Jul 10, 2012

The First Law Firm Ever to Launch a Website

11 Comments · Posted by Robert Ambrogi in General

Which law firm was first to have a website? I asked this in my recent Legal Internet Trivia Challenge. Congratulations to Edward Granger of Marketing on Trial for providing the correct answer.

So which firm was it? (Drum roll.) The first law firm to have a website was Venable, or, as it was then known, Venable, Baetjer, Howard & Civiletti. It launched its site in March 1994.

Several people gave the answer Heller Ehrman, the now-defunct law firm. This is understandable, given that Wikipedia says, “[I]n 1994, Heller Ehrman launched the first law firm website.” On this, I believe Wikipedia is wrong. Wikipedia’s only source for its assertion is Heller Ehrman’s own website. The website page is no longer available, but I found a cached version through the Internet Archive. It was a chronology of the firm’s history that included this entry: ”1994: Heller Ehrman launches first law firm website.”

Apart from that, I can find nothing that corroborates Heller Ehrman as first and I can find nothing that gives a more precise date in 1994 of the launch of its website.

With respect to Venable, my first source of evidence is myself. In an article I wrote in August 1995, I said, ”The first law firm to establish a Web page, in 1994, was Venable, Baetjer, Howard & Civiletti. This page set the standard for others to follow.” I was following this stuff pretty closely back then and the world of lawyers on the Internet was still tiny.

Venable’s traffic logs for the week of June 12, 1994, show 339 accesses — not bad for the first law firm on the Web.

The second piece of evidence is that Venable registered its domain name on March 5, 1994, and a search of the Internet Archive was able to find Venable’s traffic logs back to June 12, 1994. (See image right.)

The best evidence, however, is an April 2, 1994, news article in The Baltimore SunLawyers in Cyberspace, about how Venable “recently hung out an electronic shingle as a publisher on the Internet — making articles by its lawyers available worldwide to users of the far-flung network of computer networks.” The article said that the site went online in mid-March 1994 — a week or so after it registered the domain name.

The article goes on to indicate that Venable was the first firm to have such a site:

Venable has long been influential, but now it might just be the best “wired” law firm in the country. Mr. Bass said that as far as he can determine, Venable is the first law firm with direct access to the Internet and the first to publish there under its own name.

Matthew Bromberg, marketing manager of the Lexis Counsel Connect on-line service, said one law firm in San Francisco had posted resumes of its lawyers on the Internet, but not a full-scale publication.

“It’s not nearly as professional or impressive as what Venable has done,” Mr. Bromberg said. “They’ve certainly taken that to an extent I’ve never seen before.”

The “Mr. Bass” the article refers to is Ken Bass, the trailblazing Venable partner who spearheaded the firm’s entry into cyberspace. To illustrate how uncharted was this territory, you need only read on in the article:

Venable’s electronic periodicals, carried on the World Wide Web segment of the Internet, are sophisticated works of programming. They incorporate graphics and headlines as well as plain text. If you click on a highlighted reference, the program takes you to a related article or document, which could either be in the Venable file or some other data base, through a “hypertext” link.

For instance, when you contact the World Wide Web through the Cello program, you can click on a highlighted reference to Harris vs. Forklift Systems and the program will take you into a data base of Supreme Court decisions at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. When you finish reading the justices’ opinions, a click on a return button will take you back to the Venable newsletter.

When HTML mark-up is considered “sophisticated” programming, you know you’ve traveled back in time. As context, consider that the concept of the Web as an Internet service had just been introduced in 1991 and the first photo on the Web was uploaded in 1992. When Venable launched its site in 1994, no one knew quite what to make of the Web or could anticipate what it would become.

One other note of trivia in that Baltimore Sun article is its reference to the “Cello program.” Cello was the first Web browser for Microsoft Windows. Before Cello, browsers were available only for Unix operating systems. Notably, Cello was created specifically with lawyers in mind. It was developed by Tom Bruce of Cornell’s Legal Information Institute so that lawyers — who even then primarily used Windows — could access the Web.

So, unless someone can prove me wrong, I give the title of first law firm to have a website to Venable.

Tags: No tags

11 comments

  • Author comment by Erik J. Heels · July 10, 2012 at 11:23 am

    There was some confusion about the definition of “website” in the early 1990s as some firms used their own domain names, others did not. See also:

    http://www.erikjheels.com/478.html

    Reply

    • Author comment by Robert Ambrogi · July 10, 2012 at 11:55 am

      Thanks for this. Do you have launch dates for these?

      Reply

    • Edward Granger - Marketing On Trial · July 11, 2012 at 9:16 am

      It may be that Veneble was not the first website, but the first legal website that represented the model that we follow today. From what I’ve read they were the first with their own domain name? This is an interesting topic, I wish I could find an image of their first website.

      Reply

  • Joshua Neil Rubin · July 10, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Nice sleuthing. I also remember experimenting with Lynx, a DOS browser, on my Hayes SmartModem (which I believe then ran at the astonishing rate of 2400 baud).

    Reply

    • Author comment by Robert Ambrogi · July 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      You had the speedy one. Weren’t some at 1200 baud?

      Reply

      • Joshua Neil Rubin · July 11, 2012 at 11:48 am

        I zipped along at 1200 forever until we splurged for the 2400. 1200 was actually pretty fast then, since you were only getting ASCII text and control characters. At 1200 or 2400 you got decent speed for Westlaw, LEXIS, Dow Jones, Compuserve, and Dialog. All over what later became known as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service).

        Reply

  • Mark Rosch · July 11, 2012 at 12:27 am

    2400 bps? 1200 bps? Blazing! My first modem was 300 bps.

    Reply

    • Joshua Neil Rubin · July 11, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Pretty sure the LEXIS terminals at law school were 300 bps. Old fax-style thermal dot-matrix output.

      Reply

  • Gordon Firemark · July 11, 2012 at 4:08 am

    Dont know I I can prove it, and it wasn’t much, but my first website went live in early 1994. I might just Bea Venable by a few weeks.

    Reply

    • Author comment by Robert Ambrogi · July 11, 2012 at 8:57 am

      You are always ahead of the curve Gordon! In the original trivia question, I intentionally stated it as the first firm of more than 25 lawyers to have a website, because I thought it could be difficult to track down any solo or small firm sites. Were you a solo then?

      Reply

  • Law Firm Websites and Beyond: How to Win and Retain Business | The Hildebrandt Institute Blog · July 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    [...] believe that the first law firm website was launched less than twenty years ago.  According to a recent blog post by Robert Ambrogi, it was Venable, which launched the first law firm website in March 1994. Considered cutting edge at [...]

    Reply

Share your comments