Much was said about law firm brands at an excellent conference organized by Mitt Regan of Georgetown University’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession. As summarized memorably by one speaker, a law firm’s brand is its “promise to clients,” in the words of several law firm marketers and researchers. Its implied or explicit promise needs to be credible, memorable, and useful to clients.
Despite the logic of branding as described, I don’t recall any general counsel I have consulted to who think of law firms they use as “brands.” They don’t say, “X firm is a global leader,” or that “Y firm puts clients first,” let alone that “Z knows Canada.” My sense is that inside counsel amalgamate impressions of the style and ability of individual partners they have dealt with from the firm mixed in with fragments of articles read or conferences spoken at by the lawyers of the firm all combined with some ads they have fleetingly glanced at as well as remarks made by peers and colleagues. The pastiche doesn’t rise to any level of “brand” clarity. Other than size or “AmLaw 100 I think” they don’t store impressions as overall brands.
When pushed, a general counsel can always dredge up broad impressions of a firm: “A has uneven quality,” “B litigates aggressively,” or “C mostly does patents,” but those are scattered attributes, not an overall, let alone distinctive, brand, and they are secondary.
Ken Grady, the general counsel of Wolverine Worldwide made the point somewhat differently: “Law firms talk about a single brand with hundreds of channels (the partners); I see hundreds of brands funneled through a single channel.”
No doubt those who market a firm as a whole need and wish there were a guiding framework to convey for their coordinated message. OK, but I doubt that general counsel pick up on high-level claims, ones often shared by so many law firms if it rattles on about excellence and global and leadership and service and quality. The collage of impressions that builds up and lodges with in-house counsel stems from individual experiences and has a much more tactile, personal basis.