Some law firms cut their names down to size
To Cher, Madonna, Oprah and Prince add Howrey, Skadden, Sutherland and Winstead.
It s part of a new branding trend for law firms to go by only one name.
When a law firm brands itself, it s generally fantastic for the person answering the phone, hard on the tech team and really rough on the legacy of the usually-dead partners whose names go out of use.
As law firms get more comfortable with the idea that lawyers can be professionals and still run their firms like businesses, the idea of creating a marketplace persona for the firm is increasingly popular. This results in modernized Web sites, shiny new often-arty brochures and fewer names on the stationery.
The latest is Sutherland, a formerly three-name Atlanta-based firm that took the plunge this month. Others that have gone before it include Skadden, Howrey, Dechert, Orrick, Pillsbury and Winstead.
If you re looking for the opportunity to get your name on the door of the big firm that boat has sailed, said John McFarland, a partner in the Houston office of Dallas-based Winstead.
This takes the ego out of it, also the confusion with some firms the name is four guys, then five guys, then later it s down to three guys.
Branding for law firms isn t just paring down the name. It s picking a logo with gravitas, a classy color scheme, an important feel for the Web site, a poignant message and a way to convey it all. It s strategy, it s choices . . . it s sales. Law firms are not Coca-Cola. We don t brand a name for $69 million. Law firms are trusted advisers, said Winstead CEO Denis Braham, who practices in Houston. “We have to be cautious. You can’t go too far with this. We aren’t, after all, travel agencies. We don’t put people on safaris.”
So law firms looking to “strategically communicate” want class, not crass, trust, not lust.
Braham said they conducted focus groups, including with some clients, to see what colors, fonts and messages appealed and fit.
“We have an advantage, Winstead has the word ‘win’ in it,” Braham said. You can’t guarantee results, he said, but you can highlight the first three letters of your name.
Winstead most recently was Winstead Sechrest Minick, but it boiled down to one name about a year ago, after William B. Sechrest left to practice with others in California. Texas rules require law firms to contain the names only of current law partners or those who’ve retired from law or died.
Jennifer Davis, the Atlanta-based director of marketing for Sutherland, said the desire to improve the firm’s Web presence led to its one-name decision. She said people had been calling Sutherland Asbill Brennan by just the one name in conversation anyway.
“Law firms are busily branding themselves,” Davis said.
She said it’s happening with increasing frequency, especially among the top 100 firms in the nation. It involves not only catchy domain names and the look of law firm marketing but also identifying slogans. At Sutherland, it’s a set of word pairs like “driven and determined” and “imagine and innovate.”
She said the day of the Sutherland name rollout, attorneys came in to work to find gift baskets on their desks with Sutherland-abilia, including a water bottle and a hardcover book about the firm’s history.
Davis said her firm branded mugs, napkins, exhibit banners and more. At Sutherland’s Houston office, the firm has a new branded covering for a table where people share homemade baked goods and other sweets.
Julie Gilbert, chief communications officer for the 700-lawyer firm, said when the two offices merged they kept four names, largely because of the name identification in various places and for various practices.
They branded the new firm with a new “warm red” logo that incorporates all the initials and their new motto “Practical wisdom, trusted advice.”
Gilbert said they ran a firm-wide scavenger hunt with prizes to ferret out items at their 12 offices that had the names of the old pre-merger firms. They found coffee mugs, file boxes, timesheets, FedEx slips and elevator signs.
Anyone who submitted more than two entries received $10 in either Visa or Starbucks cards. The winner with the most entries got $250.
Branding has become such an accepted part of law firm work, especially after a merger like theirs, that it was part of the agenda at a recent partner retreat, she said.
“Other people realize the firm has to be branded in ways that make sense,” she said. “Many lawyers who have strategically managed law firms into large successful businesses are smart enough to know that what helps the firm success is what matters. They worry not about egos, but about what works.”
Cooper thinks it is primarily because lawyers see their clients’ brands becoming valuable assets that they are thinking about their own commercial identities.
She likes a telling firm name like “The Real Property Law Group” in Seattle, where you can tell what the lawyers do and there are no worries about changing the names on the door.
In Texas, though, the state bar rules don’t allow anything much except the lawyer names.
Here a firm can be “Jones, Smith Doe,” or “Law Offices of Jones, Smith Doe,” but not even “JonesLaw” or “Jones Law.”
In Houston, the home-grown favorite for many years seems to be the two-name moniker Fulbright Jaworski, Vinson Elkins, Baker Botts, Andrews Kurth, Bracewell Giuliani and Susman Godfrey. You can’t get a whole lot shorter, though a lot of people do call Vinson Elkins by the initials V E.