A brand can be defined as a: “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” (AMA). The general aim of branding for law firms is to strengthen their identity and ideally differentiate themselves from competitors – an aim shared by other industries – but there are also some idiosyncrasies when it comes to creating a legal brand due to the bespoke nature of most legal services.
Although there are many different ideas about best ways for lawyers to create an effective brand, ultimately this is a very subjective area and the approach to branding will depend on the goals, ethos, and outlook of each particular firm.
Consumer vs business branding
Traditionally, branding has been much more important in the consumer sphere rather than in Business-to-Business (B2B) circles, in terms of developing a “personality” and showing consistency (eg. think Google’s informal style of communication and its consistent colours and typefaces).
This approach of placing emphasis on personality and consistency can be very useful for law firms which engage in large scale advertising or wish to appeal to the general public, such as those specialising in PI claims. However, although businesses may share some consumer attitudes they are less likely to be swayed by a projected image of a firm, and will instead look at the skills and experience of fee earners. Therefore comprehensive profile pages, case studies, and blog posts which demonstrate the knowledge of key staff will add much more value to the overall message of the firm than a fancy logo.
National vs local branding
Although it offers various services for its member firms, the QualitySolicitors (QS) network is, at its core, a branding exercise which has been trying to build up a nationally recognised legal brand. At its peak, QS gained 120 member firms, but this number has now dropped to around 100. Chief executive Eddie Ross recently admitted the project has gone through a “period of uncertainty” and indicated a different approach, switching the focus from branding and advertising to back-room support, marketing advice and training. Earlier this year, north-west–based firm Garratts, formerly a QS member, decided to go it alone in order to “focus on developing our own brand at a local rather than national level”.
What the QS experiment appears to show is that the “big brand” concept which works so well for mass market consumer-driven companies, such as those providing insurance products, may actually have a detrimental effect on certain law firms wishing to appeal to a local or niche clientele.
Generalist vs specialist branding
Eversheds was ranked number one in the 2015 Law Firm Brand Index from Acritas which considered “top of mind awareness” amongst other factors. Meanwhile, Olswang, which focuses on TMT, won Europe Copyright Firm of the Year at the 2014 Managing IP Global Awards – an accolade which enhances its “micro-brand” as an IP specialist. Obviously “top of mind awareness” is of importance to all successful brands and will be of great value to a large “generalist” firm such as Eversheds. But building up a reputation in a particular area of law can be equally valuable, as has been the case with Olswang. In general, the smaller a firm is, the better it is to focus on a niche area and establish a specialist brand which encapsulates niche skills.
A unique approach
In the same way that lawyers cannot adopt a blanket approach for dealing with clients, creating a brand for their firm should be a bespoke process. The fact that each client has their own particular needs means that it’s often detrimental to try and impose consistency in the manner of some big brands. Nevertheless, intelligent branding can be an effective way to carve out a niche in the legal sector and keep your firm in the mind’s eye of current or future clients. Here are a few points to consider:
- What is the “personality” of your firm? Are you traditional and reserved or modern and experimental – or a mixture?
- What is your speciality – either in terms of type of legal work undertaken or the sectors/individuals you work with?
- How do you stand out from your competitors – what’s your USP?
- Are your clients based locally, nationally or internationally?
Once you’ve decided on the type of image you want to project, ensure that there is “buy in” from your staff, particularly those responsible for marketing, and check that everyone is aware of the key points and ultimate goals of any branding exercise.