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I don’t think very many people noticed it in the wake of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison blowing up, but Skjerven Morrill, another Silicon Valley high-tech firm, also bit the dust. Many would say it was just another case of too much debt in hard times, but I know the real reason — nobody could pronounce the firm’s name. Picture yourself on your first day as a switchboard operator there. Line three rings. You start to answer. But wait. Do you pronounce the “J” to make it Skuh-jer-ven? Or is the “J” pronounced like “Y” to make it Sky-er-ven? Or Skee-er-ven? Or is it just silent? And by the time you’ve rummaged through your employee manual to find out the answer, the person has hung up. It’s the same problem if you’re trying to get the number from your friendly directory assistance operator at (800) Cell-U-Lite. Unless the operator grew up in downtown Helsinki, you’re better off asking for Jones Day. Moral of story: These guys may have been IP geniuses, but the firm was doomed just as skjurely as its name was a phonetic landmine. So let me suggest something. In today’s world, you’ve got a pretty good handle on how a firm is going to do by looking at the name on the door. Get too high on the Skjerven scale and failure is imminent. “Yeah, right,” you say. “I’ll use a nice, common everyday kind of name on my firm, and just to make it easy on everyone, I’ll repeat it so no one will forget.” Consider then one of my all-time favorite firms, the erstwhile office of Wainwright, Wainwright, Wainwright, Wainwright & Wainwright of Brockton, Mass. I promise you I’m not making this name up. One of my favorite travel activities is to look at lawyer ads in the Yellow Pages — where else would you find things like “I didn’t know how badly hurt I was until my lawyer told me” or my all-time favorite: “Injured or killed? We come to you!” It was in the Cape Cod edition of that same Yellow Pages that I found this bastion of eponymous redundancy. Is Wainwright, Wainwright, Wainwright, Wainwright & Wainwright’s firm name easy to deal with? Not a chance. Consider our poor receptionist, laid off from Skjerven along with everyone else in the phonetic catastrophe. She changes coasts in an effort to avoid being spotted as diphthong-challenged and signs on with those Wainwright boys. Then the phone rings. At first, our receptionist gets the bad old jokes. (“Is Mr. Wainwright in?” “He’s in court.” “How about Mr. Wainwright?” “On vacation.” “And Mr. Wainwright?” “He’s on his other line.” “Would Mr. Wainwright be around?” He’s with a client.” “And Mr. Wainwright?” “I’ll connect you.”) WASCALLY NAME Then the jokes stop. Suddenly our receptionist has to get out “Wainwright Wainwright Wainwright Wainwright and Wainwright” all in one breath. You try it. Unless you’re an Olympic triathlete, it’s not going to come out without a hefty dose of bottled oxygen, assuming you can get out all five names without stumbling over one of them. (I always end up sounding like Elmer Fudd; “You wascally Wainwight. �”) So it should come as no surprise then that Wainwright, Wainwright, Wainwright, Wainwright & Wainwright has broken up into the more breathable and pronounceable Wainwright Wainwright Wainwright. Honest. If you don’t believe me, check out www.martindale.com. The same principle applies to individual lawyers. Many moons ago, I practiced with a guy of Belgian heritage. He was incredibly smart, and in his field, surety and construction litigation, he could have been a giant. The problem was his last name. No one could pronounce it. It wasn’t just a Smith-Smythe thing. The receptionists at our firm kept a list with the astonishing range of mispronunciations that callers gave to poor old Joe’s name. When I decamped for Texas, there were more than 110 discrete pronunciations of the seven letters on the list. Joe, arguably a genius, was doomed by his mother’s choice of a husband. That’s the point here. In Tampa, Fla., if you’ve got a relative who has been injured in a nursing home, you’d immediately think to go to the Nursing Home Injury Law Firm. The fact that Bob Nursing, Ted Home and John Injury had the good sense to go with the karma that their combined names gave them gives you an idea how the names on the door can lead to success. Dare I suggest at this point that the key to prosperity these days is not how smart the name partners are or how good your “brand” is? It’s all in a name. So if you see me down in court changing my name to Rambo, I hope you won’t be surprised. After all, Rambo, Patton, MacArthur & Rambo gives you a pretty good idea of what the firm does, doesn’t it? There are 53 documented mispronunciations of Tom Alleman’s last name. That’s why the opinions expressed by this shareholder in the environmental practice group of Winstead Sechrest & Minick in Dallas aren’t necessarily those of the firm, its clients or the Oxford English Dictionary.

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