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BigLaw’s Identity Crisis

Kristin Cole  Follow

All too often we see the hypercompetitive nature of the legal industry drive BigLaw firms to homogenize with one another. Take, for example, the rush of Am Law 200 firms opening up offices in Dubai and Texas, or the “follow the leader” set of announcements we often see with the associate pay scale. Look at the “About Us” narratives of so many top law firms and you’ll see a sea of sameness across these vague descriptions.

Law firm leaders may argue that this is a result of serving similar clients and competing for the same talent, but we have to acknowledge that a key to effectively competing in this industry is finding ways to differentiate from peers. How, after all, can a client advocate for your firm over another if they can’t distinguish between the two?

It’s time for BigLaw to leverage the power of branding to own a unique value proposition and ultimately, better connect with prospective clients and talent alike.

Why Branding Matters, Even in Elite Law

Have you ever heard a prospect say, “You don’t get fired for hiring [insert elite law firm name]?” That’s branding at work. Brand is more than a name, tagline, design, or logo. It’s not a concept reserved for retail companies. It’s the combination of factors that create the emotional and psychological relationship that your audiences have with your firm, and it’s why they’ll pay a premium for what you offer.

In a world brimming with choices, clients are continuously exposed to new, competitive proposals. Without a deep-rooted brand connection, clients can easily shift their business to the next attractive proposition that comes their way. A strong brand creates a compelling reason for clients to sign and then for them to stay loyal, minimizing the high acquisition costs of pursuing new business and the perception of high client turnover.

What’s more, a strong brand can create a more robust talent pipeline. The next generation of lawyers wants to be associated with admired brands that have values aligned with their own. Yes, that includes environmental stewardship and a commitment to diversity and innovation, but at a more fundamental level, rising lawyers want to know the firm they join has a true north star to guide them. A firm with a distinct brand and clearly defined values will have a much easier time recruiting the talent they need.

Acknowledging the Challenge

Of course, the challenges for legal marketers shouldn’t be underestimated. How can you adequately encapsulate what you do when you have so many different practices? How can you differentiate yourself from other firms if you offer similar services, capabilities and solutions? How can you create cohesion across large partner groups and varied geographies?

Embracing the Change and the Solution

In short, you start by embracing change. You accept the opportunity to explore, enhance and advance branding in an effort to advance the business. Once firm leadership embraces brand as a priority, the real work begins. Here’s how legal marketers can get started:

  • Appoint the decision makers. Remember that “sea of sameness” I previously mentioned? The easiest path back to the same problem is to manage brand by committee. Agree on just a handful of partners and professional staff along with outside counselors who will serve as the ultimate decision makers for the initiative.
  • Uncover ownable territories. Explore and examine the firm’s business, culture, category and clients, and compare all of that to where your peers sit. Identify areas of opportunity that will be unique to your firm.
  • Develop a blueprint. Create a foundation for all brand expression, identifying positioning, strategy, narrative, tone of voice and stakeholder mapping that will guide the brand forward.
  • Create a distinct visual identity. Optimize your brand’s look and feel across all brand touchpoints to elevate the refreshed messaging and identity.
  • Activate your brand. Every touchpoint your employees, alumni, clients, prospects and business partners have with the firm – from websites to email signatures, corporate letterhead to event sponsorships – should reflect the enhanced brand and bring it to life.

Living your Brand

A brand launch is a major milestone for any company. The process of creating and executing a brand refresh should be celebrated both within and outside the firm.

Once you’re past the initial celebration, brand strategy becomes a sustained driver of business value. It’s the lens through which firm leadership can make decisions about the go-forward business strategy. It’s the call for talent that fits your aspirations. And it’s the narrative that professional staff and lawyers alike should relay to clients and prospects. It is the constant refrain that defines your firm and breaks through the sameness of the industry.

Brand is the most overlooked tool in BigLaw to chart a path ahead. Firm leaders that embrace a defined strategy today, will excel in the future.

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