Study reveals strong case for law firm branding work

Law firms are increasingly embracing branding but they could do more, according to a study by University College Northampton and Blueberry Creative.

The report, which is based on responses to a questionnaire sent to key players at the top 500 legal firms, offers an insight into the sector and aims to ‘take a pulse’ of managing and senior partners’ changing attitudes towards branding.

The findings show that 86 per cent of senior or managing partners consider branding important, while 81 per cent claim to have an established brand for their firm. Some 71 per cent have carried out formal branding work. This should include a written definition of the brand, a developed corporate identity and a behavioural type document outlining the activity of the firm, says Mike Walsh, managing director at Blueberry Creative.

The report also reveals that a further 66 per cent have carried out research into their brand, while 4.7 per cent say they have not embarked on research, but have produced a brand definition document. However, 33 per cent admit to having carried out no research or written documentation work.

While the report does suggest a sea change in attitude towards design branding projects, it also reveals a burgeoning gap in the sector ‘between the intellectual idea of a brand and the actual practice of it’, says Walsh.

He explains, ‘Everyone seems to accept [the value of] branding, but few are seriously doing it. Many talk a good game.’

To illustrate this fact, he points to a statistic: 81 per cent of firms have marketing departments in place, but 30 per cent of senior and managing partners were not sure how many people worked there.

Walsh adds, ‘This area still needs work. Overall, the notion of branding is still percolating down through the sector. Many are still very vague.’

Blueberry Creative is attempting to buck the trend. For example, the group recently carried out a six-figure project to rebrand East Midlands law firm, The Smith Partnership, creating an unusual butterfly icon to represent the evolution of the firm, as well as developing all print, signage and office refurbishment work for the firm (DW 25 September 2003).

Boyes Turner, recognised as the largest law firm in the Thames valley, is also embracing in-depth branding work. For example, it carries out regular projects to refresh its identity, embarking on ‘sense checks’ to gauge how staff interact and perceive the brand.

The last identity it created was three years ago, designed by consultancy Working Design, but the firm is planning to launch a rebranding project next spring as part of its ongoing commitment to renew the identity, says Boyes Turner marketing director Paul Brent. The design work will kick off internally, but the firm may commission branding consultancies at a later date.

Brent agrees that branding ‘has not really been grasped by firms’ and argues that too many companies in the sector still rely on a simple ‘buzzword, imagery or logo’, instead of looking at the bigger strategic picture, to investigate the intrinsic value of a brand and how it can potentially affect the profitability of their business.

He believes one of the biggest challenges lies in creating a brand that will reconcile the potential disparate elements of a firm caused by the different perspectives and needs of partners.

‘To create a brand to sit across the entire organisation is quite a quandary and a major challenge to be faced,’ he says.

The law sector is arguably still in its infancy when it comes to branding, but this is set to change as competition continues to increase and firms are forced to address the issue of branding in its full design and strategic capacity.

Law firms’ attitudes to branding

33% have carried out no brand research

29% have never formally carried out any branding work at all

81% feel they have an established brand

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