By Steven A. Meyerowitz**
Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, a prominent New Jersey firm, changed its name to Gibbons last week.
Prior to Gibbons, Del Deo, et al., the firm was Crummy Gibbons & O’Neill. “‘Crummy’ became a hurdle to us, and we wanted to take down that hurdle,” the firm’s managing director, Patrick Dunican tells the Legal Intelligencer. He said a five-name firm was anachronistic.
Though name-shortening appears to be the inexorable trend — witness K&L Gates, Venable, Dechert and Orrick (or “O”) — we wanted to take yet another opportunity to cite what is — according to our records — the country’s longest law-firm name, Los Angeles’s Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook,Johnson, Lande & Wolf.
Here are myriad objectives and advantages to this corporate branding strategy:
Shorter law firm names are easier to remember and repeat. A short name supports name recognition, corporate branding and a healthy referral pipeline. Shorter names also work much better with the emerging technologies that firms need to adopt to remain competitive in today’s legal environment.
Another advantage is that a shorter firm name is more effective with emerging technologies like the Internet. The firm’s Web site address needs to be easy to find, remember and type. It is much easier to type, find and revisit www.dechert.com as opposed to www.dechertpriceandrhoads.com.
Shortness is also a virtue in the world of search engine marketing (SEM), which is also known as search engine optimization. Search engines can be compared to libraries. In order for your book (company) to be found in the library (search engine), the book must first be placed in the library and then indexed properly in the card index to be found. Books with short names are more likely to be properly indexed and easily found by library patrons. The same holds true for search engines. Companies with short names are easier to accurately index with the major search engines, such as Google, Yahoo!, AOL, etc., so that your name comes up prominently when it is searched for. Although this is only one of many search engine marketing tactics, it is an important part of the mix. For best results, your name should be specific, unique and short.
Think back to your early school years – you learned to string several words together to form a sentence; you recited simple nursery rhymes; you worked to memorize your seven-digit telephone number. As children, we began with simple subjects because of the basic principles of psychology – the shorter the string of words, the easier they are to remember. These principles underlie decades old advertising principles that are still standards today.
What’s in a name like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Disney, McDonald’s, Marlboro, BMW or Gap? Each name contains just one to four syllables. Each is a global brand. And each has value of greater than $1 billion. Now, say the name of your law firm aloud! Does your corporate identity fit the bill?
Effective naming is likely the single most important tactic to achieve effective
From small boutique shops to century-old organizations, law firms across Philadelphia and the country are changing their names to better brand their organizations and draw greater name recognition to their services. These shorter names are more memorable, catchy and distinctive and do not necessarily abandon the long-standing disciplinary rules and tradition of using partners’
names as the law firm brand.
They cause confusion.
Peter Zeughauser, the Zeughauser Group (which works with the firm on branding and positioning, but didn’t create the name): There is emerging a trend toward toward initials. Just like the accounting firms have long been going to initials (e.g., KPMG, PWC), big law firms are moving towards initials. The first major move in that direction was DLA Piper. Kirkpatrick began emphasizing “K&L” in their branding several years ago. It is actually more distinctive than the full name. Gates, is of course, once of the best recognized names in the world today, so it is wise to be in the name.
What do Price, Rhoads, Shaw, McClay and Remick have in common?
They are the names discarded recently by several large law firms. Now known as"Dechert" (formerly Dechert Price & Rhoads), "ReedSmith" (formerly Reed Smith Shaw & McClay) and "Saul Ewing" (formerly Saul Ewing, Remick & Saul), these firms and others of all sizes across the country are setting the trend toward using shorter firm names. The reason? In a word: marketing.
According to Deborah McMurray, a Dallas-based strategic marketing consultant to the legal profession, firms that shorten their names are following standard advertising principles established by corporate America years ago. A firm name "can have impact" and, if distinctive, can be an important client development tool.
McMurray observes that people receive about 3,000 verbal messages every day. To cope with this "barrage of information," she says, it is human nature to eliminate "all but the top two or three contenders in each category." That occurs for toothpaste, computers, restaurants … and law firms.
Therefore, McMurray asserts, law firms have to help their audience sift through the clutter. One way to do that is to have a memorable name. Shortening a firm name to something with two, three or four syllables can help.
Robert J. Kafin, a partner at the law firm of Proskauer Rose L.L.P. in New York, says his firm recently changed its name from Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn "to improve client communication and understanding of what we do." Kafin added that law firms are "no different from public accounting firms and investment banks, which are doing the same thing." In his view, a long firm name conveys the impression "you have a group of lawyers sharing office space." However, he says, "the movement in the modern law firm is to provide integrated services and client service teams." A shorter name helps distinguish a large firm such as Proskauer Rose from isolated practice groups, he believes.
Moreover, Kafin adds, his firm’s shorter name lends itself to many of the firm’s marketing activities, including advertising. "A very cumbersome list of names is not very conducive to presentation in the modern media through which you advertise your services," he states.
Not there is a risk to this strategy: inconsistency. McMurray points out that firms that operate with a short "branding" name and a longer "legal" name must decide how receptionists, voicemail messages and the firm’s Web site will refer to the firm. A firm in this situation must also decide how to identify itself on its letterhead and business cards. Presumably court filings will use the firm’s full legal name, but the other usages must demonstrate some consistency to avoid confusion.
Shortening a firm name need not be dramatic to be effective.
For Firms' Names, Size Matters
Philadelphia-based Cozen & O’Connor has dropped the ampersand and is now Cozen O’Connor. And Capehart & Scatchard, a 125-year-old, 45-lawyer firm headquartered in the Philadelphia suburb of Mt. Laurel, N.J., is branding itself as Capehart Scatchard.
Cowell Goldstein is not alone in its recent decision to shorten its name. As law firms grow larger, their names are getting shorter.
Most notable is New York City firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which shrank its name first to Skadden Arps and, now, to just Skadden. Like Skadden, many big firms want to establish a brand instead of basing their identity on the names of the lawyers who actually started the firms and are often long gone.
Capehart’s director of marketing, Kimberly L. Alford, calls the change a "very subtle one" but believes it "adds strength to renew our branding efforts." The firm saw the ampersand as "in many ways a limiting symbol." In the past "use of an ampersand tied the names of two or more individuals together as company heads." Today "both Mr. Capehart and Mr. Scatchard would be proud to say that the firm is far greater than the sum of their two names. Without the ampersand the firm has one name, one identity — a small change with great meaning."
Capehart Scatchard uses its branding name on its business cards, business card holders, mugs, tote bags, the banners it has for corporate events and tabletop signage. As part of this branding program, the firm also has developed a new logo consisting of a graphic representation of a "CS" monogram formed by the placement of the letter "S" in a gray window.
If removing punctuation is on one side of the name-shortening scale, cutting a name down to its initials is on the other. That’s what the law firm formerly known as Doepken Keevican & Weiss has done; it is now the DKW Law Group.
Managing partner Leo A. Keevican Jr. says that the firm changed its name to focus on the "DKW brand." He notes that the firm has ancillary services groups, such as DKW Capital Markets, which use those initials. The DKW brand, he believes, allows people to focus on the firm "not just as a law firm" but as an entity that offers broader services.
In Keevican’s view, the change also reflects the times. "It gives a more progressive feel than a lot of names strung together," he says, and this helps his firm as it tries to be "more responsive to doing business in the 21st century."
Having worked with the DKW brand for some time, Keevican may be proven right. Still, according to McMurray, it can be difficult to brand a name consisting of initials. She says law firms "never have the money to brand like IBM" and, in fact, "few companies in corporate America have done that well." She points to IBM and EDS as two of the main success stories.
A Lesson for New Firms
There even may be a lesson for new firms to learn from the name-shortening trend. When a few lawyers get together to create their firm name, they shouldn’t necessarily do it alphabetically or based on who has the most billables. They should, instead, order the names in the way that sounds best and that might lead to an effective shortening, should that occur. Undoubtedly, at that point, the first name or two will be all that will remain.
*** a lawyer who is the president of Meyerowitz Communications Inc., a marketing communications consulting company based in Northport, New York. He may be reached at Smeyerow@optonline.net or 631.261.9476.