Do small law firms have a brand?

Forbes: develop your own brand, not someone else’s

Brands are not just for big firms. Thayne Forbes argues that they can work for smaller practices as well

I run a high street law firm – do I have a valuable brand?

I wouldn’t like to be running a high street law firm without a name, reputation, brand (or whatever you call it) which does not promise a premium for quality. Otherwise the legal services offered would just be commodities and that is a dangerous route – there is always someone out there who can provide a commodity for a cheaper price. For instance, many law firms are outsourcing operations to foreign jurisdictions for cost-saving reasons.

A high street law firm has the opportunity to have significant relevance and access to a local community. This is not just for routine matters, in depressed markets such as  conveyancing, but for clients who need help to do an important deal or help in getting out of real trouble.

Clients value local access, accessibility and visibility. Many retail outlets get most of their business from people walking by, and high street law firms should also do this. It may sound trite, but a large smart eye-catching sign saying “Legal advice on criminal issues” should in itself attract business in areas where the crime rate is high, or near a police station.

Where does the value lie – in the firm or with the partners?

From the point of view of maximising firm value, there is always the possibility that brand value might actually reside in the individual lawyers themselves rather than the firm. This might be good for the individuals if they decide to leave, but not so good if they want to stay.

One of the benefits of cooperating in a business structure is the extra quality business generated by working together, of which cross-selling and working in teams are obvious examples. The more that this is focused through a brand, the more value will reside in the firm and be less vulnerable to walking with the individual lawyers.

How do I make sure my brand appeals to my target market?

There are some initiatives in the legal markets to leverage brand value in a way which is accessible to clients. So, instead of seeing the names of founding partners and an imposing office (which has no real relevance to a client), someone going down the high street can clearly see understandable offerings such as QualitySolicitors. It is natural that people want to use a law firm which is local to them and a high street presence, along with a strong reputation is key to establishing a brand in your target area.

If my firm enters into a marketing collective do I lose my firm’s brand value?

A high street law firm joining such an arrangement might find that brand value is actually found in the marketing collectives and not the firm itself. This might lead to their being a commodity service provider. A firm leaving such a network might find it painful if a significant part of business value, the brand, is owned by someone else who then becomes a competitor.

But what about the competition? Marketing legal services is a subtle business, and perhaps in a less developed stage given that professional restrictions have not been lifted for that long. Marketing legal services is often ineffective, just look for example at a local Yellow Pages and see how many ads for law firms stress their name, their offices and their jargon for their services.

Consumers don’t necessarily understand this, and might well go for something that is clearly aimed meeting their needs and in their language. This is classic marketing theory of course, and can ultimately reside in the brand. But in legal markets I would say that there is likely much more benefit in developing this for your own brand rather than someone else’s.

Thayne Forbes is joint managing director of independent brand consultancy firm Intangible Business

    Readers Comments

  • Gary says:

    An interesting feature that introduces some current relevant topics but you don’t really go far enough in answering your own question. Do small law firms have a brand or not? Of course, there is more benefit in growing your own business than someone elses but if you are a stakeholder in that business then you are benefiting from the effort of building it. There are ways to retain your brand while benefiting from collective marketing and collaboration.

  • Kieran says:

    You say that “Marketing legal services is often ineffective, just look for example at a local Yellow Pages and see how many ads for law firms stress their name, their offices and their jargon for their services.”

    Of course it is ineffective if you are speaking about Yellow pages! We use yellow pages to put our screens atop.

    When are people going to wake up and realise that people use search engines. It amazes me that many solicitors are not understanding this. You do not have to spend tens of thousands ‘building a brand’ , it is not cost effective, and will ultimately fail. People search for keywords and phrases, Conveyance solicitor for example. Going to an ad agency and spending fortunes on branding is not going to help a small firm of solicitors, all it will do is burn cash they do not have on overpriced logos, twitter pages, facebook pages, websites, letterheads , adverts, radio, etc etc.

  • Joe Reevy says:

    Some really good points:
    I think the whole idea of brand is massively overstated in this industry. Be that as it may, for far too many firms, the brand lies with the individuals in it (it is recognised by the term ‘having a following’ ). If firms are going to invest in brand-building, whatever else they do, they should make sure the investment benefits the FIRM. This is a huge issue in social networking, where people build significant presence at enormous cost to their firm (in lost time) and them move to another firm, taking all that goodwill with them, so you do the investing and another firm reaps the benefit.. We have seen a recent example of this.

    The other issue is the importance of being LOCAL. Clients want local advice (Google told us that 86% of all searches for law firms contain a geographic qualifier). There’s just no point in attracting traffic from Newcastle if you are in Southampton (unless you are a real niche firm) and in any event, you can grow your firm dramatically just by leveraging local contacts and attacking the market within 20 minutes’ drive time to your office. This is one of the reason enewsletters are so effective.

    if you can find other known local brands and leverage them in your content, enews, mobile setc, you have a win-win.

    How effective would co-branding a newsletter with your local Chamber of Commerce be???

    It goes without saying that we have addressed all of these issues when building

  • It appears people confuse “brand” with brand awareness. Brand is so much more than a logo or advertising campaign, using tools like social media should raise awareness of your brand but won’t always add value to it, in fact in many cases social media has had a negative effect on a brand.

    Brand has to be at every customer touch point; all firm employees regardless of their role should know and buy into the brand values which are reflected in their behaviour, customer service and attitude. Those values then need to be communicated in your marketing, tone of voice, visuals and even call to action and how responses are handled.

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