toll-free 24/7 live expert support").

After selecting a level of service, you provide your name, address, and credit card information, and you immediately become the proud owner of a domain name! Register.com offers a webmail service that lets you use the web to access e-mail sent to your new address, but you will want to receive e-mail through Outlook or some other e-mail client software; such client software offers services that are unavailable through webmail.

Configuring your e-mail client software may be a bit challenging and drive you to a tech guru friend for what will be only a few minutes of advice, but you should attempt it on your own first. In Outlook, click "Tools" and then "Accounts," where you click "Add." Choose "Mail," which will take you through a setup wizard that you likely will be able to do by yourself.

Once you have set up this brand-new e-mail address, you will want to do your best not to have it sullied with spam. Never use your new e-mail address in public-on websites, in an article that you are writing, or on public boards or listserves. Instead, use another e-mail address just for these public purposes, such as your Hotmail or AOL e-mail address. You may notice that I follow my own advice by providing lefflermailbox@aol.com as my e-mail address in my bio for this article.

Go check right now to see what domain names are available to you. There is no obligation to buy, so this is a good way to get started without feeling that you have to commit right away. But I would encourage you to follow through-there is a real sense of pride that you will feel when handing out your business card with your own domain name.

David Leffler maintains a solo law practice in New York City, where he assists his clients in the formation, growth, and sale of their businesses.

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