There’s one phrase that every lawyer I’ve ever worked with on a private practice startup loathes with visceral intensity. And that phrase is start-up. It doesn’t end there. Talk about the challenges of launching a new legal brand ‘from scratch’ to a tired and emotional (escaping a firm and building a new one is a truly nerve-shredding affair, from what I’ve seen) absconder of private practice and they will undoubtedly wince. From scratch? No, no, no. As far as they’re concerned their business is anything but new. It has been forged over decades. Tabula rasa it is not, my friend.
The firm identity they have laboured under since their mid-twenties may well be the industry shorthand for quality, or reliability, or expensive, or global, or other intangible and fleeting notions. But will they suffer for its absence? This is the fear that paralyses most lawyers. It creates an (almost) inescapable inertia, that prevents most of them ever going it alone. And it’s capable of holding together even the most dysfunctional law firms for centuries. But here’s the truth. They never suffer. Not a bit. And here’s why – That unique blend of personality and performance that they have exercised over many, many years is the real essence of what they stand for, expressed in thought and word and deed. That is what truly matters to them. Brand is a proxy for value, and that value isn’t expressed by a logo, a typeface, a colour or a website. It is expressed through a heartbeat, or a handshake. History beats graphic design hands down.
Picture your average new product launch; a brand born kicking and screaming in a blizzard of colour, sound and shape, after months or perhaps years of significant planning, research and consideration. The freshness creates giddy excitement but also huge risk which has to be mitigated by endless focus-groups and cold–hard cash (interestingly, lawyers never EVER do focus groups. They have faith, instead).
Whilst other industries may shout and scream, wrestling for your attention at every turn, the most powerful brands in legal services will seduce you with a polite whisper
Consumers are endlessly seduced by ‘the next big thing’. It’s as if uncharted territory is the only destination that will be interesting to a jaded world driven to distraction by a relentless marketing drone. In a recent study, Forbes revealed a 95% failure rate for these new products. There’s no comparable analysis in legal services (I’d wager 5% at best). But my point is that you’d never EVER align your private practice with uncharted territory and the thrill of the unknown. Provenance is all. With time and experience, comes efficacy. With efficacy comes trust. And trust is as good as it gets.
I love creating brand-new brands for brand-new law firms. But the process rarely takes me down a disruptive route to uncover the unmet needs of progressive and ambitious in-house teams, using a heady mix of the fancy technology and bold aesthetics. Instead, the answer lies in confidently and accurately reflecting the glorious past and stoic present of a restless diaspora, jaded by their incumbent partnership. That reflection is supported by a handful of new ideas that allow the brand to stay relevant in the future, rather than shape it mojkzen. And I’m glad about that. Because I genuinely believe that however loudly in-house legal teams shout about innovation, the depth and richness of the personal relationships they forge together with their lawyers remains fundamental. And I can work with that.
While other industries shout and scream, wrestling for attention, the most powerful brands in legal services whisper; a polite sotto voce that is, by contrast, impossible to ignore. Obsessed with points of difference? You’ve missed the point.