In the legal fraternity, ‘brand’ has so far been an underutilized asset. It is only lately that lawyers and law firms have started to realize the value of brands in expanding their presence and increasing their client base. Brands, however, are not created overnight. It takes years and sometimes even decades to build a brand. In the context of law firms, a brand is the sum total of many components that range from its history to the identity of the founders, the consistency of delivery and success in client mandates, the size and geographical expanse of the firm, its work culture and even perception of the firm amongst diverse components of the legal ecosystem including students, corporate general counsels, senior counsels, and even peers. Out of these, the longevity of client relationships is not only one of the most powerful aspects in shaping the brand of the firm, but it is also the most vicious one. Client relationships shape up the brand and the brand further shapes up client relationships. In this article, the authors discuss what goes into brand-building and how a strong brand helps you stay ahead of the curve.
A law firm brand can be defined as a compilation of perceptions about a firm in the legal ecosystem that comprises its long-standing patrons, potential clients, former clients, peers, competitors, law students, and other organizations (legal-tech providers, vendors of services to law firms, etc.). A positive brand perception assists in building trust in the legal ecosystem and contributes to bolstering the goodwill of the firm. Steve Forbes, Chief Executive Officer of Forbes Media LLC, once quoted - “Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business”. Building a brand is a journey that is specific to each firm. However, there are some common factors that contribute to building the brand of a law firm:
Vision & Strategy
The vision of your legal practice needs to be reflected in the identity of your brand. An articulated brand strategy gives you a focal point to concentrate on. A boutique law firm or a multi-service law firm will have a different strategy in comparison to a full-service one. Regional firms may tap the local expertise and may be able to create a brand that may have a limited geographical expanse but is well-recognized within the region. Legal service offerings are common in most law firms, it's the vision that becomes a distinguishing factor in building the brand.
Building a brand is a continuous process and cannot be achieved in any fixed period or timeline. The process requires thorough market research and analysis, and an awareness of the competitors, and other firms in similar service sectors. Once a firm starts building its brand in a certain direction, it needs to continuously support the brand through thought leadership initiatives, the most common being knowledge dissemination through various means like blogs, social media, speakerships, etc. Consistent brand messaging, aligned with the brand strategy and vision of the firm must also be reflected through all external and internal communication. Interactions that law firm members have with client prospects and peers must also carry a consistent message.
Analyzing the competitors’ brand perception is important to ensure that your own brand message is not similar to or conflicting with a competitor firm. Some of the ways in which law firms can map competition are through the following:
How is a competitor firm building its thought leadership?
How is a competitor firm disseminating its content?
What are the targeted platforms that the competitor firm is focusing on?
How are rankings and recognitions contributing to building their brand?
Are the members of a competitor law firm being their brand ambassadors?
Mapping competition not only enables a law firm to create its own unique brand message but also allows the firm to take an informed approach to creating a brand strategy.
A positive brand should allow the stakeholders to understand a firm’s journey and feel connected to its growth story. A large part of brand-building is about efficient storytelling. Storytelling allows a law firm to create an emotional connection with its target audience. It also helps a law firm build a community of clients and supporters who share the firm's values and mission, cultivating long-term relationships with clients and developing a strong brand reputation.
Clients are the foundation of a law firm's brand. The reputation of a law firm is built on the experiences and opinions of its clients. If a firm provides excellent service, its clients are likely to recommend it to others, which can help build the firm's brand. On the other hand, if a firm fails to meet its client's expectations, it can damage the firm's brand and reputation.
Creating a Distinguishing Visual Identity
Visual identity of the firm acts as the foundation of its brand. The visual identity of a law firm, including its logo, color scheme, and other design elements, creates recognition and memorability. A strong visual identity can help a law firm stand out and be easily recognizable in a competitive field. Visual identity triggers recognition and memorability, which can help build brand awareness and attract new clients. Visual identity also communicates the firm's values, personality, ownership, integrity, and ethos. It doesn’t only assist in building a strong first impression but also adds recall value to the brand. Having said that, no logo, color scheme, or design element alone can sustain and build a brand of a firm that does not deliver value to its clients.
‘Thought Leadership’ might sound like another overly used corporate phrase, but every law firm has a unique perspective and approach to its practice. By sharing this perspective through thought leadership content, a law firm can differentiate itself from its competitors and build a distinct brand identity. This can help the firm stand out in a crowded market and attract clients who share its values and approach. It is important for a firm to identify its core strength and disseminate expertise in those areas in order to build credibility. By publishing articles, giving talks, or providing insights into complex legal issues, a law firm can establish itself as a trusted authority and attract clients looking for specialized legal services.
We commonly hear the terms like Tier 1 Law Firm, Tier 2 Law Firm, Recommended Law Firm, Notable Law Firm, etc. Globally, multiple publications call for submissions from law firms and conduct research on the kind of work done by the law firms. These independent organizations evaluate law firms based on a range of criteria, including technical legal ability, client service, and commercial awareness. By participating in such rankings and recognitions, law firms can receive third-party validation of their expertise and reputation. This can help build trust and credibility with potential clients. Being included in rankings and recognitions can increase the visibility of a law firm and raise its profile in the legal fraternity. This can help attract new clients and build a strong reputation over time.
The strength of relationship building is often underemphasized. In a profession where the law holds restrictions on marketing your services, networking and relationship building could be a game-changer. As per a popular saying - “The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit”. The same principle applies while building relationships. Positive word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful tool in the legal sector. By building strong relationships with clients and other stakeholders, a law firm can create a positive reputation that can be shared through word-of-mouth marketing. This can help attract new clients and build the firm's brand reputation over time. Building strong relationships can also lead to referrals and repeat business. Clients who have a positive experience working with a law firm are more likely to refer others to the firm and return for additional legal services. This can help grow the firm's business and build a strong brand reputation over time.
It is rightly said by Jay Baer that “Content is fire. Social media is gasoline.” In the era of the digital world, having an online presence is an important tool to strengthen and build trust. Digital presence gives you a platform to communicate with the target audience, provides you the opportunity to showcase your strengths, and builds a narrative on who you are as an organization. A strong digital presence can help build brand recognition by consistently presenting a cohesive brand identity across all digital channels, establishing a recognizable brand, and increasing overall brand awareness. A strong digital presence can also help increase client engagement. By providing online resources and tools, such as client portals and online appointment booking, a law firm can make it easier for clients to engage with the firm and access its services. Lastly, by providing valuable content, sharing client testimonials, and showcasing the firm's expertise, a law firm can build trust with potential clients and establish itself as a credible and trustworthy legal resource.
In conclusion, building a brand requires strategic thinking from the start, through every stage of the process. While working on consistency might be hard in the beginning, once you are able to sync your brand and practice, consistency becomes natural and easy. Some of the factors that contribute to building a law firm's brand are vision and strategy, consistency, competition mapping, storytelling, understanding clients, creating a distinguishing visual identity, and thought leadership. A positive brand perception assists in building trust in the legal ecosystem and contributes to bolstering the goodwill of the firm.
Bithika Anand is Founder & CEO and Shubham Malhotra is Senior Consultant at Legal League Consulting