Branding and the Law
Michael Peters

A brand is not a logo. A brochure is not marketing.

I am sometimes amazed after 30 years as a brand consultant that there are still sectors of British business that refuse to understand the power that branding could bring to their business. And I'm afraid that many businesses in the legal sector are prime examples.

The legal sector in this country is facing massive changes that will undoubtedly result in a huge shakedown in the next few years. Globalisation, mergers, specialisation, America, China, Russia…there are too many issues to even contemplate. However one thing is sure, the winners from this shakedown will be those legal firms that invested in creating strong brands.

So what do I mean by a brand if I don't mean a logo? I believe the best definition is this - A brand is a promise, a strong brand is a promise delivered. In essence your brand is your whole reputation.

Professional service businesses have always traded on their reputation, and have always been proud to tell you this. But in a much more competitive world and with an increasingly well informed customer, reputation now needs to work harder than ever. At its simplest, branding is the difference between having a reputation and managing a reputation. Your brand is your connection with both potential and existing clients as well as your staff, and you neglect it at your peril.

But what can a branding programme achieve for a law firm? Well for a start it's not the same as branding baked beans, but it can be every bit as profitable. Branding in professional services can bring untold benefits. If done well, it energises your business, motivating people to be part of your success. It revives interest in your business in terms of recruiting the best people. It gives you a point of difference from your competitors and signals confidence to your markets. It also acts as a shortcut in our time-stressed business world for decision makers to choose you. And if that wasn't enough, it also adds value to your offer and enables you to charge more. Quite a lot to expect?

We have recently been involved in the branding of two very different law firms, one well established the other a new start up. In each case I could draw parallels with huge consumer branding projects that my businesses have been involved with, like Wembley Stadium, Johnnie Walker, Universal Studios or Nike. But I feel that perhaps the particular differences in branding a legal practice are what might interest you more.
My company Identica has worked on the recent re-branding of leading law firm Nabarro that you may have heard about in the last 2 months, and also a small start up firm called Fridays. In each case the objectives and approach were very different but many of the branding principles were common to each project.

Law firms the world over are competing for the same clients in an ever more crowded marketplace. As every client demands a full service practice, that delivers to ever shorter deadlines, for a smaller fee, the pressure to stand out and deliver intensifies.

Law firms have always built their client base on reputation, but sometimes a good reputation in one area can pigeonhole you and hamper the growth of your reputation in another. Nabarro Nathanson, for example has legal specialists in multiple practice areas and is getting full recognition for the strength of its offer from its clients, but that breadth and strength was not being communicated to the wider world. Therefore their decision to manage their reputation better and talk more to new potential audiences led them to consult Identica about their brand.

The branding process

In an effort to understand how Nabarro Nathanson could better communicate with new audiences, Identica's intensive research aimed to understand current perceptions and discover the reality of the business and its landscape. What was discovered formed the basis of our approach to the brand strategy.

Legal businesses often have the same key problem; namely, the structure of their business. In essence, they are a collection of individual partners, NOT a branded firm of partners and support services; and because of this, no matter how successful the individuals are, perceptions of the firm will not change.
To counter this, a successful law firm must put its brand at the heart of everything they do, communicating their point of difference to every audience.

As a branding agency it was surprising for us to see so many large law firms communicating the same message in the same style across the same media.

As legal businesses race to benchmark each other, they become more alike. It seemed as if each of the major players was claiming to be unique, but all claiming the same advantages e.g. full service, large, international, etc. In fact the legal sector is totally undifferentiated in terms of branding and communication. And as all the best brand strategists would tell you, that is where the key to your success lies.

Competing on the same terms means you're running the same race faster, playing catch-up all the time, but the best strategy is choosing to run a different race altogether because it's the one you've set yourself up to win.

Achieving a distinctive and clearly identifiable positioning that clients value and are willing to pay for is the holy grail of competitive success in any industry.

Our feedback told us that Nabarro Nathanson were really valued for delivering their legal advice in a user friendly way. People across the industry acknowledged that they were excellent at grasping the business context of a problem and then helping their clients to address the legal issues in a straight forward way, no matter how complex the situation.

This formed the bedrock for the re-branding campaign. A point of difference from their competitors that the firm already excelled at, and an unrealised competitive gem.

To be known for a single minded idea, that truly differentiates you is the platform for all successful brands, and Identica knew this would be a strong and bold brand idea.

Our task was then to devise a brand strategy that would bring a ‘user friendly law' proposition to life, and develop a programme to drive it through every part of the company.

What shone through as a clear way to connect everyone was the idea of clarity. Clarity matters, in business, in transactions, in finance, in the law and in all professional advice. ‘Clarity Matters' for Nabarro becomes a unique selling point and a strategic proposition. From the weightiest legal tome to the shortest voice mail message, ‘Clarity Matters' is a promise that delivers a different way of doing things.

Bringing the brand to life creatively meant a new contemporary brand mark and identity was designed to reflect the complexity of the law and the clarity that good advice brings.

The look and feel for the communication materials was captured in a set of style guidelines that cover every area of the Nabarro world, from stationery to signage, literature to web communication, internal communications to promotion, and photographic style to copywriting. Advertising concepts were also developed to launch the re-branding to staff, clients, and the trade. Consistency of delivery and the delivery of clarity now go hand in hand for Nabarro in their brand communication and it is this that will cement their reputation in the hearts and minds of their clients.

At the other end of the scale in terms of audience and impact we created a new brand for a start up firm of conveyancing solicitors. For most people moving house, dealing with Conveyancing Solicitors seems to entail taking a step back in time. Instead of modern communication technology, conveyancing solicitors appear to embody the stereotype of slow, stuffy, formal Victorian legal values.

Simon Seaton wanted a new brand to reflect a complete change in the way his company was approaching conveyancing. So we set about creating a name, an identity and a communication style that truly reflects a 21st century conveyancing firm.
Identica's brief was to create something that contrasted completely with traditional legal businesses in terms of branding that it would totally stand out from the crowd.

The result is Friday's. We came up with the name for the new business, which comes from a typically quirky angle, in that most house purchase completions happen on a Friday.

The brief was to create an abstract identity that represented a modern, high quality, approachable business. The identity needed to reflect a certain quirkiness or ambiguity and sense of humour. The result is the fish symbol, a cryptic visual pun on the thing people associate most with Fridays. The bold colours and specially crafted typeface create a very contemporary stylish identity that provokes curiosity, especially in a sector that is traditionally very conservative

Identica developed the new brand's positioning to reflect the company's commitment to quality service aspirations, and its contemporary, friendly style, with the phrase ‘It's as if we're moving too..'

Fridays, with their new approach to service and of course their innovative branding are truly breaking the mould in their sector.

Financially, it makes so much sense. Consistency of communication and a brand idea that is easily understood can be the difference between winning and losing.


Articles and speeches shown on this site were written and / or produced by Michael Peters while Chief Executive / Creative Director of the Michael Peters Group Plc and Identica Limited