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As lucrative as financial restructuring is for law firms these days, not many lawyers would think to joke about it to potential clients. Bingham Dana sees things differently. The Boston-based law firm’s latest print advertisement depicts three rumpled businessman holding empty glasses and grimacing as if they have just swallowed something nasty. “Financial restructuring, without the bitter aftertaste,” the copy declares. It seems like only yesterday that decades-old, tradition-bound law firms began embarking on splashy branding campaigns that went beyond the text-heavy ads traditionally placed in trade publications. Like casual dress and dot-com clients, slick image advertising became de rigueur for firms trying to position themselves at the leading edge of the New Economy. Now those firms would like to position themselves a little further back. As might be expected, many firms are reining in marketing efforts. But a number of firms are casting aside the techie pitch and pushing forward with ad campaigns that stress practice capabilities more in tune with the times. San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison was hailed as a pioneer when it produced two 30-second television spots to air on CNN starting in January 2001. The commercials, featuring digital animations of a futuristic train and an aerodynamic glider, touted the firm’s handling of “over 400 [mergers and acquisitions] engagements” and “over 700 [venture capital] deals.” “Brobeck, the law firm when your future is at stake,” a narrator intoned at the end of each spot. The ads started reaching many more viewers after CNN’s audience ballooned in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. By that time, however, Brobeck was caught in the teeth of the technology sector’s collapse, with both M&A engagements and venture capital deals drying up. In the next few months, the firm would see a management change, a 44 percent drop in profits and the dismissal of scores of associates. “We naturally felt self-conscious about it,” said David Geyer, Brobeck’s marketing director. As the firm had already paid for the spots to run through the end of 2002, there was no question of pulling the ads. So, last month, the firm quietly introduced new voiceovers that stressed the firm’s ability to handle securities and intellectual property litigation. The new litigation-focused ads now constitute two-thirds of the rotation, Geyer said. The new focus may be the swan song of Brobeck’s campaign, however. Though a final determination has not yet been made, Geyer said that it was unlikely the firm would continue the television campaign beyond its current commitments. AMBIVALENT APPROACH Brobeck’s likely retreat points out the ambivalence many lawyers feel about marketing efforts, said Jay M. Jaffe, president of Jaffe Associates, a law firm marketing consulting firm. “Firms don’t think about these things strategically,” said Jaffe, referring to firms’ pulling back their campaigns. “So they have a tremendous knee-jerk response when things happen in the marketplace.” Jeffrey Lawson, a marketing research consultant who worked with Bingham Dana on their campaign, agreed, noting that a lot of firms jumped on the branding bandwagon just as they jumped on the Internet bandwagon, uncertain of what they hoped to achieve. He said many firms expected ad campaigns to generate quantifiable new business almost immediately. “Most other businesses look at marketing in terms of three-to-five year plans,” he said. Another marketing consultant, who asked to remain unnamed, said an even larger problem was law firms’ unwillingness to make a real monetary investment in marketing. “They try to do it on the cheap,” he said, using Brobeck’s $3.5 million campaign as an example. “For what they wanted, they would have had to spend $20 million.” Edward J. Burke, marketing head at New York’s Shearman & Sterling, echoed that sentiment, noting that the sums large companies spent to build effective brands were inconceivable in the law firm universe. “No law firm can afford to do real branding,” he said. “This is real money we’re talking about, not corporate money. Bingham Dana managing partner Jay Zimmerman said his firm was spending “several million dollars,” and will be spending more on marketing and advertising this year than last. EVOLVING CONCEPT Bingham Dana launched its print campaign in January of last year in publications including The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. (The firm and others discussed in this story also ran ads in The American Lawyer, a New York Law Journal affiliate.) Its initial ads did not strongly tout any practice capabilities, but sought, in general terms, to put forward an image of 110-year-old Bingham Dana as an innovative firm moving at “Internet speed.” “As the economy evolved, the campaign evolved,” Zimmerman said of the firm’s decision to produce an ad pushing the firm’s bankruptcy and restructuring practice, which debuted last month. “We knew that was one of the strengths of the firm,” Zimmerman continued. “The timing made it an obvious one to highlight.” San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster is another firm that has adjusted its approach of late. In 2000, the firm had used an image of a surfer “ready to ride the Internet wave” to push its credentials as the law firm for “the global e-conomy.” And the firm chose to concentrate its advertising in technology-oriented publications like Red Herring and the now-defunct Industry Standard. The surfer was beached last summer, said firm spokeswoman Kathryn C. Lawlor, replaced by a series of four ads, each of which described a major transaction or practice area at the firm. The goal, Lawlor said, was to get out the word that “MoFo” is one the largest law firms in the world and that the firm had worked on some of the biggest deals around. Significantly, they are now lawyers for the mere “global economy.” Many of the publications in which the firm advertised are now defunct, Lawlor noted, and the firm is currently looking at running ads in national general business publications. The firms that have undertaken major branding campaigns are generally eager to be perceived as national or international players, an interest that recession may have only intensified. The leading New York firms, Jaffe noted, are already perceived as global powerhouses and have less need or desire to get the word out to a wider audience. By and large, they have resisted the temptation to launch branding campaigns. “It’s a combination of insulation and arrogance,” Jaffe said. That does not prevent other firms from placing New York in their crosshairs. Bingham Dana, which tripled the size of its New York office from 35 to 110 in the last year, has placed blowups of their ads at both shuttle terminals at LaGuardia Airport, but not at Logan Airport back in Boston. “There’s no question New York is an important part of our strategy,” said Zimmerman.

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