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A few years back, Toronto-based Gavel and Gown Software Inc. switched the Web address for its leading product from www.amicusattorney.ca to www.amicusattorney.com. The company moved from the country suffix (ca stands for Canada) in order to be part of the dot-com revolution. Now, a Washington, D.C.-based partnership wants to try to create a dot-law revolution, too. The venture, tentatively called (you guessed it) DotLaw.com Inc., recently requested that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) grant it control of the top-level domain “.law.” If the application is accepted, DotLaw.com will win the exclusive right to distribute Web names ending in .law. DotLaw’s chances look good. It was the only entity that ponied up ICANN’s hefty (and non-refundable) $50,000 fee to apply for the .law suffix. But it will have to wait until later next month to receive official notice from ICANN. In the meantime, ICANN has its hands full reviewing applications for other proposed suffixes like .biz, .web, .sports and, of course, .sex (ICANN took applications for new suffixes on Sept. 5 through Oct. 2). Even though nothing is final, DotLaw’s founders are already planning the company’s strategy. “We’re excited about this, even if we have no real right to be excited yet,” said W. McKay Henderson, a Washington, D.C.-based accountant and consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and one of DotLaw’s co-founders. “We think we’ll be able to give legal professionals a chance to start over on the Internet.” Start over? It feels like the legal world just jumped on the Internet bandwagon. And that may be so, but according to DotLaw, the Web’s become a messy jumble of legal information and misinformation. “The dot-com space is too fragmented,” said DotLaw’s other founder, Dr. James Fonger, a Washington-based cardio-thoracic surgeon. “It’s tough to perform effective legal-related searches on the Internet. And it’s hard for legal professionals to get their names out there over the Web.” Fonger and Henderson think they can quell the chaos. If and when they gain control over the .law top-level domain, they will vet the applications that come in for .law Web sites, accepting only lawyers, law professors, legal vendors and others closely tied to the profession. Their plan is to link and index all the sites in an organized, logical way. Searches for legal information will not require a clunky search engine, the way they do on the sprawling Web. Fonger envisions searches of .law sites being “quick, relevant and precise,” adding that searchers “won’t get a lick of extraneous data.” Fonger and Henderson plan to sell this new-and-improved searching capability to attorneys across the country. They hope that by making .law Web sites the best places to search for legal information, lawyers will feel compelled to sign up for their own sites. And this, of course, is how the pair plans to make money. They have not yet set prices for their services. But they will likely charge a fee for each domain name and a higher fee to help a lawyer set up his site. They are also brainstorming on how to push content to lawyers’ sites on a periodic basis. For example, a solo trusts and estates practitioner in Minneapolis might wake up one day to find posted to her site information on changes to Minnesota’s inheritance tax. “We’d like to show that Web sites don’t have to be static,” said Fonger. BEST LAID PLANS? But can Fonger and Henderson make this work? Possibly, although at first blush, they seem an unlikely duo for such a project. Neither are lawyers. Fonger fixes arteries, not legal problems, and Henderson crunches numbers, not adversaries. But they just might have the right combination of pluck, experience and fresh perspective to make it work. Fonger convinced the owners of the fledgling “.md” suffix (which is being sold exclusively to medical professionals) to invest in and counsel DotLaw. Henderson, who spends a good deal of his time counseling law firms on litigation strategy, knows a lot of lawyers in the Washington area. Still, it is clear the two have some serious marketing work in front of them. “The .law idea is not a good one,” insists David Whelan, the director of the American Bar Association’s legal technology resource center. “It’ll only cause law firms and other lawyers to gobble up Web sites when they don’t really need to.” Whelan has already been invited to team up with applicants for the suffix “.pro,” for “professional.” “But we declined. We just think this all adds more confusion,” he said. Fonger and Henderson see the issue differently. “It’s just not that complicated,” Fonger said. “A law firm can just redirect all of its .com traffic to its .law address. I don’t view this as being tricky or detrimental.

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