Law firm marketing has been evolving ever since the 1977 U.S. Supreme Court’s Bates decision that allowed lawyers and law firms to market their services. Initially, the extent of legal marketing was basic Yellow Pages and newspaper ads, informing the public and business of their services. The idea of branding a law firm would be a number of years down the road. Law firm logos at that time were just a list of names stacked or lined up, using one of the traditional type fonts such as Times Roman or Century, maybe a line under the names or a box around them. They pretty much all looked alike.

With this new opportunity to market, it would take years for ad, marketing and branding agencies to take hold and convince law firms about how important and powerful marketing and branding is. Slowly, the industry started growing in the late ’80s with in-house marketing departments becoming part of law firm structure, usually with a small staff of two or three people. Now, in 2024, large firms can have marketing and business development departments of 20 or 30 people or more.

In today’s competitive market, it is more important than ever that law firms own their brands. It’s a basic part of running a law firm like a business, and if your law firm isn’t thinking this way, it should be. After all, your brand is your most valuable asset. And protecting your brand is integral to your firm and culture.

What is a law firm brand?

Your brand is more than your logo. It includes your firm’s message, story, culture, visual identity, colors and fonts. In its totality, your brand is a package of who you are and what you stand for. But beyond legal protections, how do you “own” your brand, especially when it encompasses some elements that just cannot be trademarked? The answer is that it requires an authentic message, firm-wide involvement, consistency and time.

What is your message?

Your brand should be true to who you are, as determined through research and interviews. Discussions with internal stakeholders and clients will reveal your law firm’s core brand message, and once that central value is distilled and articulated, everyone throughout the firm should be guided by that brand premise. It is important that the people in charge of your brand — usually the marketing department — monitor its use and follow the firm’s value principles as outlined in your style guide (more on that below). These are the go-to people for the rest of the firm to contact about your brand use.

If your firm does not have a marketing department to handle questions about your brand, then appoint a person or small committee to be in charge of managing your brand, or work with an outside agency to get the necessary answers. Make sure those who handle the firm’s social media accounts are well-informed and trained in the brand message, strategy and goals — this will help eliminate any confusion, internally or externally.

How to get every stakeholder on board

Every single person in your firm is an ambassador and has the potential to interact with clients and potential clients. This is why it is necessary to teach everyone throughout the firm what your brand stands for and how to convey that message. For example, are all the receptionists answering the phone in the same way? Do your attorneys and secretaries understand your verbal message or core values? Does the support staff know the firm’s story?

When you bring a new attorney or staff member into the firm, put time in the orientation process to go over your law firm’s brand and messaging. Periodically refresh people about these items so that they are always at the top of everyone’s mind.

How to ensure law firm brand consistency

Every brand should be accompanied by a style guide. These are created by the agency that worked with you on developing your identity and messaging. It is the go-to document that covers every aspect of your brand and how to use and implement it. It will show everyone the proper ways the logo should be used, the tone and voice of your verbal message, and the visual images that best convey who you are.

Your firm’s brand guide often is a very large document. To streamline the information, a more compressed “cheat sheet” can be developed for distribution throughout the firm. Remember: Everyone in your firm has to be that brand ambassador. Using and telling your brand message both internally and externally requires consistency by each and every person.

How long does it take to establish your law firm brand?

Owning and maintaining your law firm’s brand takes work, and over time, your brand may evolve along with the growth of your firm. Building your brand is not a sprint, but a marathon. You have to put in the effort over time to ensure you and your partners are positioning your brand properly in the marketplace and that you catch and respond to any unauthorized use.

To this end, monitor social media to ensure your internal people are following your guidelines. Check up on charity organizations you work with to confirm your logo is presented as it should be. If not, ask what happened and how to correct it for the next time. Keep your eyes open for other firms or companies that may be using similar designs in their logos or messaging that may reduce the impact of your branding efforts. If there is an act of infringement or replication, take legal steps to stop it.

A lot of work goes into creating your brand, starting with the initial research about your firm and its history and its values, along with gathering perspectives on the firm’s reputation. A brand is a promise to your clients, as well as your staff, that brings credibility to your firm. That is all the more reason to own and protect your brand. With a successful brand, you will not only grow your firm, but you will also attract people who align with your values and firm culture, helping gain new talent and retain valued existing staff.

If you have questions or need assistance in your branding or re-branding efforts, reach out to me, Alan E. Singles, at asingles@jaffepr.com.