04/03/12– Miami– Squire Sanders firm entrance in Miami. (J. Albert Diaz)
UPDATE: 6/2/14, 9:47 a.m. EDT. In a sign of the law firm branding times, the Pittsburgh Business Times reports that Clark Hill has dropped the Thorp Reed name from its shingle in Pittsburgh a little more than a year after a merger between both firms.
Lost in the frenzied union is the name of William Sanders, a corporate lawyer and former judge in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, who helped found back in 1890 what would eventually become Squire Sanders. Sanders, who also helped fund the Cleveland Museum of Art before he died in 1929, is the latest legacy name partner to be dropped from the shingle of an Am Law 200 firm in recent years.
The Am Law Daily reported in 2012 on Squire Sanders’ decision to ditch James Dempsey following the latter’s merger with British firm Hammonds the year before. Andrew Squire, who died in 1934, is now the sole founding partner to see his name survive following the firm’s proposed merger with Patton Boggs. And that’s no accident.
“There are a variety of variables that go into choosing a firm name,” says Ross Fishman, an attorney and legal brand consultant at Highland Park, Ill.-based Fishman Marketing. “There’s of course ego—interpersonal relationships are key to any professional services firm—and then you have other factors like financial, pronunciation and the size of the firms being combined.”
While the 325-lawyer Patton Boggs is much smaller than 1,300-lawyer Squire Sanders, Fishman says the fact that the former managed to remove the Sanders name in the combination is a sign that it’s more of a merger of equals, at least when it comes to brand. (Fishman did not work on the merger.)
“Patton Boggs is being given credit for a prestigious name,” says Fishman, adding that it’s always easier to eliminate name partners that are deceased or no longer practicing. Patton Boggs founder Tommy Hale Boggs Jr. was a key figure in the merger talks with Squire Sanders, and leaders of both legacy firms, who answered a series of preapproved questions during a Tuesday morning conference call, demurred when asked how the naming process unfolded.
“It was a difficult negotiation,” said Squire Sanders chair and global CEO James Maiwurn, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal. “We’re trying to take advantage of two storied names in the legal profession. These are two names that have a lot of value.”
But neither Squire Sanders nor Patton Boggs were among the top 20 law firm brands measured earlier this year by brand research company Acritas, according to our previous reports. Over the past decade, Fishman says the trend among large firms—such as Dechert, Locke Lord, Mayer Brown, Polsinelli and Saul Ewing—has been to go with shorter names and logos, while smaller or first-generations firms generally have longer handles.
Fishman also provides some insight into why a name like Squire Sanders Patton Boggs wouldn’t work. Essentially, while there is no intention to personally slight individuals toward the end of firm shingles, the tendency is to stop at whichever name makes the most sense colloquially.
“Skadden, Wachtell, Kirkland, Sidley, Cadwalader, McDermott—it’s easy to identify who we’re talking about,” Fishman says. “But sometimes we need more information. Jones needs a Day. If you say Baker, is it Baker Botts, Baker & Hostetler or Baker & McKenzie?”
As Fishman sees it, a firm called Squire Sanders Patton Boggs would inevitably be abbreviated to Squire Sanders again. Thus the need during merger negotiations to forge a union with three names at first, one that includes the Patton Boggs brand, which a former partner told us late last year was almost always recognized by strangers when mentioned during airplane conversations.
“Unfamiliar combinations don’t usually take too long to become well-known,” says Fishman, when asked about the somewhat awkward phrasing of Squire Patton Boggs. “But three names are unnecessary, and over time I think you’ll see Squire Patton start to take hold.”
Squire Sanders itself is no stranger to mergers, having absorbed the bulk of San Francisco-based Graham & James in 2000, Florida’s Steel Hector & Davis in 2005 and Hammonds four years ago. The firm also held tie-up talks with Bryan Cave in 2006, Seyfarth Shaw in 2008 and British firm Denton Wilde Sapte in 2009. All of those negotiations likely involved discussions about future firm names.
“These are not easy issues,” adds Fishman, noting that he’s seen potential mergers between firms collapse over disagreements about a new name. “It’s always about the people, most of whom are loyal to the firm they’re with, as well as the reputations and names of those on the door.”
Squire Sanders did not respond to a request for comment about whether any surviving member of the Sanders family currently practices at the firm. But beyond the grave, William Sanders can take solace in the fact that he’s not even the first legal luminary bearing that surname to get bumped from an Am Law 200 firm shingle.
Fishman says that when midwestern legal giants Husch & Eppenberger and Blackwell Sanders agreed to merge back in 2008, the leaders of both firms used a coin flip to settle upon the newly merged firm’s name of Husch Blackwell Sanders.
Husch Blackwell, which absorbed Texas firm Brown McCarroll last year, officially bid farewell to the Sanders name in late 2010.