Legal Marketing — 12 August 2010

Over the next few weeks, Legalnomics will be publishing a series of articles on how you can apply some concepts from the widely-acclaimed books, 22 Immutable Laws of Branding and 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing to your firm.

Shakespeare was no marketing expert: Names do matter

What’s in a name?

That which we call a rose

By any other name

Would smell as sweet.

(Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 1-4)

When it comes to matters of the heart, the above may very well be true. However, according to the Immutable Laws of Branding and Marketing, when you’re building your practice, the right name can be consequential.

Law of the Name and The Law of the Generic

“In the long run, a brand is nothing more than a name,” boldly states the Immutable Laws. Just as you want your firm to have a memorable logo, you want the name of your firm to be easily recognizable.

There are two common types of law firm names: those that use surnames and those that are descriptive.

Most firm names fall under the first category, consisting of a list of the principals’ surnames, the last two of which are typically separated by an ampersand (Smith Johnson Williams Jones & Brown LLP). They are conventional, generic, and analogous to “Natural” or “Organic” food brand names. Just as products that claim to be endorsed by Mother Nature have diminished brand power, the generic names of law firms can be quickly forgotten.

So how do you make the name of your practice more memorable? We came up with a few suggestions:

Short and sweet

Current trends suggest cutting down a firm’s name to only one word. In legal documents, the firm typically retains its “proper” name, but adopts the shortened “nickname” in the public sphere. Though larger firms have spearheaded the name-shortening movement, small and mid-size practices are starting to join them.

Take, for example, the law firm of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. Following a series of mergers, the name included five uncommon last names and was eight syllables long. After a recent rebranding, the firm is now simply known as Skadden.

Initial here

Another great way to brand your practice is simply to use initials. If done in a purposeful and effective way, shortening an otherwise long firm name to only two or three letters can make it more memorable. This practice is becoming more popular among firms of all sizes.

When Preston Gates & Ellis merged with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham a few years ago, the leaders of both firms knew that their practice could not have seven surnames. Instead, they cut down the name to K&L Gates. (The firm retained the full name Gates because it is recognizable – William Henry Gates Sr., who co-founded the firm is also father to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and the second richest man in world.) The new shortened name is catchy and easy to recall.

Forget punctuation

Though some practices like the formal-looking ampersand, others are doing away with it altogether. The change is subtler than the previous two and a little less common.

Capehart & Scatchard, a mid-size firm that is more than a century old recently rebranded itself to Capehart Scatchard. Kimberly L. Alford, the marketing director, said that the “use of an ampersand tied the names of two or more individuals together as company heads.” Now, “without the ampersand, the firm has one name, one identity — a small change with great meaning.”

Other firms have gone in different directions. Like Ziffren Brittenham Branca Fischer Gilbert-Lurie Stiffelman Cook Johnson Lande & Wolf, which claims the longest firm name in the United States and refuses to have a website. The firm only has two dozen lawyers, ten of which are included in the it’s name. We, at Legalnomics won’t endorse this strategy, since it definitely won’t work for the vast majority of firms.

Some practices, intentionally or not, have funny sounding names like Payne & Fears or Low Ball & Lynch.  While humorous, such names can trivialize the firm’s reputation and diminish credibility, so we would suggest avoiding them whenever possible.

The second type of name, which does not include any surnames, commonly includes the firm’s main practice area, geographic location, or both. Though these names can easily sound generic, with some creativity, they can be suggestive and catchy.

Descriptive

Names like Estate Plan Strategies and Elder Law Firm are generic and we would not recommend them for firms that want to create a unique identity for their practice. However, in some jurisdictions, where attorney advertising rules are restrictive, naming your firm after your practice area can be a way to circumvent these limitations. For example, the Real Property Law Group in Seattle chose its name because of Washington state’s strict ethics rules that prohibit lawyers from claiming to be specialists.

Suggestive

Generic names can be improved by making them more original and suggestive. For example, Legacy Counselors is a memorable and interesting name for an estate planning practice. It lets clients know that the firm is not only going to protect your property and assets, but also the legacy you will leave behind.

Another example is the Men’s Divorce Law Firm in Orlando.  The addition of the word “Men’s” to the firm name makes it more unique, if not atypical.  From a marketing perspective, the name is designed to be reassuring for men who are facing divorce and are concerned about their rights as partners and fathers. By narrowing the focus of the firm in practice and in name, potential clients have an unmistakable insight into the firm’s typical clientele.

If you’re deciding on a firm name or considering changing your existing one, you should do so as part of a comprehensive aspect of your marketing strategy. Without careful consideration, problems can easily arise. For example, shortening your firm’s name or using initials can upset some of your attorneys. Additionally, always make sure that you’re consistent throughout every aspect of your practice, from the name printed on your business cards to the receptionist’s telephone greeting.

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