Website 101

Here on Slaw we pretty much take for granted some of the basics of IT, prime among which might be the value of a website to practicing lawyers. But, of course, it’s just not the case that all lawyers have—and make good use of—websites. So for those of you who fall into that category (or who have a friend who does) here’s a little something.

As it happens, I’m at the ABA Techschow in Chicago listening to Slaw’s Steve Matthews explain the basics with respect to the necessary infrastructure, Website 101: Build and Rebuild.

Domain names
Use short, memorable names, because you want clients to be able to make easy, return visits. It can get tricky when a number of partners’ names are used to identify the firm. And using partner names can also be tricky because partners leave and you’ll have to change the domain name.

If at all possible, choose a dot com domain. And then “lock down” the dot net and dot org domains of the same name so that no one else can use them.

If you must change your domain names, there are tools you can use to redirect people (and search engines!) who still use your old address—Google Webmaster tools, for example, and an .htaccess file.

In your search for a company to host your site, be wary of online recommendations. Most of the big hosting companies reward those who successfully recommend their service, so don’t trust those who gush about this or that host.

The best source of advice are your colleagues or friends who have sites and can report on their hosting services. Check out such things as: who answers the phone when your site is down? are there bandwidth and storage restrictions? how often is data backed up? can it be stored in multiple locations for safety’s sake?

Content management systems
These are truly effective ways to create and maintain a website fairly easily. Of the three common free systems (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal), WordPress is by far the most popular and probably the most sensible choice.

All these systems importantly separate data from design, so you’re able to back up or move your data, or to change your design easily without affecting your data. Designs are relatively easy to implement because there are “theme gardens” where you can find pre-packaged design themes that you can tweak to suit your purposes.

If your site features well enough on Google (which is what you’d want), you’ll find hackers trying to break into it for various nefarious reasons. None of the content management systems come out of the box with security fully implemented, so you’ll need to take some basic precautions: choose complex passwords; tell search engines (with your robots.txt file) not to search image or system files; and use a plugin that locks out hackers after a certain (low) number of failed login attempts.

More from Steve and others as the day goes on…


  1. Great tips. Thanks, Simon and Steve.