Legal briefs are worth the effort

Design groups are missing a trick by not taking advantage of the business opportunities offered by the lifting of ad restrictions on legal firms, says David Carroll

That this profession is just beginning to embrace the power of marketing is borne out by the growing number of award schemes that celebrate strong marketing strategies in the field. The second annual Legal Marketing Awards were held last week, while the Financial Times’s Innovative Lawyer Awards is holding its inaugural awards ceremony gala later this summer.

This enthusiasm for modern approaches to marketing makes it an exciting time for designers and brand consultants to be involved with this heavyweight sector, while its heritage, ritual and gravitas present interesting and unique challenges.

We have been involved with the sector since 2005, when we worked with law firm Kennedys to create a new brand and corporate identity. More recently we did the same for barristers’ ‘set’ 11kbw. Both have since been nominated for awards, with Kennedys becoming a DBA Design Effectiveness Awards finalist.

As the sector changes and becomes more competitive, marketing as a business discipline is certainly gaining ground in the legal sector. Nevertheless, as an inherently conservative and sceptical profession, governed by codes of conduct, we encounter doubts about the exact value and benefits that investment in a ‘brand’ will deliver, and we have found ourselves in the role of educators and advocates. Real commercial experience and well-developed arguments are essential in this environment. But, best of all is success.

It’s becoming clear to growing numbers of legal businesses that a strong corporate identity, a coherent branding scheme and a consistent message are powerful assets in their marketing and communication strategies. Because there is no tangible ‘product’ to sell, merely individual expertise and a track record, our strategy has been to find the shared ethos, culture and approach that bring these diverse individuals together in the collective that is the law firm or barristers set. And while it may seem obvious to highlight their expertise, this is certainly not a point of difference. By definition, lawyers and barristers are experts in their field. The search for difference must dig deeper.

Legal businesses are highly complex and pose many challenges to deal with. For example, take 11kbw. It is essentially a collection of 49 self-employed barristers working together as a set of chambers. To understand how they worked, we conducted research and a series of workshops to ascertain what qualities, beliefs and values tie these individuals together. The answer gradually bubbled to the surface. For them, it was ‘asking questions’ – 11kbw’s barristers are known for asking the hard questions of the day, for challenging opinions and prejudice through the rhetoric of questions. This resulted in an incisive little booklet, entitled ’25 Years of Big Questions’, which detailed 25 of the benchmark cases argued by 11kbw. It has subsequently become a promotional tool.

Constrained, as they are, by a deeply respected tradition and proscribed working methods, legal professionals win cases through fierce intelligence, agile thinking and strength of argument. Working with these individuals is a trial of logic and detail that will challenge and stretch any creative consultancy. They use words very precisely, as the tools of their trade, and so the use of language in branding was an incredibly important concern for them. With both companies, we worked with a copywriter from the earliest stages to ensure that an appropriate tone of voice was at the heart of each identity.

The final point about the legal profession which must be appreciated is the implications of the collective structure which, in practice, mean that every barrister or lawyer is a stakeholder in the decision-making process.

However, the pleasure of working with companies in this sector is that they are all experienced professionals who appreciate the specialist role of the consultant, trust your work and respect your professional knowledge and integrity. Typically, they are fast decision-makers. And they now appreciate the benefits of what design can do for them, too.

David Carroll is creative director of R&D&Co

• Put the effort in to dig deeper
• Expect professional trust
• Expect to be challenged
• Get a writer involved at the beginning

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