How can you (safely) shorten a law firm’s name?

How can you (safely) shorten a law firm’s name?

Below are two logos – before and after the redesign, obviously.  Note, they’re exactly the same width. 

Which one stands out?  Which one are you more likely to notice and remember?

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It’s obviously the right decision, there is no scenario where the top version is a “better” or more effective logo than the new one below it.  There are too many equal-sized names, and your brain can’t process all that visually similar information.  There’s no focal point, so your eyes don’t know where to go.  If you put it on tschotchkes like a hat or mug (see mock-ups below), or used it on business cards (also below) or a website, there’s a clear contrast.  If you looked away, you wouldn’t remember the firm’s name.

The bottom version with the larger name obviously helps the reader remember the firm’s name.

And that’s what a good logo is supposed to do.  It tells you what to remember, how to find them.  You know what to call them.  Which of course is the whole point – it’s a strong, interesting, unusual, and memorable name.  It’s what The Street has always chosen to call them – either “Lugenbuhl” or “The Lugenbuhl Firm.”  But changing a logo to reflect that reality is still extremely difficult.

Executing it requires teamwork.  Commitment to the firm.  Trust.  Strong leadership.

Here, Messrs. WheatonPeckRankin, and Hubbard are all still practicing.  They’re dynamic lawyers with great practices, leaders in their various industries (marine, bankruptcy, environmental, and energy). The latter Name Partners must have the professional security, integrity, and confidence to allow their names to be reduced in size compared to the first lawyer’s.  They have to suppress their egos for the sake of The Firm.  They must understand and accept that enlarging the first name over the others isn’t a comparative value judgment.

It doesn’t suggest that Mr. Lugenbuhl is “better” than they are. 

It’s not saying he’s more important, smarter, more valuable, or better looking.  It’s just that his name was first on the door and that having too many names of equal visual weight simply makes no strategic sense. It makes it harder to grasp visually and remember later, which hurts everyone’s business development.  The only possible explanation for keeping a design like this is the ego and insecurity of the latter-named lawyers.

And that’s not an insignificant thing, especially not in a professional-services firm. 

In a law firm, having your name on the door is the brass ring.  No one screws with a lawyer whose name is prominent on the letterhead.  Candidly, in their position, I wouldn’t want my name shrunk or eliminated from the logo either.  Regardless, it IS, of course, the right thing to do.

And that’s how we always pitch it: “It’s not about Mr. Lugenbuhl!”  “Lugenbuhl” simply becomes a word, a noun, the company name.  It’s no longer about the person, it’s the word that represents the firm.  People don’t wonder who “Mr. McDonald” is when they buy a hamburger, or call and ask to speak to Mr. Skadden.

That’s certainly a challenge in first-generation law firms when one or more of the names on the door are still practicing.  This is particularly true when the firm has gradually added the firm’s top billers or rising stars to the end of the name.  The people in the front may no longer be as powerful or relevant as the latter names. But it’s still the right thing to do.

Good for S. Rodger Wheaton, Stewart F. Peck, S. Frazer Rankin, and Ralph S. Hubbard, III.  They did the right thing for the firm.  I sincerely respect their strategic sacrifice.

Here are two business card options with similar layouts.  The point is pretty obvious, don’t you think?

This is equally true following a merger.

There’s often loyalty to their old firm’s name, which is entirely understandable. Neither firm wants to feel they’re losing their identity, proud history, or hard-earned reputation. But combing the firms’ names, is rarely the best long-term solution — it creates the type of too-long name we’re trying to avoid.  Inevitably, the larger firm gets the first slot(s), followed by the smaller firm, which eventually has its name reduced.

But it’s important to have an aggressive transitionary rebranding period to ensure that the smaller firm has its brand identity migrated firmly to the new firm. You never want the smaller firm’s contacts wondering, “Hey, whatever happened to Smith & Jones?”

 

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