Note: The following is a guest post by Brian Kennel.
Beyond a look or a logo, a strong brand is supported by an actual experience. It conveys what differentiates a firm from others and why it matters to clients. A clearly defined brand bolsters the confidence of existing clients, tells potential clients what to expect, and draws the attention of lateral hires and recruits.
Branding is also a symbol of firm competence that transcends individual attorney competence. While most clients hire lawyers more so than firms, a good brand behind a talented lawyer adds value. An effective firm brand resonates on all levels from the receptionist to the billing department, to secretaries and even to the attorney who is “pinch hitting” for a colleague.
Branding law firms comes with the added challenges of tradition and firm power structure. In most law firms, power has a linear relationship to client generation. Individual situations vary, but firms should consider the message potentially communicated by their firm name.
For example, a small firm with a name that includes all of the equity partners could suggest a flatter power structure or an inclusive culture. In this instance, one of these messages matters to the market, and one does not. Alternatively, the same smaller firm name that includes only one partner, who is still actively practicing, tends to communicate a concentrated power structure and potentially limited dimensions. Again, one of these messages matters to the market, and one does not. It is also important to understand to what extent the partner names are the brand.
These realities seem to conflict with the trend to shorten names, regardless of the subtle messages that may be communicated. More established firms tend to shorten their names to simplify or to recognize how the market knows the firm. When named partners are no longer practicing, branding lawyer names has very little to do with communicating the actual client experience.
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Given these factors, law firms use other branding techniques to communicate the client experience. The use of tag lines is very popular, but firms must be careful to ensure that these phrases effectively communicate the firm’s message.
Finally, trade names are generally acceptable for use, but many firms are unwilling to risk the market value of an existing name for an unproven trade name. Nuanced firms positioning themselves as evolutionary are more apt use trade names.
Many of these firms are relatively new and are freer to operate under a different naming convention. They see their name as an important component of communicating that they are different from traditional law firms. To highlight this with a real life example, I asked the managing partner of Rimon PC, Michael Moradzadeh, about the intended message of their name and logo. He responded, “We chose that name because it was a symbol for integrity, prosperity, and the law in the ancient world. We also liked the imagery of many equal seeds that make a pomegranate, the way we see ourselves as a team made of equals.”
Some build on the notion that they are former large firm partners who, now liberated from the big firm world, are free to deliver higher quality and more cost-effective services. Others position themselves as being unburdened by the traditional law firm pyramid that passes training costs along to clients. All of this has an attraction to those clients searching for a different experience, which must be borne out by solid results and the promised value added benefits (economic, collaborative or creative, etc.).
A branding process that focuses on how the market interprets a firm’s brand and aligns the reality of the firm’s service offerings to support that brand is ideal. The firm brand will then communicate the true client experience.
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