Legal Marketing Logo Design — 10 August 2010

When we see products or services with a symbol or logo we are familiar with, we are more likely to think they are established and authentic.  Generally, the more recognizable the logo, the more power the brand has.  Law firms large and small are becoming attuned to the importance of a logo as part of their branding strategy.  In fact, creating an effective logo is key to transforming a common practice into a recognized boutique firm.

What makes a logo effective?

Logo design is, by nature, subjective. More traditional designers discourage the use of gradients, while their more modern contemporaries tolerate greater complexity. Some push for absolute minimalism and others allow intricacy. However, when you boil it down, an effective logo has the following characteristics:

  • Simple – The best logos are extremely simple, using basic shapes. The easiest way to test your logo for simplicity is to try describing it using as few words as possible.
  • Memorable – Long after potential clients have seen your logo, they should not only remember what it looked like, but also the name and expertise of your firm. An instant association between the practice and the logo is imperative.
  • Can be produced without color – Though color can be used to great effect in logos, the best designs can be reproduced in grayscale or black and white without sacrificing clarity.
  • Appropriate – Every business that has a logo must ensure that the style of the logo reflects the type of work the company or firm does.  Many law firms interpret this to mean that their logos need to include unoriginal legal imagery like the scales of justice or a gavel. In fact, research has shown that the most successful brands in the world have logos that do not explicitly say what industry the business is in.

In addition to the above (which apply to all logos, not just law firm logos), designers suggest keeping the amount of text small, leaving out any tagline or byline you may have, and using a crisp, clean font for all text. They also warn against following fads, since trends can come and go, making your logo seem outdated in only a few years.

What should a good law firm logo look like?

Branding a law firm may present special challenges for a designer since names tend to be text-heavy – but, with the right technique, a logo can be memorable and effective.

The simplest way to decrease the amount of text in your firm’s logo is to either use initials or an abbreviation. Abbreviations can be tricky, but extremely effective if you can pull it off. Take, for example Morrison & Foerster LLP. Recently, they ‘rebranded’ their firm, declaring on their website, “Imagination. Innovation. Expertise. Commitment. This is MoFo.” Short? Yes. Provocative? Definitely. Memorable? Absolutely.

The rebrand was so effective, in fact, that Trivial Pursuit included the question, “What four-letter nickname is used by worldwide law firm Morrison & Foerster?” in their anniversary addition and Jay Leno included the firm in one of his monologues.

Unlike the logos of physical products or famous personalities, logos for legal services are not typically associated with a specific item or image. Instead, they are linked with expertise and a certain expectation of quality. The trick to great law firm logo design is keeping the logo credible and interesting at the same time.

“A set of initials or a piece of clip art does not a logo make – If you can’t ‘own’ it, it’s not a logo,” Adam Padilla, creative director of Suite850, said. “Add a little flair. Remember, don’t be so serious that you fail to communicate a brand personality. Have some fun, and give people something to remember. After all, where would MetLife be without Snoopy?”

Subtlety

Creating some visual interest either with a small graphic or color differentiation in a subtle, yet suggestive way is sure to get your firm noticed and remembered.

The little cogs and gears on the side are simple, providing a fitting visual for what the practice does without being dominant. Often, when people think of patents, they think of gears and machinery. Now, when they think of gears and machinery, they’ll think of the Los Angeles Patent Group.

At first glance, the above might not seem all that special. But, what if I told you that Fitzpatrick LLP practices intellectual property law? Now, whenever you see the blue/green ‘i’ and ‘p’, you’ll associate Fitzpatrick with intellectual property law and vise versa.

It’s hip to be square

If you look at the most recognizable logos in the United States for services, like Goldman Sachs and American Express, many of them are encased in a square.

Reminiscent of an eye chart, Elen English’s logo is simple, clean, and highly alliterative.   If potential clients simply remember the letter ‘e’, they’ll remember Elen English.

Though similar in color to the previous logo, this logo for Trokie Landau LLP is more visually complex. Once your eye sees the way the ‘t’ and ‘l’ are created within the squares, it becomes hard to forget them.

Some firms take a chance and choose designs that go out of their way to be different from the rest. In cases where the gamble pays off, the logo can be a great way for potential clients to remember your firm. Or it can backfire and baffle its viewers.

What’s your type?

The typography you choose for your logo communicates the mood of your firm. “Always use a readable font – serif or sans serif,” Padilla said. “sans is more modern and serif is more classic.”

When you look at Ryan’s logo, the first thing you notice is the script “y”, which is meant to convey a personal touch. Combine that with the color pallet and you get a logo that says: we are a small firm and we care about our clients.

This logo is the opposite of Ryan’s. Both the modern serif typeface chosen, and the color pallet convey a more serious corporate feel. They use the ampersand as a distinguishing tool which we see a lot of in law firm logos.

It’s short for…

A great way to make your logo eye-catching is to cut down the text to only include the initials of your firm.

Hughes and Carlisle chose to combine both their initials to create an interesting and memorable mark. The airiness of the letter spacing and the calmness of the light purple color conveys a sense that the firm is accessible and approachable.

Loeb chose to go a different route. They used a much more modern typeface and placed it on top of a square. That square also has a hidden treasure – their firm’s initial. It shows strength, confidence, and boldness.

Abstraction

Images included in your logo need not be representational. Sometimes, a free form or abstract shape can effectively bring all of the elements together.

There may not be much to Ensley’s logo at first glance, but let’s examine it a bit closer. The firm name is written in small caps, which communicates dependability. The mark is then wrapped up with a colorful element that manages to be playful without sacrificing sincerity.

Although Manchel’s logo is anything but abstract, the idea behind it is. What do chess pieces have to do with law? This firm is conveying its strategic side. Without using words, they are communicating that they carefully plan and prepare.

Poetic Justice?

Though Lady Justice, Corinthian columns, and scales can be generic, some logos use them to great effect.

River City Law’s logo is actually quite straightforward. The column is reminiscent of columns found throughout various court houses, and the ripple is a literal interpretation of the “river” in the law firm’s name. Put those together and you get something distinctive and memorable due to the fact that it isn’t often we see columns rising out of the water.

Recognizing a bad design when you see one

Every logo aims to be memorable. A memorable logo will help clients create a lasting association between themselves and your firm. A tacky logo that relies on the trends of the moment will most likely be forgotten.

This may tempt some to aim for a design that is completely outlandish in order to be memorable. But there is a fine line between being provocative and being mocked.

Take, for example, the new Olympic logo for the London games in 2012. It’s fuchsia. The “2-0-1-2” is difficult to see on first (and sometimes second) glance. The traditional colors of the Olympic rings are gone.

Graphic designers pounced on the logo, accusing it of being unclear, odd, and just plain ugly.

Regardless of how much it got people talking, it is doubtful that the logo will prove the saying “no publicity is bad publicity” to be true in the long run. The logo alone can endanger sponsorships and decrease merchandise sales and the games are still two years away!

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