“Winston & Howrey” – the Naming Question
I was interviewed recently for an article discussing the looming “merger” of Winston & Strawn and Howrey LLP, particular regarding what the firms should do regarding The Name Issue. Should Winston & Strawn change its name? If so, to what?
In these situations, sometimes the answer is fairly obvious, either because one firm is too small or tainted, or has a name that’s too hard to spell or pronounce. Although some would disagree regarding the current status of Howrey’s reputation, I don’t believe that that’s sufficiently the case here – there are a variety of reasonably good answers. (Here’s a link to an NPR story re WilmerHale’s name change.)
Winston & Strawn is an old, established, and powerful full-service firm with 900 attorneys and a tradition dating back to the Civil War. [Disclosure: I worked there as PR Manager then Marketing Director for five years in the early 90s.] It’s a heckuva firm.
Howrey traces its history to the 50s, but really developed its diversified national reputation in the past 10-15 years, since it was the legal profession’s first law firm that attempted true image advertising around 1991. Some of the firm’s more-recent campaigns have been comparatively mediocre but, generally, I’ve been a big fan.
“Winston & Strawn” is a great name – strong, short, simple, and easy to spell and pronounce. The firm has a strong high-quality national reputation dating back over 150 years, and highly regarded leaders, like former chairman Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson and Litigation Chairman Dan Webb.
“Howrey” is also a good name, and it has an excellent reputation in its three primary areas, litigation, antitrust, and IP. Its image has largely been created in the past 10-15 years, although it’s been slightly tarnished through its recent financial difficulties.
The answer comes down to the firm’s long-term strategy. What does the firm want to be known for?
Here are the five possible naming options:
- Winston & Strawn
- Winston & Howrey (or simply WinstonHowrey)
- Howrey & Winston (HowreyWinston)
- Winston Strawn & Howrey
The Name Issue is a challenging one. I’m not involved in any of the discussions, but I have been on numerous occasions for other firms. Here’s my view regarding the likely answers, based upon the similar conversations I’ve had over the years.
“Winston & Strawn”
The most-likely long-term answer is retaining the status quo. Winston & Strawn is a terrific full-service firm with a 150+-year history and mostly unblemished record. It has 900 lawyers, compared to the ~100-200 Howrey lawyers who will be joining them.
Howrey’s a great firm, but it has a shorter history (really just ~15 years since its marketing moved it into the big times). Plus, the lawyers are in no position to be demanding; they should be feeling grateful to have some place to land, largely together.
There’s also some degree of taint associated with “Howrey” right now, although six months of negative news will fade quickly in favor of the 15 years of positive marketing.
Winston & Strawn could simply play hardball and say “No thanks, we’re keeping our name intact,” and the Howrey lawyers will quickly acquiesce.
“Winston & Howrey”
This would be a gift to the Howrey folks. This is not a merger of equals, this is Winston & Strawn “saving” Howrey. I’d be surprised if they’d give them equal billing.
Under this scenario, Winston lawyers would have to really want to make the Howrey lawyers feel welcome and part of the team, and make it somewhat easier for them to bring their Howrey clients with them. There’s some value to adding Howrey to the name, just not this much.
Winston & Strawn has strong practices in both corporate and litigation. Adding the Howrey name would seem to add disproportionate emphasis in litigation and IP. This is strategically unlikely.
It’s a possible option, but Howrey’s not in any position to negotiate on this issue.
“Howrey & Winston”
(Likelihood: 0/10. Never gonna happen.)
Giving Howrey top billing? Not in a million years.
“Winston Strawn & Howrey”
(Likelihood: 7/10. The likeliest short-term solution.)
This is a safe yet strategic interim solution. Then, in 2013, everything reverts back to “Winston & Strawn.”
The cost of changing all that signage is minor compared to leveraging the Howrey name for a couple years. This is a common strategy, employed by Mayer Brown & Platt, when it merged with Rowe & Maw, forming the unwieldy “Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw.” After a brief overlap, they went back to the strong, simple, and memorable “Mayer Brown.” It was the right answer. It is here too.
Although it’s a close call, my prediction is that they will change the name temporarily to the cumbersome “Winston Strawn & Howrey,” bring over the Howrey lawyers and former Howrey clients, make them feel good about the move, then in 2-3 years revert to the simple, four-syllable “Winston & Strawn.”
(Likelihood: 3/10. The wildcard option.)
This would seem unlikely, there’s no real reason to streamline from Winston & Strawn to a single word, although if they’d been thinking about it, here’s the hook they needed.
“Winston” is a great name, but just slightly too common to use as a stand-alone name. Names like Wachtell, Kirkland, and Skadden are strong, simple and powerful standing alone – you don’t need more (even if they choose to retain the others). “Jones” needs “Day” to give it meaning. All the various “Baker” firms (McKenzie, Hostetler, Daniels, Robbins, etc.) need a second name for context. “Winston” is a very close call. They could get away with using it alone, but there isn’t much reason to lose all that history to gain just two syllables — “& Strawn.”
Granted, it’s de rigueur to shorten your firm name, and “Winston” is a great name and the firm’s URL, but there are many naming variable that don’t seem to apply here. “Winston & Strawn” is a good name; I’d like them to leave it alone.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m feeling relatively confident in my choices, even without being able to listen in on the meetings.
We’ll see how it goes.
3/5/11 ED. NOTE: As scenarios change [Above the Law] and the “merger” looks increasingly and not surprisingly like they’re becoming more selective in their approach, “Winston & Strawn” looks even more likely, unless you prefer Mike O’Horo’s suggestion of “Cherry Pickers, LLC”: [“Why merge when you can be selective? Think of all the dead weight other acquirers have had to slog through getting rid of after picking up an entire firm. This is iTunes vs. the album-with-only-five-good-songs-on-it.”