Legal IT professionals have an important seat at the table when it comes to managing a law firm’s portfolio of domain names. In fact, their participation in the process is critical. Domain names are essential to law firms because they, along with the websites and email accounts they enable, represent the firm’s digital identity to the world. However, legal IT is often spread thinly with other diverse responsibilities, including hardware, software, network, training, help desk tech support, partnerships, and more. Their overwhelming workload leaves legal IT little time to focus on domain-related issues. Therefore, the best strategy is for legal IT to focus on the most pressing domain management needs to ensure they are tended to sufficiently.
When is legal IT responsible for domains?
Who is responsible for domains at law firms? The answer is “it depends.” Responsibility for domain name management can vary at each organization depending on the size and makeup of a law firm. Different departments may take the lead on specific areas, so IT is usually part of a team of stakeholders. Marketing or branding often spearhead domain management for larger firms since they have dedicated staff for these functions. At other firms, domain management is rooted within the legal department where domains are treated as intellectual property assets akin to trademarks and copyrights. However, for smaller and less diversified firms, which would typically only have their main brand and website to manage, IT can often be the responsible party, beyond that of just the technical requirements.
Technical aspects of law firm domain management
At most law firms, legal IT's core responsibility for domain management typically includes areas like registering new domains, renewing existing domains, and paring back domains when the portfolio becomes unwieldy or overly expensive. IT also makes sure that the firm’s domains are pointing to or “resolving” to relevant online content and are configured correctly. From a technical standpoint, IT configures DNS and implements Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates for the firm’s domains. In the event of a security breach of a website or email, IT will be on call to stop the breach and investigate its source to mitigate damage and prevent recurrence.
Establishing and enforcing a domain name policy
As an integral part of the domain management team for the firm, legal IT ensures that the domain portfolio is secure, right-sized and on budget. To achieve this, having a well-defined domain management policy is key. The policy clearly designates when domains are to be registered, when domains can be lapsed, and which brands should be registered across which top-level domains (TLDs), such as .com. A strong policy covers domain topics thoroughly to prevent open questions that may lead to mistakes and risk to the firm. Without a well-defined policy, domains can be haphazard and disorganized, presenting a liability to the organization.
The process of developing a domain policy can look different in every organization, it may involve several departments, such as IT, HR and legal, among others. However, once a policy is established, it can also be paired with an employee handbook that outlines the guidelines needed for the process of domain management. Problems often occur when there are no policies, and employees carry out their own process – registering domains with various registrars that the firm’s leadership may not be aware of or have standardized as to what the firm wants – which can be risky to any organization.
Preventing communication breakdowns
Good communication is essential to effectively manage domain workflow at a firm. The biggest potential disconnects can occur between legal IT and marketing, especially when marketing is responsible for registering new domains. Marketing may register a new domain and assume it is ready for public use, but IT still needs to configure DNS records on the back-end before the domain is truly ready for use. Keeping IT in the loop regarding all changes to the firm’s domain name portfolio is sometimes challenging, but those conversations need to take place to prevent issues. By coordinating closely on domains, legal IT and marketing can iron out any wrinkles in the process.
Benefits of a Domain Name Council
In recent years, organizations large and small have benefited from establishing a Domain Name Council (DNC). The DNC is an interdepartmental group that meets periodically to discuss domain-related issues and address upcoming plans such as practice area launches, rebranding, renewals, merger/acquisition action and the like. Like all businesses, law firms are not static, unchanging entities – they are evolving and moving forward. A dedicated DNC team allows the firm to stay on track with domains from myriad perspectives, including technical, legal and marketing.
Advantages of metrics and KPIs
Law firms are getting increasingly more adroit to performance measurement, as corporate legal clients are requiring more metrics and tracking of key performance indicators (KPIs) from outside counsel. KPIs can be enormously helpful to legal IT when firm management asks to report on the status of the domain name portfolio and to make recommendations for its improvement.
The KPIs measured can run the gamut from portfolio-wide statistics, like size and spend, to performance-based metrics, like percentage of domains resolving to live content. Security can also be gauged by KPIs, such as percentage of domains that have a registry lock, as well as the health/quality attributes that show how valuable and protected a firm’s domains are. Measurement findings can reveal holes in domain maintenance so legal IT can make sure DNSSEC is implemented correctly, uphold SSLs and email authentication practices, and prevent delay issues like lame delegation. By regularly reporting on metrics to firm management, legal IT can use the data to optimize the domain portfolio and prevent risk.
Relying on the right registrar
Some organizations choose to centralize all their domains with a single registrar, while others spread out their domain assets across several. Either way, corporate registrars can be a great help to legal IT professionals because they provide a wealth of knowledgeable people and technology resources to help with domain management.
Choosing the right registrar is imperative. A good registrar should be able to centralize the firm’s domain portfolio data in one digital location so the firm can easily see all the names that belong to them. The registrar should also provide technology tools the firm needs and supplement the firm’s internal teams by providing dedicated client support and insider knowledge of the domain industry. The registrar can provide guidance and best practices to their legal IT and marketing teams, and the firm’s own legal counsel. Also, the registrar can help IT ensure that the firm’s domains have the highest levels of security and sufficient email authentication implemented.
Taking a focused, proactive approach to improve domain management
Domains are often forgotten about until something goes awry, but they are important enough to warrant ongoing attention. Imagine if the firm loses its domain or experiences a security breach because of poor security – either situation is unthinkable. A focused, proactive approach is best.
Whether legal IT professionals lead the domain management process, or are a supportive and valued member of the team led by another department, they play an important role to ensure domains are performing optimally. Legal IT makes sure that the firm’s domains have the highest levels of security implemented, are configured and resolving correctly, and have proper email authentication in place.
Working in concert with HR, legal and marketing, legal IT can ensure that domain policy is established and enforced. The firm is well-served to consider forming a DNC to periodically meet on domain issues and strategies. When measurement of KPIs is required, legal IT can leverage technology tools to provide data on portfolio size, expenses and performance. In addition, legal IT can collaborate with the firm’s registrar to extract the most value from that relationship.
Legal IT professionals play an essential role in a firm’s domain management process. By focusing on the principles mentioned above, they will be able to focus on the most important issues and successfully optimize the process.
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