What does the law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo have in common with Dunkin’ Donuts?
It’s not just that the two businesses have grown globally from their Boston roots since their founding in the first half of the 20th century. Within one week in September, they both announced they were truncating their names. Their new monikers—Mintz and Dunkin’—illustrate a growing trend toward brevity in branding that hasn’t spared the legal industry.
Mintz is by no means the first firm to jettison a slew of legacy partner names from its marketing materials. And the move is not shocking, considering that, like Dunkin’, the shortened form had largely replaced the formal name in common parlance.
“We don’t get to choose what we’re called. We can simply admit the reality and use that to our benefit in our marketing,” says Ross Fishman, a former litigator who founded Fishman Marketing two decades ago. “The marketplace was calling Mintz Levin ‘Mintz’ long before they changed their logo, because there was no confusion. No one was thinking, ‘Which Mintz are you mentioning?’”
The firm isn’t alone. Lisa Hart Shepherd, CEO of market research firm Acritas, notes that in the company’s recent survey of global law firm brands, which asked respondents to name the first five firms that come to mind, 27 percent of the firms were identified by an abbreviated name.
“At some point, all well-marketed firms will admit the reality and the inevitability of this and will change their logos, because there’s so much precedent now,” Fishman says.
There’s a distinction between the path pursued by Mintz and other recent rebranded law firms, such as Goodwin and Nutter (all coincidentally rooted in Boston), which simply revamped their logos, and the more radical move pursued by such firms as Dechert and Cooley to also change the registered name of the firm.
The latter move is never advisable when those trailing name partners remain active members of the firm. But that bold step can make sense once they stop practicing.
“As partners retire or pass away, you don’t want to have to rebrand,” says Bob Minkus, a principal at marketing and communications firm Zer0 to 5ive. “Plus, the new guard may want to take their place on the shingle. Better to proactively shorten the name, close the door on future change, save ‘menu costs,’ and maintain brand integrity.”
New York-based Decker Design began working with Dechert in the early part of this century, as the firm—known in its hometown of Philadelphia for four decades as Dechert Price & Rhoads—was expanding globally. Founder Lynda Decker explains that the rebranding, which put the Dechert name front and center, came first; the firm later got around to changing its registration.
Even then, the effort trailed that of professional services firms such as Deloitte and PwC, which began trimming down their names in the 1980s.
“Law firms are so steeped in tradition, and they always like to see precedent, so they tend to do things later than other parts of the professional services industry that are seen to be more cutting-edge,” Decker says.
Litigators may be the exception. Decker worked with Boies, Schiller & Flexner in a 2017 rebranding that saw the firm lose its comma and ampersand to become Boies Schiller Flexner, or, just as prominently, BSF.
“The cadence has a tighter, more modern sound to it, and then you can create these anagrams with the letters. It’s less traditional,” she says.
Houston litigation boutique Schiffer Hicks Johnson also trimmed its name and dropped its ampersand recently.
“They’re the edgier breed of lawyers, and they’re always looking to be a bit different,” Decker says of litigators. “Whether it’s their marketing or their work, they’re a bit competitive and they want to be at the front of the pack.”
The shift toward brevity can be at odds with another tendency in the legal world: the unending wave of mergers and consolidations. At least in the short term, these tie-ups lead to longer names, such as when Arnold & Porter merged with Kaye Scholer in 2016. The combined firm first billed itself as Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, but bid adieu to Kaye Scholer in another rebranding 15 months later.
“I think that’s the right approach for a variety of reasons. There could be people from the legacy Kaye Scholer firm who feel strongly about the firm’s reputation and don’t want to lose it,” Fishman says of the decision to initially adopt the lengthier brand. “You also want to assure the historic Kaye Scholer clients and prospects that they’re part of a high-quality new organization.”
Once that joint identity is established, the firm can trim things with a second rebranding. But the success of that effort is contingent on spending freely in the new markets where the bigger firm might not be as well known.
Fishman expects to see a similar trajectory with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, the name created when Philadelphia-based Saul Ewing acquired the Windy City’s Arnstein & Lehr in September 2017. But the Chicago-area resident says the firm needs to be cautious in approaching any changes.
“It takes much more time and money to build a brand from scratch in a new market than people typically estimate,” Fishman says. “Arnstein & Lehr has been here for 100 years. You can’t expect that a few ads and a mailer will be sufficient in any market.”
The longer name was crucial to demonstrating that the tie-up was a merger of equals, according to Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr spokeswoman Leslie Gross.
“There have been zero discussions about shortening the name even two years down the line,” she says. “Can you say that it will never happen? No, but it’s not even in the plans right now.”
For some firms, an abbreviated name may not be an option. Fishman is currently designing a four-name logo for another firm that fought during a merger to ensure its name would be part of the new logo. It’s “going [in] the wrong direction, but that was part of the negotiation,” Fishman says.
But maybe they’re just ahead of the curve. Vinyl records are selling at a greater clip than they have in years, and calligraphy and stationery—more deliberate modes of communication—are also surging in popularity.
“When the millennials really get in charge, will we see a reversal?” Decker wonders. “Will it be the Brooklynization of names, and we go back the other way?”