This long overdue New Year’s post, which I actually started in December 2021, will have nothing to do with serious work stuff. Instead, as Stone & Baxter was wrapping up its 25th year and Plan Proponent posted its 99th post, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at how professional websites—law firm sites, in particular—have evolved over the last 25 years.
First, it’s a long, multi-part Thank You to those I’ve worked with and those who have supported the blog for the last 7 years. Second, it’s a nostalgia piece that only the internet can provide. Third, it’s a New Year’s reminder to stay humble. After all, even mega law firms, now with $1 billion in annual revenues each, once thought it was good marketing to display gavels, click counters, guestbooks, recruiting blooper reels, and even a Yahtzee game on their fancy-for-the-times 90s websites. Thanks to the Wayback Machine, I’ve got the receipts!
I hope you enjoy this series even slightly as much as I did. Happy New Year!
At best, my methodology was an excruciatingly tedious use of the “Wayback Machine” (now the “Internet Archive”). If you’re familiar with it, then you might know that it started indexing websites in 1996. Like Stone & Baxter, it recently celebrated its 25th year. In 25 years, it has archived over 778 billion web pages. Thus, it lines-up nicely for this holiday post.
Nostalgia has its practical limits, though. I had to narrow it down somehow, so I focused on Plan Proponent subscribers and LinkedIn connections. Even then it became unmanageable, so I ended up focusing on websites with a functional image prior to 2003; on law firm websites (especially those in Georgia); and, of course, on law firms with a bankruptcy angle.
If you click on the website screen grabs below, then they should link you over to the indexed site and then you can click around on the different dates.
As a warning, the Archive is really cool, but you’re going to see lots of indexed images that have broken links, missing photos, no longer supported web features, and search boxes that don’t work. Firms were constantly upgrading their sites to reflect the newest web development fad. All things considered, the Archive does a great job.
In this Introduction, I’ll focus on the big national law firms, the bankruptcy courts, and some miscellany. In the parts that follow, I’ll divvy up the Thank You among the organizations I’ve been a part of (law and non-law); Middle Georgia firms; Atlanta firms (small and large); and firms outside of Georgia that I’m happy to have a connection to.
Let’s Start with King & Spalding
An odd way to start, for sure, but we have to start with K&S .
First, perhaps more than any other firm on the list, King & Spalding captures everything that this series is mostly about: professional firms jumping on the internet bandwagon. K&S left behind one of the more complete fossil records that I could locate (including a copy of its “request for proposal” for its original 1996 website). Its website is such a dense, well-archived, and frequently-updated site that it’s perfect for this post’s “looking back” theme.
Second, K&S applied all of its mahogany-paneled seriousness to the website exercise and it appears to have led the way in 1996, certainly among the big Atlanta firms. Firms were well ahead of the curve if they had a site up by 1996; late 1998 appears to have been a key go-live time for other big firms; and smaller firms like mine usually followed behind in 1999-2001.
Third, while I’ll cover many of the other national law firms, too, K&S best illustrates how big law firms approached websites back in the 90s. Finally, the K&S site is rich in nostalgia given the number of Georgia attorneys who are still at or got their start at K&S.
K&S Hires a Web Developer
We know K&S led the way because buried in a long list of legal links that K&S thought would be helpful are two fascinating links: one to its website Request for Proposals and the other to its “Work for Hire” agreement. Straight from the K&S site (click the image for the page):
At first, it appeared that K&S left up those links inadvertently. However, it continued to link to them for many years and over various site iterations. Thus, I’m pretty sure K&S viewed itself as a pioneer in the intersection of law and web tech and wanted others to have a go-by.
As K&S explained in its 1995 RFP, it had “decided to explore in depth a web site for the World Wide Web.” (In fairness to K&S, these cringey references to “the World Wide Web” pervade many of the 90s law firm websites.) Of course, K&S knew that when K&S wants a website, it’s a big deal, stating its “hope” that it “would be a big account for most providers” and, thus, that the firm would be offered a “competitive rate.”
Potential applicants be warned, though—K&S is a serious firm:
You should know that King & Spalding can be traditional in its approach to certain items. It is unlikely that the firm would approve a web site that contains a large amount of impressionistic or cartoon-like graphics. While we are open to all kinds of ideas, ‘cute’ web tricks such as links to funny or unusual sites, or the use of unusual videos, sounds, graphics, etc. are unlikely to be approved . . . Prurient items of any type, ‘back doors’, invisible search text, etc. is totally out of the question, and may not be submitted in a proposed or final web site.
(Compare that to my firm where it’s legendary that, around 2004, S&B alums Mark Watson and George McCallum added some humorous hover text to Ron Thomason’s profile picture.)
The K&S application deadline was May 29, 1995 at 5 p.m. Applicants were to submit their responses on a “diskette” (!) that K&S would provide upon receipt of a signed confidentiality agreement. Word Perfect 6.0 was the preferred format. (At a minimum, S&B alum Judge Dillard will appreciate that preference. He’ll come up again in this series.)
Finally, if you had any “question whatsoever about the copyrighted or proprietary nature of the materials,” then you were advised to contact Brad Slutsky who, at the time, was a young Intellectual Property partner at K&S and ultimately the website contact.
As an aside, Brad was already well on his way to becoming an important IP lawyer and, according to a 1997 CNN article about work-life balance, had scored in the 99.6th percentile on the LSAT, was working 60 to 80 hours per week at K&S, and once went five months without a day off. It’s a fascinating, 25 year old article about Brad, Karen Slukin (his super intelligent wife who was an Alston & Bird associate), and the challenges of Big Law life in the late 90s.
Anyway, a computer programmer on the side, Brad had placed a Y2K counter on his K&S attorney profile to remind visitors of how many days were left until January 1, 2000. Back then, law firms were advertising their Y2K practice areas. It all seems so silly now, but, as someone who was working on enterprise system implementations in 1999, I promise you that everyone was nervous about Y2K (including big law firms with up and coming tech practices):
(With Y2K safely behind him, Brad was later quoted in July 2000 as saying that K&S’s (540 word!) “website disclaimer“, which he came up with by researching the “ethics rules in every state,” is the “most extensive disclaimer of any firm’s in the nation.” 25 years later, K&S is still using almost exactly the same website disclaimer, to the word.)
Ultimately, K&S chose CyberNet Communications Corp. or, at least, that’s the name of the company in the Work for Hire Agreement. As the firm announced, “[w]e dedicate this contract to the public domain.” Thanks, King & Spalding! Read it if you need a form.
K&S’s First Website
First indexed on December 30,1996, the site that K&S settled on looked like this, in all its “MS Paint”-looking glory:
Back in the early days, it was not unusual for firms to either provide bios for partners only or to give partners dedicated bios while merely listing associate bios in a long, text-only list. In late 1996, K&S did the latter. For example, bankruptcy partners included the following:
Before this exercise, I hadn’t seen Jim Pardo’s name in a long time. He joined the firm in 1980. In the fitting category of pre-Y2K technology, then, I’m reminded of when we were at an 11th Circuit oral argument shortly before Jim retired. We were all milling about waiting for K&S’s Merritt McCallister (a brilliant young associate on loan from K&S’s SCOTUS practice and now a law professor) and me to get called (for what turned out to be a thorough grilling by Judge Tjoflat on the parallels between qui tam actions and PBGC termination liability). To pass the time, Jim and Ward were telling war stories about the pre-electronic filing days of using Delta Dash to deliver appellate briefs to New Orleans before the 5th/11th Circuit spit in 1981. More of the same when we cover Alston & Bird.
While David Epstein is better known as Prof. Epstein and one of the all-time bankruptcy scholars, he followed his four years as Emory Law School’s Dean with about nine years as a K&S bankruptcy partner. Even after he became a professor at the University of Alabama Law School, the firm kept him on the website and offered its clients his services.
And while I don’t know Ralph Levy, I’ll note that he was K&S’s managing partner in 1996. He had been with the firm since 1974. According to his 1996 profile, he had joined the bankruptcy department to “strengthen” its litigation component. Most importantly for this post, Mr. Levy had the final say on the firm’s new website. See the Ralph Levy video below.
Moving on down the list, Jim’s fellow UVA partner Sarah Borders, who was nice enough to let us quote her for our Judge Drake series, was wrapping up her first year as a partner when they published the K&S site. Mark Maloney (who was relegated at the time to the text-only associate list) is, of course, still at K&S and active in bankruptcy cases in and outside of Georgia. Sarah and Mark are the longest still-serving bankruptcy attorneys in K&S’s history.
Over the next seven years or so, John Isbill, Colin Bernardino, and Austin Jowers, among others, joined the K&S bankruptcy department (a department that had at least four different names in firm’s Practice Area lists over the years).
A notable addition to the K&S site in or around 2000 was K&S University, a section of the site that, for years until K&S abandoned it, provided an extensive overview of K&S’s emphasis on training across all practices. I remember it from my 2004 OCI days at Wake Forest when reviewing firm sites for interview prep.
It was so detailed that it even published dates and times for seminars, many of which were conducted in the King & Spalding Courtroom (opened by Ralph Levy in November 1998 and dedicated to legendary K&S partners Griffin Bell and Frank Jones). Ironically, all of the links to K&S’s “General Programs” are available except for the link to “Time Management.”
Finally, the Easter Egg of all Easter Eggs: K&S’s circa 2001 recruiting videos (passing for 1991 recruiting videos) that are buried among just a handful of links out of the 1,000s of indexed links over 25 years that the Archive captured for K&S.
On the more serious and, perhaps for some, nostalgic side, you have recruiting videos from Mercer and K&S legend Griffin Bell; Macon’s Sen. Sam Nunn; former Managing Partner Ralph Levy; technology partner (and successor website contact) Thomas Gaines, Jr.; self-described (at the time) K&S “lifer” Eileen Brumback; and bankruptcy partner Dan King.
(You can click the links to watch the videos.)
But this is what you came for: The “K&S All Stars” (a/k/a The Blooper Reel)
Of course I had to start with K&S.
A Few More of the Big Firms
I don’t really deal with the big national firms as much as I know of them. I’ll cover a few.
Did Venable Have the First “Big Law” Firm Website?
Bob Ambrogi, the leading legal tech journalist, noted back in 2012 that he believed pretty confidently that Venable had the first big law firm website back in 1994. He had even given it an Honorable Mention in November 1996 among law firm sites.
Venable, itself, was proud of having gone live with some sort of web presence in March 1994, boasting that its “new Venable WWW Server” was managed out of its D.C. office via a Compaq Prolinea desktop computer running on a Pentium 75 Mhz (!) and connected to a “28.8 kbs dedicated telephone line.”
Important to Note: It’s easy to make fun now, but Venable and, for that mater, all of these early adopters, really were cutting edge. I have the utmost respect for all of them.
Here is the first indexed image of Venable’s site on December 6, 1996:
Moving onto the category of cringey good intentions, Venable had the Venable Online Quiz in January 1999. As Venable described it for its fellow “cybernauts”:
Test your jurisprudence skills while having fun. How prudent is your juris? Take Venable’s law quiz and find out. Answer the questions and compare your score to cybernauts around the world.
Finally, let’s not forget that, back in 1998, Venable’s Washington office (the “Venable Moose”) won its first softball league championship after 12 years in the Uptown Lawyer League by “dropping the bomb on Morgan, Lewis, 32-12,” Umbro shorts, Hard Rock shirts, and all:
Speaking of Morgan Lewis, here’s its site in 2000. Apparently, they got lots of visitors who were actually looking for the Major League Baseball (MLB) website:
And here’s some Summer Associate feedback. In the pre-NIL era, I hope all of these bright-eyed young students got offers at least. Unfortunately, the audio files are broken.
Arent Fox Schiff
Even if Venable came first, Arent Fox was right there with it. Technically, it was first indexed on October 29, 1996 compared to Venable on December 6, 1996:
Notice the 90s era web awards—remember Magellan?!—including Bob Ambrogi’s “Best of the Web Award 1996.” What’s interesting about Arent Fox, and I picked this up from Bob’s very early coverage, is that Arent Fox may very well have been online as early as 1994:
In Internet years, 1994 is ancient history, but the Washington, D.C., firm Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn traces its Web origins that far back. That was the year partner Lew Rose joined the 10 or so lawyers who had so far ventured onto the Web and created his Advertising Law Internet Site — today recognized as one of the premier legal sites. At first, he did not tell his firm. Then, in February 1995, PC Computing’s first-ever listing of the top 100 Web sites rated his 16 — the only law firm on the list. Rose showed the review to his managing partner, who in turn had him make a presentation to the partnership. Soon, Rose was helping the firm develop its own site.
The “Discussion Forums” under the “Arent Fox Info Net,” including the Advertising Discussion Form that Lew Rose setup in September 1995, are here. He also founded the former site AdvertisingLaw.com; he went on to become the Managing Partner of Kelley Drye in 2013; and, in retirement, he and his wife gave a $1 million gift to the University of Buffalo Law School.
As a lesson to young lawyers, Lew found a niche, turbocharged it with 28 year-old internet tech, and made an enviable career out of it.
Weil, Gotshal & Manges
I’ll continue with Weil because it is one of the top bankruptcy firms in the country (made famous by Harvey Miller) and because this now billion dollar revenue firm still thought it would be a good idea to feature a gavel graphic that is almost as big as the firm logo. Hey, it was the 90s—well, barely, as I had to fast forward from 1998 to 1999 to find a usable image. (Weil’s all-text December 1998 intro page was half substance and half disclaimer, with the disclaimer containing nine references to “World Wide Web.”)
Here’s Weil’s intro page in October of 1999:
Notice the “Auto Install Now” button, where you had to install a plug-in just to view an animated introduction. So many companies had introductory “Click to Enter” pages with cumbersome animation, “flash” this and that, intro music, etc.
Here’s Weil’s main page in 1999 (after the intro):
Another Easter Egg: While Plan Proponent supporter Steve Jakubowski pioneered bankruptcy blogging on October 28 2005 with his Bankruptcy Litigation Blog, Weil is famous in our world for its Bankruptcy Blog, which I believe it started in or around September 2010:
As a bonus, then, I enjoyed finding the 1997 precursor to its famous blog—“The Weil Bankruptcy Bulletin” (with this clickable .gif advertising all of Weil’s online publications):
Click here for some cutting edge, pre-Till Weil coverage of cramdown interest rates back in 1997.
Kirkland & Ellis
Kirkland & Ellis, of course, has one of the other premier bankruptcy mega practices.
Nevertheless, it couldn’t avoid some cringe of its own in 1998 when, in marquee lights right below its logo, it announced its new affiliation with “the Internet’s World-Wide Web at www.Kirkland.com” and then doubled-down by welcoming visitors to the “World Wide Web site of Kirkland & Ellis.”
Rather than drafting its own attorney bios, Kirland simply linked visitors over to the Martindale page for the firm. For example, if you wanted to find James Sprayregen, who founded Kirkland’s bankruptcy practice in 1990 (just 5 years out of law school), then you’d click on the “Martindale-Hubbell – Chicago Office” link and page down until you found him.
Finally, I went to law school with Chris Greco, a Kirkland bankruptcy partner who is also the co-chair of the firms’ Firmwide Recruiting Committee. He and others might find it interesting, then, to peruse the Kirkland New York NALP form from 1998 (back when associates worked 2,200 hours for a base salary of $100,000 and when the New York office claimed to have just 5 bankruptcy attorneys compared to almost 100 bankruptcy attorneys in the New York office today).
I’m including Skadden for two reasons.
First, I really enjoyed Lincoln Caplan’s book “Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire“. Second, and more importantly, Randall Reese, who founded Chapter 11 Dockets and has always been such a generous supporter of Plan Proponent, was a Corporate Restructuring Associate at Skadden back around 2001.
In early 1998, the Skadden page was well-established but, over 24 years later, the broken photo links don’t make for a good screen grab. It did have a “cool” animated news ticker to announce the addition of its new Silicon Valley office.
If there’s any doubt that a lawyer (young associate?) drafted the Skadden site content, this was its “defined term”-style greeting for site visitors:
Welcome to Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates (collectively “Skadden, Arps” or the “firm”) homepage.
Kind of hilarious. A few months later in 1998, Skadden cleaned things up:
(It’s in French because Skadden’s intro page would cycle through different languages. It landed on French when I went for the screen grab. Let there be no doubt that Skadden was a truly international firm in 1998!)
Finally, here’s what Skadden looked like back in 2001 or so when Randall joined the firm:
Hogan Lovells is the result of the 2010 merger of U.S. firm Hogan & Hartson and London firm Lovells. Hogan & Hartson’s website indexes back to April 2000, pictured here:
The site describes the firm’s Appellate Department as being “headed by a former Principal Deputy Solicitor General, who rejoined the firm in 1993 after four years of representing the interests of the United States before the Supreme Court.” Of course, that’s a not-so-subtle reference to (now Chief Justice) John G. Roberts. Their “What’s New” page was filled with references to the Chief Justice’s then-recent nomination by President Bush to the D.C. Circuit.
I hate that the photo link is broken, but here’s Chief Justice Roberts’ website bio for posterity:
Here’s an October 2000 American Lawyer profile that the firm linked over to (click photo):
There isn’t anything very entertaining or funny about Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s website, but I found the site intro, last pictured in October 2000, rather haunting. Of course, when indexing picked back up in 2002, STB had moved on to different images. The topic of 9/11 will come up again in this series when I cover Greenberg Traurig:
Latham & Watkins
Here’s Latham & Watkins in December 1996—what’s worse, a gavel or the scales of justice?
There isn’t much to showcase but you might enjoy these posed recruiting photos from 1997. If you’ve ever had to pose for website photos with your peers, it’s just plain awful:
Chris Dunstan, a good friend from law school (who transferred to Duke after 1L year), joined Baker Botts’ Dallas IP department in 2006. As he described it 16 years ago, there was an endless amount of IP work for young associates on bleeding-edge, top secret, and hi-tech products. (It was also cool to basically share a networked printer with none other than James Baker as President George W. Bush’s second term wrapped up).
More relevant to this post, it’s only fitting to remind everyone that tech savvy Baker Botts cared so much about its potential recruits that it installed the “Baker Botts Arcade” (“Break Zone”) on its 2001 recruiting page. Actually, it’s not a terrible idea if you can picture bored, technology- and iPhone-deprived law students sitting in class in 2001 with their laptops.
Unfortunately, the game links no longer work:
The following will have some general appeal and do not fit into the firm or regional focus:
The U.S. Supreme Court went online in or about May 2000 (pictured here on 12/05/00). While it has a prominent link to the Bush v. Gore lead-up cases, the ultimate decision came down on 12/12/00 and, unfortunately, the site skips indexing between 12/5/00 and 03/30/00:
Before 2000, you had to dig around on the U.S. Federal Judiciary site, pictured here in July 1997:
And then the Administrative Office of the Courts:
If you explore the various links on the Judiciary and AOC sites, then you’ll notice, and maybe you’ll even remember, the federal courts being all over the place in their gradual transition to electronic filing. For example, you had the “Modem Numbers” links just in case you wanted to use your telephone-based modem to “dial-in” to PACER. And apparently, back in the early 90s, you could dial-in to the “U.S. Supreme Court Electronic Bulletin Board System” —yes, even the highest court in the land had a BBS!—for various SCOTUS info. That’s amazing.
Many of you might not know or remember—I sure didn’t—that before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals got a dedicated website, Emory Law School hosted the Court’s website:
Then we have what most would consider the country’s two most significant bankruptcy courts.
First, the Southern District of New York’s site in 1997:
Second, the District of Delaware’s site in December 1999:
American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI)
The Delaware Bankruptcy Court links to the ABI and reminded me to look-up its site, pictured here, rather impressively, in February of 1997 when the ABI turned 15 years old:
Southeastern Bankruptcy Law Institute (SBLI)
The Southeastern Bankruptcy Law Institute (SBLI) (founded by Georgia’s Judge Drake) started its website in March 2005 but had some broken links that didn’t make for a good screen grab. But here is the officer masthead for that year.
Click the link to poke around the archived site:
Finally, I’d be remiss not to remind LexBlog (who hosts this blog and who is the legal blogging pioneer for so many of the firms that I’m covering) of where it started, especially as I sit here struggling to adapt for the first time to the Word Press Block Editor that LexBlog recently pushed down to small blogs like mine. I think I’ve finally got the hang of it.
Here’s LexBlog, as it looked back in April 2004:
Fittingly, LexBlog founder Kevin O’Keefe stated his mission on April 10, 2004, the day he started his longtime blog “Real Lawyers Have Blogs“:
I am confident with professional looking blog sites and a turnkey Internet marketing offering for lawyers deploying the latest in technology at reasonable prices we’ll offer true value for lawyers.
My unofficial study reveals a 25 year arms race among law firms in the areas of web-based recruiting and especially content publishing. Today, LexBlog has over 25,000 bloggers, “including over half of the nearly 1,000 blogs from the United States’ top 200 law firms.”
That’s finally a wrap on the Introduction. Stay tuned for Part 2!
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