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.
Taking the Plunge
A firm name change is not an end in and of itself. It should be part of a branding or positioning campaign, which itself should be a component of a well-conceived marketing program. As McMurray says, a change in a law firm’s name "should be driven by strategy, not by whim."
There can be a number of obstacles to a successful name change. For one thing, changing a firm name can be traumatic for the firm’s lawyers, especially if some of the names to be dropped belong to partners who still are alive. In McMurray’s view, however, they should be able to agree to it when they realize that doing so is part of a broader effort. When she works with a firm, she says she may spend two days interviewing up to 30 lawyers. Often, she states, the lawyers will say that they want "to be on the short list" or they want "to be the go-to firm." She then is able to say to them that if their firm has a long name, "it will never be on the short list" because it is not memorable.
Partners or law-firm marketing directors who want to move in this direction should realize that a name change requires "courage" (to conceive and implement the idea), "commitment" (to ensure that it takes place with everyone’s expressed or tacit agreement) and "consistency" (to the extent that the new name is used internally and externally), according to McMurray. And when the parties agree to do it, the change should take place quickly, not slowly, much as an adhesive bandage should be removed briskly from a knee.
It may be that for one reason or another a firm is unwilling to change its name to the shortest one possible. That should not doom the renaming effort. Short names have their benefits, but that does not always mean the shorter the better. Kafin acknowledges a lot of people refer to his firm as "Proskauer" but points out "Rose" founded the firm in 1875. When the firm was changing its name, the partners decided "it would be nice to hang on to our founder’s name and combine it with the name of the lawyer who brought us into the modern era."
Firms also may decide to use a shorter name for marketing purposes but keep their legal name for other purposes. Morgan Lewis & Bockius, for example, refers to itself as "Morgan Lewis" in its marketing materials, and Duane Morris & Heckscher brands itself as "Duane Morris." These changes simply may reflect how the firms are known "on the street."
Using a branding name avoids the problem of offending living name partners or lawyers with a sense of history or those who believe they have an obligation to their founders. It also makes the change easier; for one thing, fewer legal documents will need to be revised.
But 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. 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.
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.
Steven Meyerowitz is 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.
Deborah McMurray is a strategic marketing consultant to the legal industry. She can be reached at 214.351.9690 or firstname.lastname@example.org.