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Law firms need Chief Branding Officers.

In Law and every other profession, the firms with the strongest brands charge higher rates and generate greater profits. If you want to credibly charge more per hour, you must convince the market that your work is worth more. That is, you must either:

  • (a) Start doing objectively and measurably better legal work than you’re doing now, or
  • (b) Convince clients that your current work is worth paying more for.

The obvious problem is that it’s nearly impossible to do (a) and very few firms know how to do (b).

1. What separates the leading law firms is The Brand.

In “Confessions of An Advertising Man,” advertising pioneer David Ogilvy said:

“There isn’t any significant difference between the various brands of whiskey, or cigarettes, or beer.  They are all about the same. And so are the cake mixes and the detergents, and the margarines…  The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit.”

Clients tend to feel the same way about similar-sized law firms. Comparing big firms against big firms, and smaller against smaller: “They’re all about the same.” And when the services are similar, their pricing must be too.

What separates similar-looking services and products is the brand. Studies show that the strongest brands in every industry lead the pack. Is Marlboro the world’s best-selling cigarette brand because they actually taste better than their competitors? Are they of superior quality? Of course not. But people still pay extra for the red-and-white box. Why? The Marlboro brand.

2. Building a strong brand is the single best investment a firm can make in its future fortunes.

Read that last sentence again a few times out loud. It’s a critical point.

After decades focusing their marketing professionals on communications-related awareness-building activities, savvy law firms in the 2010s started adding more skilled business-development/sales professionals. Now it’s time to move to the next level and add highly skilled in-house branding expertise. Here’s how the pieces fit together:

  • Marketing creates the opportunity, it tells prospects that you’re out there, it builds awareness and name recognition and helps add you to the automatic short list, especially for specific types of work.
  • Businessdevelopment activities help you get selected off the short list.
  • Branding lets you charge more for it. A brand isn’t a simple logo, tag line, or website. It’s your marketplace reputation. It’s the perception of value that you create, the expectation clients have for the services you provide. A brand defines and sells the organization’s culture to its own personnel. IBM’s brand is why “no one ever got fired for buying” them. It’s the same for most of the AmLaw 50 firms.

3. Skadden’s dominance was created by Joe Flom’s branding brilliance.

Many years ago, I spoke with Joseph Flom, the historic leader of Skadden Arps Slate Meager & Flom who was largely responsible for Skadden’s remarkable growth in size, stature, and revenue in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Flom candidly admitted that he’d helped build the powerful Skadden brand proactively, intentionally, and strategically.

In an old Forbes article, Flom was quoted as calling Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson his “personal hero,” because “from him I learned the value of a brand.”  In the early 1990s, I was an in-house marketer at Winston & Strawn.  At that time, most major law firms still considered marketing to be distasteful and “beneath” them. The widespread perception was that only mediocre firms would be so weak or mercenary as to proactively market their lawyers’ services or hire marketing professionals.

But Flom saw an enormous opportunity and quietly hired 20 full-time in-house public relations professionals to broadcast the Skadden brand to the media.  Skadden quickly gained near omnipresence―their deals were regularly written about in every major legal and business publication. They seemed to be absolutely everywhere. Back then, I didn’t know a single lawyer at Skadden, but I couldn’t shake the deep feeling that they were the nation’s best law firm, with the smartest lawyers, doing the biggest and best deals.

Skadden quickly became the world’s best-known law firm, the first global law firm brand, the first firm with $1 billion in revenues.  I’m sure they were great lawyers, but so were innumerable other top NYC firms that few executives outside of Manhattan had heard of. Flom was a visionary, possibly the most strategic marketer in the history of the legal profession. (He’s my personal hero.)  Skadden built their brand thoughtfully and intentionally. So can your firm. And you should.

Click HERE for Part 2.


Need a new brand or website?

Start by reading the definitive book on the subject, “We’re Smart. We’re Old. And We’re the Best at Everything. The World’s First No-BS Guide to Legal Marketing and Branding” available at Amazon here.  Contact Ross Fishman directly for more information at +1.847.921.7677 or