For all the talk about the challenges of the Legal Services Act etcetera, the one area in which all law firms and also – ironically – all new-style alternative legal service providers are woefully lacking is public brand recognition. Sure, for people within the legal industry, we know who the various law firms and ABSs are and what sectors of the market they address but for everyone else – and that means not just private clients but also SME businesses who do not employ their own inhouse counsel – nothing, nada, complete lack of brand recognition.
All it would take is just one nationally or globally recognised brand – such as the Virgin Group – to move into the legal market and huge swathes of traditional law firms could kiss their practices goodbye. So what do brands like Virgin have that law firms and ABSs lack?
For a modern publicly-recognised brand (as distinct from a brand purely designed to recruit lateral hires and smart law school graduates) you need at least two, possibly three, things:
The first is a strong or otherwise memorable name: like Virgin – or Apple – or even the Rolling Stones. Compare this law firms and you usually find unmemorable, bland and/or rambling Somebody, Somebody & Somebody (usually dead white guys) type names. OK, there are a few (correction there are a lot in the US) claimant firms whose names say what the firm does on the tin but they are frequently regional and without any wider reach. They are like those names you find in phone books – AAArdvark Taxis – designed to be at the top of the rankings but otherwise feeling a little bit impersonal. Oh yes, and I should add, the names should be short and easily pronounceable – and spellable in case anyone wants to Google or contact you.
The second factor is a strong or otherwise memorable logo: it may be a typographical rendition of the name (Virgin again) or a separate image (Apple and the Stones). But with law firms what do we see? Even if a firm has a strong name (and there are some firms with strong names) the logo is either so subtle and tasteful as to be invisible – and in 99 instances out of a 100 the ‘logo’ is merely the firm’s name reproduced in a tasteful, bland and otherwise unmemorable typeface. Even a shiny new ABS outfit like Rocket Lawyer goes no further than having an ‘R’ for its website favicon – why no rocket guys? Good taste may equate with the traditional legal culture but good taste does not equate to a strong, publicly recognisable brand.
Finally – and this is very much an optional third element – a modern brand needs some potential for merchandising, whether on coffee mugs, tee-shirts or in the form of cute cuddly (or not so cute) soft-toys. OK, sometimes this can go too far in the obvious direction so that brand recognition overwhelms the associated product recognition. I love those ads with the meerkats and the fact the merchandising has spread out to books and soft-toys but I haven’t a clue what they are promoting.
Final thoughts? When it comes to public brand recognition, even an ever-so slightly recherche British heavy metal band like Iron Maiden has stronger brand than most law firms.
Also all these commercial brands have an element of longevity – something no law firm brand has ever managed to achieve. The Stones’ lips and tongue logo dates back to 1971, Apple to 1976, Virgin to 1979 and, er, Iron Maiden and ‘Eddie’ to 1980.