I’ve noticed a new look in law. Maybe it’s the lack of photos focused on architectural columns, although take a look and you can still find them. Maybe it’s the lack of stock photos of handshakes and meetings taking place on staircases. Maybe it’s the increase in bold color, meaningful illustration, secondary graphics, and logos that are more than just the firm’s name. It’s probably all of these and it’s probably going to continue.
The Am Law 100 is a long list that is flat and crowded and competitive. There's no clear market leader and measures for success vary—highest revenue, most prestigious, profit per attorney, etc. What’s worse is that in the 2018 Enduring Brands Index, Law had the lowest industry score in the dimension of Differentiation. So many firms look similar however design is one of the strongest tools you have to quickly convey that your firm is different and even elite.
I’m not talking about “design for design’s sake.” Much like messaging, design can help communicate who you are and how you are different from other firms. And like messaging and user experience, design should always be based on a strategy.
Here are 3 ways that your firm can embrace the new look for law.
Look outside of law. Measure yourself against other industries, not just law firms. Look at other large companies that are also servicing your clients, like financial institutions and consulting firms. This may lead you to a different type of logo, different website features, and a new way of speaking about the value your firm provides to the market. Many professional services companies aim to mirror the look of their clients. Would that work for your firm?
Consider starting small. It can be tough to align the entire leadership team on bold changes to your visual identity.
What I’m seeing is that smaller initiatives have a much easier time moving through the system. Many firms have materials on pro bono, recruiting , innovation initiatives, diversity, and blogs that feel truer to the brand and more differentiated from competitive firms. These projects can provide a quick win and the proof of concept that you may need to get an easy “yes” later when proposing a full rebrand. They often get planned, written, designed, and launched with less worry about how much they push the brand and evolve the look and feel. What upcoming initiatives can be used to push your brand?
Start with a blank slate. Aim to create something that only your firm can create and own. Very few law firms have real equity in aspects of their visual toolkit, such as a logo. Align your firm on attributes that represent your brand and how you want to be perceived. Use these attributes to ground any design exercise relating to your brand: website, logo, printed collateral—everything. This should result in a very specific color palette, imagery style, and graphic approach. Does your logo support your brand strategy?
The work shown here for White & Case, Cahill, and Finnegan was all designed by Carbone Smolan Agency using these exact principles. You see, embracing design is good business. I hear over and over again from senior leaders that the visual approach of the firm doesn’t accurately represent the firm. It’s a challenge that all firms can overcome.
The sea of sameness is still vast, but take a look and you can see a few players rising to the top. The firms that don’t invest in design will have brands that suffer. There's a new look in law and it will pay off.