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LOS ANGELES � Peter Kalis was sitting with three other leaders of Preston Gates & Ellis and Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham over lunch when they had a flash of inspiration: Their merged firm would be called K&L Gates. “It was a bathtub moment,” said Kalis, now the chairman of the firm. “Everyone chimed in. It rang clear as a bell.” As law firms merge, merge and merge some more, naming the result is becoming increasingly less about the egos and more about the branding. Law firm leaders are becoming savvy marketing professionals, trading in lengthy lists of deceased partners for succinct names that roll off their tongues � and are easy for clients to remember. “Prudent law firm leaders focus on the long-term resonance of a brand, rather than trying to cut a short-term deal by compromising on a name,” said Kalis, whose firm reserves its full name, “Kirkpatrick and Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis LLP,” for the fine print. “A brand sticks with you � it’s like a tattoo.” Selecting a new name is often the first order of business when two firms sit down to talk merger, said Charles Maddock, an Altman Weil consultant who specializes in law firm marketing. Even at the first dinner meeting, firm leaders will throw out name combinations � well before they talk client conflicts or partner compensation. Maddock’s advice? Less is more. “Too many names sends out a message you’re small and uncoordinated.” It’s better to go just by “Pillsbury” rather than Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman � even if there’s confusion with piping-fresh dough, he said. Other good branding examples are “Orrick” or “Skadden,” firms that, like K&L Gates, still technically retain longer names � Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom � but go by their nickname. Once the shorter moniker gains popularity, it’s not long before its followers hit the chopping block � he points to Dechert, the former Dechert Price & Rhoads. That kind of cut often becomes more about egos and emotions than anything else, because at that point clients are quick to adopt the new monikers. “The marketplace doesn’t pay that much attention and is pretty adaptable, so it becomes an internal issue that’s emotional for the partners,” said Lisa Smith, a merger expert with Hildebrandt International. SIMPLY STATED While it can be hard to slice someone’s name off the door, especially if they’re still alive, this isn’t the place for emotion, said J. Terence O’Malley, the co-managing partner for the U.S. for DLA Piper. Partners need to be pragmatic.
‘It’s easy to create a brand with a name that’s simple and straightforward.’

Howrey Chairman Robert Ruyak Fitzgerald, Abbott & Beardsley

“In today’s marketplace, having more than two names isn’t a long-run solution,” he said. “You have to separate the business goals from the emotion and stay focused on your message to the marketplace.” When DLA, Piper Rudnick, and Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich merged in 2004, they adopted DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary with the provision that they’d lose the last three names within two years, once the marketplace absorbed the change. “Gray Cary was known as a tech-focused and West Coast-oriented firm, so it was important in those markets to allow clients to become familiar with the same lawyers operating under different letterhead,” O’Malley said. The firm put the U.K.-originated “DLA” first because at the end of “Piper DLA” it might sound like an “LLP” or “LLC” tag. Howrey also axed its longer name � Howrey Simon Arnold & White � a couple of years back. Chairman Robert Ruyak said he personally asked the living name partners � Mr. Howrey was the only deceased one � and no one minded. There were some logistics involved, such as changing the name in each jurisdiction, including internationally. But the biggest costs � a couple hundred thousand bucks, he estimated � went to the re-signing effort: changing nameplates, stationary, even names on the office buildings. Now, when curious law firm leaders ask him about the decision, he says there isn’t a downside. “It’s easy to create a brand with a name that’s simple and straightforward.” Howrey was lucky, he added, to have a more distinctive moniker than, say, “Arnold” out front. The connotations of certain words � even names � can’t be discounted, said branding expert Allan Steinmetz, the CEO of Inward Strategic Consulting. Steinmetz said there are “upscale” words and “downscale” words. Names with a British feel tend to strike American ears as aristocratic, he said. But it’s more important what connotation the market has affixed to a name, said Tom Kane, the principal of Kane Consulting Inc., a legal marketing consulting firm. And even if a name is hard to pronounce, it’s worth keeping if it has market recognition, Kane said. “LeBoeuf has always been a tongue twister for me, but what are you going to do, change it? No way, you’d lose the brand.” APPRAISING AN APPELATION Consultant Maddock asks interested parties to gauge the “brand equity” each name in their firm has � determining which are better known and worth more. Occasionally, he has created focus groups to debate name recognition, but mostly it’s anecdotal. Preserving brand equity was why K&L chose to hook on the “Gates,” evoking the highly recognizable name of Bill Gates’ father, said Edward Sangster, K&L Gates’ San Francisco managing partner. Likewise, if Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati were ever to merge, the firm would be smart to hang onto the “Sonsini,” said Peter Zeughauser, a consultant with The Zeughauser Group. “Larry’s name is much more valuable than any other name in that firm,” Zeughauser said, “partly because he’s still practicing and partly because of who he is.” Firms also consider whether some brands are better known in certain markets or niche practices. That’s why Ropes & Gray chose to keep Fish & Neave as the name of their intellectual property group when the two merged, since Fish had such a storied history (with clients like Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers). That’s helping out overseas, as Ropes plans to open a Japan office, said partner Patricia Martone, who is leading the Japan effort. Overseas, Fish & Neave still carries clout and it will likely help establish the firm there, she said. Name recognition aside, K&L’s Kalis stressed the importance of sound. He compares a great law firm name to a good poem: “One of the tests of great poems is the effortlessness of committing it to memory and reciting it.” If so, the minds behind the combination of Lord Bissell & Brook and Locke Liddell & Sapp may have missed the boat. Representatives of the firm declined to discuss the mouthful proposed to follow their pending merger: Locke Lord Bissell and Liddell. Try saying that one 10 times fast.

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