Compare & Contrast
Yes, You Can Build Your Own Web Site
by Anthony Paonita
BIG LAW FIRMS have them. Cyber-lawyers, do too. Even grandparents have them. We're talking Web sites, of course.
By now, companies that don't have a site almost are seen in the same light as crackpots who refused to get telephones. Except for lawyers, that is. While the big firms may have their Web sites to parade their technological prowess, most small firms or solo practitioners are certainly forgiven if they haven't yet staked out their place on the Web.
Surfing The Choices: Web Authoring Tools
Adobe Pagemill 3 (Circle No.: 200)
Features: Easy drag and drop interface, bundled with Photoshop LE for image editing
Filemaker Homepage 3 (Circle No.: 201)
Features: Built-in Filemaker Pro database connectivity for dynamic Web pages
Microsoft Frontpage 2000 (Circle No.: 202)
Windows 95/98/2000 $150
Features: Built-in site manager helps plan site and check for bad links
Adobe Golive 4 (Circle No.: 203)
Macromedia Dreamweaver 3 (Circle No.: 204)
Features: Pixel-level control, source editor, support for cascading style sheets, close integration with Fireworks image-editor, site management tools, "clean up Word HTML" feature streamlines code from Word-composed Web pages.
At the dawn of this new i-economy, romantics thought the Web would empower millions of authors, giving everyone an equal voice. But as sites get more complex and media-rich, it looks, at least to a non-techie, that putting together a decent little site is like coming up with a decent successful television newscast -- not a job for the dabbler.
Just think of the possibilities, though. You can get your name out there. You'll be able to provides easy e-mail links, plus, with some password protection, you can share documents with your clients.
Fortunately, it's getting easier to put together a Web site. You don't have to go to the people with purple hair and multiple piercings in that downtown loft building, nor do you have to hold focus groups and have a Web guru with multiple computer science degrees.
All you need is a good eye, common sense -- and some software.
Before you even think of doing it yourself, just remember a principle that applies to all graphic and communications endeavors: Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should. A lot of software packages give you templates and graphic elements that, if used injudiciously, will result in nothing less than a virtual eyesore. Steer clear of anything that flashes, makes sounds, or moves. Any of these will drive people away and make them question your (pick one or more) taste, lawyering ability or sanity.
And keep it simple. White space is good; clean, simple navigation will bring you closer to Nirvana.
What follows is a selective guide to the tools out there.
That's right. You have the tools right now -- that is, if you're using a computer. Modern word processors have a "Save as HTML" option. You can just type out a simple document, telling the world what you do and how to get in touch with you, and save it as a Web page. It's relatively painless. I could save this article and "post" it to my company's site, if I could find a cooperative MIS person. For most of you, you can just zap the page up to the space your ISP gives you.
Any problems? Like anything that's (relatively) free, you don't have a whole lot of flexibility. Your documents will have a basic look, and you won't have much of a choice in fonts, graphics and the like. If you know HTML code, you could get around the limitations, but then again, you wouldn't be reading this article.
You can also use the "composer" function of Netscape Communicator to design a page. It's more suited to Web design than a word processor. But again, you'll have to figure out how to "ftp," or send your pages to your ISP, unlike the built-in remote site administration that dedicated programs, described below, have.
There's another virtually free way to do this. Some Web sites let you design a page, and they'll host it for you. Check out Web-page-wizard.com. Even Apple Computer (www.apple.com) lets Mac users do it. But again, the designs are pretty generic. And many of them insert ads -- a feature that is decidedly unbecoming of a lawyer.
For a more lawyer-specific (and fairly low-cost) approach, Martindale-Hubbell (see www.lawyers.com/faq/intro.htm) offers to host Web sites for small firms or solo practitioners.
But this approach leaves your page on a "subdivision" of the main site. To get around such problems, a new service, LegalDomain.com, will supply the small firms or solo practitioners with a domain name and help design a Web site, from anywhere from about $600 (an introductory promotion) to a post-introductory $4,500 for a nine-page site.
Easy and Cheap
There are some "what you see is what you get" Web authoring packages that are gentle on the checkbook and boast easy learning curves. Microsoft's Front Page will guide you as you create and, if you're a quick learner, will let you come up with pretty sophisticated designs.
The latest edition, Front Page 2000, is even faster and easier than prior versions. During an April 8 satellite-broadcast demo, a Microsoft employee "built" and published a perfectly respectable, sophisticated site in about 10 minutes, complete with links to a database.
Apple's former subsidiary, Claris, has morphed into the database company Filemaker, Inc., and sells something called HomePage. It's similar in ability to the above. It, too, links up seamlessly to the database -- in this case, the popular Filemaker Pro.
This enables Web designers to create "dynamic" pages that change on the fly. It's very useful if you're selling on the Web, but not all that useful to most neophytes.
Likewise, Adobe sells PageMill, which is just a bit clumsier to use than HomePage, but has similar features. What's nice about PageMill is that Adobe bundles it with a "lite" version of its premier image-editing tool, Photoshop.
Here's where the pros come out to play. (At least the pros who aren't the elitists who insist on writing all code manually.) In this group, two packages stand out: Macromedia's Dreamweaver and Adobe's GoLive. Both will set you back around $300, both are cross-platform and both give you the tools to do a professional job.
I've been playing around with the Mac version of Dreamweaver 3 for a couple of weeks now, and, taking great pains not to consult the manual, managed to put together a simple site with different typefaces in assorted colors, nifty buttons and pictures of a friend's country home. After I was done, I uploaded the files to my space on my ISP's servers. Macromedia also bundles (for a premium) Dreamweaver with an image editor, perfect for creating those slick button rollover effects, called Fireworks.
Both Dreamweaver and GoLive come with all the requisite bells and whistles. They support Web cascading style sheets (in English, they allow fancier typography); allow you to place layout elements wherever you like without going through the purgatory of building tables (the only way to do it before); and help you map out a site's pages and check that the links do what they're supposed to do.
Caveats? Other than the not-insignificant cost, a steeper learning curve and a certain feeling that if you're a relative neophyte, you're out of your league.The bottom line is that if you're somewhat interested in building a site, buy at least a beginner's authoring program and try it out. You can always graduate later to the tools the pros use. And if you're making a serious commitment to doing a slick job on your own, buy the best.
Anthony Paonita is a contributing editor of Law Technology News and a senior editor of The American Lawyer magazine.
Information was obtained from manufacturers' Web sites, examination of products, and/or press releases. For details, please visit http://lawtech.hotresponse.com or use the Reader Response cards.