Whose law firm .SUCKS?

Doug Jasinski

Imagine the next time a potential client Googles your law firm,  “www.YourLawFirmName.SUCKS” appears near the top of the results.  It’s a less than ideal scenario, and one that is likely to become a reality for at least some firms commencing this June as the new .SUCKS top level domain is launched.

Legal work regularly involves conflict, and if you’re a lawyer it is inevitable that you will encounter unhappy people during your career.  Lay litigants, families and friends of opposing parties, and sometimes (hopefully very infrequently) disgruntled former clients can all be part of the mix. It’s a fact of life. However, individuals with an axe to grind can become more problematic if they decide to air their grievances online. Although a dissatisfied person is unlikely to physically stand outside your office window shouting at passersby, the Internet allows these same folks to easily set up digital billboards proclaiming your failings – real or imagined – to anyone querying your firm.

Due to recent developments in internet policy it has now become even easier for unhappy commentators  to erect online platforms to besmirch you.  Starting this year, users will be able to purchase websites with the top-level domain “.SUCKS”. This means that websites like www.lawfirmname.sucks are likely to begin appearing shortly. Pre-registration is open now, and general registration commences June 1, 2015.

What’s a Top Level Domain?

In short, every web address has a Top Level Domain (TLD). The TLDs that you are most familiar with are likely .com, .org, .net and .ca. However, due to a recognized shortage of web addresses available for these old school TLDs, the international body that supervises much of the Web, ICANN, decided to create additional TLDs to encourage online growth. Sadly, this altruistic goal has been undermined by groups who have decided to use ICANN’s embrace of new domains to shake out some lucre from well-established and legitimate brands.

The Rise of .SUCKS

Most of the new TLDs that have been approved for use are uncontroversial: .biz, .rocks, .club, .company etc. However, the company Momentous, through its subsidiary Vox Populi, recently was given the right to operate the .sucks TLD. This means that www.coke.sucks, www.ford.sucks, www.starwars.sucks are now up for grabs. Although this development might already sound suspect to readers, what is most concerning is the price associated with registering a .sucks domain.  The pricing scheme for the .SUCKS extensions is complex, and ranges from US $10/year for individuals qualifying to purchase what is described as a “consumer advocate – subsidized” domain, while legitimate brands registered with the Trademark Clearinghouse can expect to pay a walloping US $2,500 every year (!) to acquire the domain in order to keep it out of unfriendly hands. For more detailed information on the price scheme, there is a great Marketing Land article that breaks it down.

If that price just made your eyes water, you’re not alone. Despite the costs involved, however, the domains are moving. So far, youtube.sucks, bing.sucks, visa.sucks, bankofamerica.sucks, and kevinspacey.sucks have all been snapped up for example.

The .SUCKS Shakedown and Defensive Registering 

If US $2500 a year sounds like a lot of money to spend just to let the Internet know you really hate Coke or Star Wars, you are correct. It’s exorbitant.  The .sucks domain registrars are clearly seeking to make a more-than-tidy profit as companies with a good deal of brand equity will be compelled to take part in defensive registering.  For anyone unfamiliar with the term, defensive registering occurs when a corporate entity like Coca-Cola registers a domain like www.coke.sucks on its own in order to protect its brand from a private user that might register the domain for a more illicit purpose.

The slightly less disturbing news is that most domains – and we suspect most law firms will fall into this category – will fall into the “Block Registration” class, where purchasing the domain to take it out of commission will cost approximately Cdn $255 annually, while standard registration will cost approximately Cdn $320 annually.  Still a cash grab, but one that is at least within reach for most law firm brands.

Should You Purchase Your Own .SUCKS Domain?

Despite the annoyance factor of this domain, the short answer is probably yes. This is particularly true for mid-size or larger firms with a great deal of brand equity and massive revenues. If you’re Blakes, Tories, BLG, Davies, McCarthys or Faskens spending even US $2500 a year is cheap insurance against the potential cost of a privately owned and publicly disruptive .sucks website. But even for smaller firms, your reputation is critical, and effectively managing that reputation in the online world is a reality of modern life.

That said, it is important to note that the protection provided by defensive registering is limited at best.  A truly disgruntled party can easily find a workable alternative, along the lines of www.lawfirmnamesucks.com or .net. or even targeting individual lawyers’ names.  At a certain point defensive registration becomes uneconomical to hedge against every possible domain configuration.  Ultimately the decision to purchase a .sucks domain will fall to you, your marketing department and your external digital marketing agency/web folks.

The general registration for .SUCKS opens June 1.  For more details on the dates involved or to pre-register a .sucks domain, you can visit:  http://www.internic.ca/gtld/sucks.aspx.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Skunkworks Creative Group.

 

 

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