Law firm websites in the 1990s // The legal netscape

A journey back in time through cyberspace: the websites of Canada’s biggest law firms from the 1990s

By Precedent

On Wednesday July 11th, 2012


blakesA recent post by Robert Ambrogi on his Law Sites blog (hat tip: Wise Law Blog) traces the origins of the first-ever law firm website. Ambrogi writes that he believes that title belongs to U.S. corporate and business firm Venable, which launched the first iteration of its site in March 1994.

The most eyebrow-raising part of the post, though, is a quote from a 1994 Baltimore Sun article called “Lawyers in Cyberspace,” which raves about the cutting-edge technology deployed by Venable on its website:

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.

That got me wondering: What did the websites of Canada’s biggest law firms look like in the 1990s? Thanks to the Internet Archive‘s Wayback Machine, we can find out.

Here are screenshots of the home pages of four large firms, chosen somewhat at random and based mainly on how good a job the Wayback Machine’s webcrawler did when archiving site content 15 or more years ago. Okay, here we go:


Hats off to Faskens — as far back as 1996, the firm’s Multimedia Law Group maintained a content-rich “Multimedia Expo” section of its website, which demonstrated “how multimedia is being used by the Canadian corporate community to communicate ideas and market products to the public.” It was promoted on the firm’s home page (pictured above) by a navigation button labelled “Now for something completely different!”


This November 1996 snapshot of Osler‘s website reveals a simple, professional design and content including “commentary on emerging legal issues, notice of changing legislation, and dialogue with our lawyers” as well as “articles prepared by our lawyers on current legal issues.”


The Blakes website circa 1997 also had an impressive content offering (though I’m glad they thought twice in subsequent redesigns about the background wallpaper).


Cassels Brock‘s early forays into online communication reveal a proto-blog format; the home page provides links to content, with the most recent offering residing on top. The design harkens back to a time when we all seemed to think that marbled backgrounds were an indicator of professionalism. Those were, indeed, heady times.