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Law Practice Magazine

The Marketing Issue

The First Law Firm Websites Enter Their Fourth Decade Online

Gregory Howard Siskind


  • How did lawyers deal with a myriad of challenges when they were completely on their own in building the first sites?
  • How did ethics regulators confront a lot of very serious concerns when deciding how to approach the new technology?
  • What are the parallels between the launch of the modern web and what we’re experiencing today with AI?
The First Law Firm Websites Enter Their Fourth Decade Online Seisa

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In June 1994, the American public’s attention was captivated by a myriad of events: the infamous O.J. Simpson car chase, the excitement of the FIFA World Cup hosted across the United States, the marital bliss of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley and the cinematic triumph of Disney’s The Lion King.

Simultaneously, the technology sector––and, really, the rest of the country––was buzzing with the advent of the World Wide Web. While the internet, with its extensive email systems and message boards, had been in place, the web we know today truly took shape with the launch of Mosaic in 1993—the first graphical web browser that introduced a visual dimension to the previous text-only experience.

Like lots of other businesses, law firms were intrigued by the possibilities of websites. The media was also fascinated, and you could get news coverage simply by visiting a website.

I was a participant in this digital revolution. I was a 26-year-old very inexperienced lawyer at a large law firm in Nashville who wanted to get away from corporate law and focus my practice solely on my passion––immigration law. There were no firms hiring immigration lawyers, which meant I was going to have to start a solo practice or move cities (and my fiancée––now wife of 29 years––made it clear she wasn’t moving). I had to figure out how to make this new practice work with a triple set of problems––establishing the practice in a town that didn’t have a lot of local work, having virtually no clients and working within a shoestring budget.

I planned my exit from my law firm starting in late 1993 and decided I would launch my firm with a website. But it took six more months to hang my shingle and launch version 1.0. A couple of D.C. firms––Venable and ArentFox––beat me out by a few weeks. Still, by the end of 1994, only a handful of other firms across the United States had websites.

This strategic timing contributed significantly to the growth of my practice. It also led to authoring The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet in 1996, a bestseller for the American Bar Association that detailed the nascent history of law firm websites and outlined best practices for firms eager to establish an online presence. Revisiting this book has been invaluable for recollecting and sharing insights from those formative days of internet marketing.

Getting on the web in 1994 was daunting. First, there was the legitimate question of whether there were any clients to be found. Most people didn’t have access to the internet. According to a Pew study in October 1995, only eight million Americans had a modem-equipped computer. And that itself was a doubling from the previous year. Even for those early people online, most had not been on the web. That’s because most people were logging into siloed commercial services like America Online, Prodigy and CompuServe and these companies were just building their gateways to the broader web.

Despite these limitations, I focused my practice on universities and the high-tech sector, which were among the few that had reliable internet access. This approach was particularly fruitful with colleges, often located in smaller towns without immigration lawyers.

But even if people weren’t on the web yet, having a website and an email address in 1994 was a law firm’s statement of being on the technological forefront. Firms displayed their web addresses on business cards and advertisements, signaling their modern approach to legal practice.

Then there were the mechanics of building a website and finding a web host. There were no website consultants in 1994. You had to buy a book on hypertext markup language, the web’s language, and figure out how to make a basic website. You could more easily find a graphic designer to help with creating a banner and designing simple things like graphics for navigation buttons. I was lucky to have a college friend who was launching the first web hosting company in the South and helped me with getting the site a home base, but I’m not sure how easy it would have been to find another host. Large firms were the early adopters probably because it was simply too hard for most lawyers to navigate these obstacles.

Navigating the ethical landscape of this new medium was another obstacle. The primary question was whether a website qualified as advertising and, if so, how to comply with the myriad of lawyer advertising rules. A consensus quickly developed that it was advertising. So, what about lawyers in states like Tennessee where advertisements had to be printed out and mailed to the board of professional responsibility. Would a website need to be printed out and mailed in every time a minor change was made? And would a website in Tennessee that reached people in Iowa need to comply with Iowa ethics rules? Was the lawyer in Tennessee whose website was read by an Iowan practicing law in Iowa, too? My state board took a sensible approach and allowed me to create a log on my website showing changes. And most other states took a reasonable approach on questions like these. Perhaps it was because the early websites were launched by large law firms that had the clout to influence how websites were going to be regulated.

Another difficulty was figuring out what to put on your website. The first and most important item of content was the website’s domain name. Smart firms reserved domain names as quickly as possible. The best were names that were simple (like Kentucky firm Miller, Griffin & Marks’ or had the firm’s name or initials incorporated.

What the firm was filling its website with was also critical. Some websites were glorified brochures with attorney biographies and information about the firm’s accomplishments. But a lot of lawyers viewed their sites as self-publishing platforms and helped solidify their reputations as experts in their fields.

Believe it or not, the first law firm websites preceded sites like Google and Yahoo and the way for people to find a website largely depended on being listed in an online directory of links. An early such directory was Eventually, getting found by a search engine became critical and firms had to develop techniques to make their sites come up first in search.

Why think about those early days other than for nostalgia’s sake? Well, we’re in what I believe is the third great technology shift in law firm marketing in modern times. The launch of the first law firm websites was the first. The rise of social media including blogs and sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn was the second. And generative artificial intelligence is the third. Firms that leaned in during the prior two shifts and were smart about their approach reaped the rewards. Today we’re seeing lawyers educating themselves on the new technology and many firms are investing in the technology, including building their own tools. We’re also seeing many lawyers dismissing the technology––just as many thought the web and social media were just hype. It’s too early to say who is right, but if the previous shifts are instructive, the early actors will be rewarded.