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In a legal market increasingly influenced by merged law firms vying for big clients, many firms-whether they decide to merge or not-are suffering an identity crisis when it comes to branding. More shops seem willing to move beyond staid logos, hackneyed tag lines and tired clich�s about providing clients with one-stop shopping. But today’s legal market of megafirms has made it difficult for many of them to create a brand that simultaneously sets them apart from the pack and encompass their varied and often changing practices. “Law firms need to retrain the way they think of themselves,” said Alec Wightman, executive partner at Baker Hostetler. The 612-attorney firm last month unveiled its new brand. A tomato-red block surrounds the firm’s name on its Web site, stationery, brochures and signage. A new tag line, “Counsel to Market Leaders,” appears under the new logo. While the wow-factor of the firm’s updated brand may not compare to sports drinks or cellphone marketing, it was a big step for the law firm, and one that was two years in the making. Since 2000, Baker Hostetler has grown by 27%. The firm wanted an image that was “a little more contemporary, a little more energized,” said Wightman, who works in the firm’s Columbus, Ohio, office. Listening for themes Coming up with the brand included hours of interviewing about 140 attorneys and other professionals at the firm by a team of marketing folks who needed to get a feel for what could identify and differentiate the firm, he said. “We wanted to see how we felt about ourselves,” he explained. Many firms need to go through a soul-searching interview process with partners and employees to determine what makes them tick and what aspects of the firm’s personality it wants to convey to potential clients, said Ross Fishman, head of Ross Fishman Marketing in Highland Park, Ill. Fishman said he “listens for themes” when he interviews a firm’s attorneys about their perceptions of their workplace. The technique is especially useful for firms that have grown quickly through lateral hiring or wholesale mergers, he said. Often, firms bring aboard attorneys who mesh with their culture and have the same approach to practicing. But getting everyone to identify and articulate that unifying bond can be difficult. And shaping that bond into something that benefits potential clients is the next step. “They don’t know what they stand for oftentimes directly,” he said. “It’s hard to be objective about yourself.” Devising a cohesive message is particularly tricky for large firms with a multitude of practices. Marketing professionals urge firms to have a message with a focus to help differentiate themselves. But creating an all-inclusive brand image that encompasses everything from arbitration to zoning without putting the target audience to sleep is a big job. “The challenge is to come up with a brand that gets everybody under the tent,” said Burkey Belser, president of Greenfield Belser, a legal marketing firm based in Washington. Belser asserts that every law firm approaches its business differently, and that only by talking with all of the players can it understand how to tout that difference as an advantage to clients. “You cannot come in and paste and brand on someone,” he said. “It will peel up and blow away.” Many marketing professionals urge law firms to identify core practice areas for a more targeted message. However, they may hesitate to do so for fear of missing out on a cross-selling opportunity for a current client or irking partners in smaller practices who may feel left out. After all, the point of growing bigger is to offer clients broader and deeper services. But the risk of creating a message that envelopes all areas of expertise is creating one that says little. According to Fishman, firms that are afraid of a message that may offend “Harry in semi-retirement in Florida with a trusts and estates practice” demonstrate a lack of leadership. Having a more focused practice worked to the benefit of 534-attorney Howrey when it decided to revamp its brand last year, said Robert Ruyak, chief executive officer of the Washington-based firm. Not only did it shorten its name from Howrey Simon Arnold & White, but it also developed the “Advantage of Focus” tag line. The firm identifies the areas of antitrust law, global litigation and intellectual property as its core practices. “We have an advantage because we don’t have a whole bunch of little practice groups,” Ruyak said. Five-year process Howrey’s brand is the product of a five-year process in which attorneys, in-house marketers, freelance marketers and staffers worked on a comprehensive message. Ruyak explained that, at first, they considered “The Power of Focus” for the tag line. But after giving it more thought, they decided that “power” sounded egotistical and firm-focused. “Advantage” better identified what the client could gain from choosing Howrey as opposed to what the firm claimed it could offer. And the word “focus” indicated that the firm was not trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, Ruyak said. Part of what Ruyak and other firm leaders wanted to accomplish was establishing a message that Howrey could use internally. “We needed to have a statement of the firm that resonated both outside and inside,” he said. Coming up with a mantra of sorts encourages a sense of community in firms and gives attorneys a vocabulary to use for business development, Fishman said. If law firms have a message that partners, associates and staffers can get behind, then carrying that message forward and, in turn, marketing the firm, becomes easier. But too often, he said, law firms decide to go with a branding campaign that is not much different from what they already have done or not much different from what others are doing, he said. “You have to disabuse them of the expectation that gavels and globes and scales of justice are the right way to go,” he said. To illustrate the resistance that many law firms have to creative marketing approaches, Fishman has set up a farcical law firm brochure on his Web site that enables users to plug in their firm’s name and generate their own “instant personalized brochure.” The “brochure” exaggerates the well-worn phrases that many law firms use in their marketing efforts. One line reads, “We offer excellent, creative, timely, value-added, results-driven legal skills and solutions in all of the alphabetically listed practices areas below; we are the best at all of them.” Law firm giant WilmerHale did its own version of rebranding last year. Once the attorneys settled into their new identity following the merger two years ago of Wilmer Cutler & Pickering with Hale and Dorr, firm leaders began a process of branding the new entity, said Bill Lee, co-chairman. At first, it decided that it would use the mouthful Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, its official name, at all times. But it soon discovered that people either referred to the firm as Wilmer Cutler, or as Wilmer. As a result, WilmerHale was born.

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