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Law Firm Branding – Lessons From the Trenches

I suppose it could be like setting up a start-up with their first set of corporate records and related legal documents. There’s a nervous excitement in the air of what’s to come. The possibilities. The probabilities.

What’s not to love? For me, the only thing better than branding a start-up business, is getting invited to rebrand an existing mature firm whose current brand is gasping for air and no longer really … sorry to say… visually relevant. In fact, most of the tired brands don’t say much or stand for anything. In reality, most legal brands are developed without much thought. Times have changed.

For partners, a rebrand is an abstract process that takes them out of their comfort zone. Fortunately, lawyers are keen learners eager to make their way up the learning curve. Part of that learning is the discovery of what branding is not. I’ve expressed to clients many times that branding is not just your firm name beautifully redesigned in your favourite font and colour. Loads of designers could do just that – but what sets apart the best, is how a designer visually articulates the firm culture visually.

What I love, is the pealing back of the lid, gazing in and finding a firm that’s just so delightful, you remember why you started working in legal marketing. Where the partners are cohesive, but respective of differing opinions, the associates are giddy about a rebrand (they tend to really get it) and the staff, who hold their own, and can’t wait to tell you how wonderful their firm is. Yes, firms like this really exist. I’ve met them and they will tell you their story clearly.

What makes a great brand? Many things. Among them, it connects with your clients, stands out from your competitors, and inspires people to learn more about your firm.

The process takes as long as you permit it to take. The best branding projects that I’ve worked on, take no more than 14 weeks from tip to tail, including delivery of printed stationery. Having said that, partners will have to be decisive, and this is where an experience adviser will help. Some decisions will be harder than others – should the LLP always appear with the logo, recycled paper or post-consumer paper, pre-printed letterhead or electronic templates? All relevant, but takes careful consideration.

The “before” and “after” comparisons of your logo will take your breath away, though, especially as they lead the way to a new look for your website, advertising and brochures. Firms consistently tell me they wish they’d done it all earlier.

Here are some other lessons:

  • Consider how you can involve your associates and staff, without overly “committeeing” your decision-making process
  • Avoid going backwards and perpetuating old ways of doing things. This is your opportunity to present your firm as forward-thing and client-oriented. Everything should be up for grabs.
  • Always consider the client perspective and what’s best and most effective for them.
  • Whenever you can, take the advice of your specialists. They are invested in your success.
  • Try not to second-guess earlier decisions.
  • Keep to a reasonable budget and avoid over-spending. Be sensible and realistic, but know that you’ll go through more stationery with your new brand.
  • You may not get unanimous partnership support on the new brand or some of the related elements, such as the new website or stationery items. Allow for healthy debate, and then make the best decision.
  • A brand must represent the whole firm, not just one lawyer or practice area.
  • Reveal the new brand internally prior to your launch.
  • Launch everything at once. The new brand should appear on everything at once, not trickled out.
  • Practice brand compliance consistently. Don’t modify the logo, or the change the placement of it on your stationery – there are precisely designed. If you require a change, go back to your designer.

And finally, congratulate yourselves when it’s all said and done. It’s a milestone for your firm … and you all deserve some credit for making good decisions. Celebrate!

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