Although businesses cannot afford to ignore the potential of the Net, they should ensure they are fully informed before they go on-line, says George Brandon

The Internet is still viewed with scepticism by many law firms, but they cannot afford to ignore it. A recent independent survey showed that more than 75 per cent of businesses contacted are convinced it will have a major impact on their industry.

This statistic is supported by companies increasingly using the Internet. Since the end of 1994, registrations for commercial domains have increased by 600 per cent.

Denton Hall appreciated the importance of the Internet and was one of the first large law in firms in London to publish a home page on the World Wide Web. The site has been up and running for over a year now and its content and how the firm uses the Internet is continually being developed.

There are more than 120 regular service providers in the UK, of which we selected CityScape. There are also on-line information service providers such as CompuServe, which give access to the Internet as well as providing a wide range of information and other services to their clients, using proprietary software.

There are a number of questions you need to ask when selecting an Internet provider:

Where is the service provider located? For example, does it have a local telephone number for access to its services or does it require a long-distance call?

What modem speeds are supported and how many lines?

What is the charging system? For example, is there a fixed rate no matter how much you use the service, or is it charged on a per-call basis?

Which systems are supported and what is the level of support provided.

What software is provided and is it easy to load onto your PC?

How much do additional email addresses cost and how many can you have?

Can you personalise your email addresses and, if you can, is there any additional cost involved?

What is the cost of placing a home page for your organisation on the Internet?

How much memory for your home page is provided as part of the standard fee?

How do you place your home page onto the server?

How do you update your Web site?

What is the full range of services provided?

Everyone will have varying requirements but once you have obtained the answers to these questions, choosing a service provider is straightforward.

Of course, some firms will take the bold step of introducing their own link to the Internet, thus becoming a service provider in their own right, looking after their own needs and developing the range of services they provide.

Once you have selected your Internet provider you need to create a home page using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). This is the format interpreted by the Web browser software, such as Netscape, on the recipient's PC.

We decided to write the home page ourselves as this allowed us to update the information published on a regular basis, with complete control of the content. Our site provides information on Denton International and a wide range of other data including contacts, office addresses, topical articles and publications. It has generated a lot of interest and we are in the process of completing a new home page which we hope to release in the next few weeks.

The Internet has already become a part of my daily life, looking at companies' home pages, receiving and sending email to sites all around the world. How did I ever manage without it?