Overhauling Your Law Firm Brand: 10 Tips from the Trenches

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[The latest in our new series of inside perspectives by marketing, communications, and business development professionals doing excellent work at law firms today, with a deep dive into what it took for Bradley to re-brand and roll out their new website:]

In November 2014, our firm embarked on a website redesign. We knew it would be a large-scale, time-consuming project, so we prepared ourselves for the long haul. Several months later, we were asked by our marketing and business development committee to work on a firmwide rebranding. Suffice to say, we had our work cut out for us.  

Approximately 20 months later, we had met our milestones and launched our new, singular name brand publicly, “Bradley,” as well as our new website, at the new URL www.bradley.com. Along the way, we had a lot of successes – as well as a few setbacks – but in the end, we passed the finish line and triumphed on all fronts. Now, having come out the other end of this makeover, we would like to share what we learned along our journey with other legal marketers and law firm professionals so you can apply it to your own large-scale marketing projects.

1. Get Buy-In and Support from Management Early

One of the key ingredients in our success was that we sought and received the support of our firm’s Business Development & Marketing Committee at the outset of the project. Without their backing and guidance, we would have found it much more challenging to undertake a rebranding and the development of a new website in such a short timeframe. For other legal marketers who might consider tackling such a large endeavor, we recommend that you identify and align yourselves with their internal champions within the firm’s management ranks.

out with the oldOut with the old...

 

2. Do Not Put the Cart Before the Horse

Even though the decision to rebrand came several months after we had already begun redesigning the website, it ended up being a significant benefit. The reason is that a law firm’s brand is the foundation of its identity, and the website is an outgrowth of this identity. If we had built the new website based on the old brand, we would have invested a lot of time and money in an asset with a very short shelf life. 

In light of the rebranding project, we put the website project on hold while we worked with branding agency Right Hat to hone our new identity. This included coming up with a new name, a new logo, and a color scheme that would align with this new identity. When we returned to the website redesign, that logo and color scheme created a foundation for the art direction of the new site, enabling us to have a congruent brand and website esthetic.

3. Get Organized

Do you know how many branded items have to be reordered in the course of a law firm rebranding? We didn’t, either, until we sat down and began listing everything we would have to redesign and reorder during the course of our rebranding. Items to be redesigned and reordered included signage (for eight offices), stationery, pens, business cards, pocket folders, banners for tradeshows, table throws for events, promotional items, invoices, firm macros/templates, email signatures, PowerPoint templates, electronic brochures, email campaign templates, and social media channels (including firmwide blogs), among others.  

...we relied on Excel spreadsheets and whiteboards to track what we needed to redesign and where each item was in the procurement process.

To help us in this effort, we relied on Excel spreadsheets and whiteboards to track what we needed to redesign and where each item was in the procurement process – from receiving internal approval to placing the order to receiving the items. We also used our internal resources within our IT department to develop an online form for attorneys and staff to review and select business cards, and to confirm and update their contact information. Because we had approximately 700 business cards to update, it was necessary to place the onus of reviewing business card information on the individual attorneys. 

We then collaborated with our business development and marketing partner to develop a series of update emails, which were usually sent monthly, that provided a numbered list of items the attorneys were responsible for, along with instructions, regarding the rebranding and website relaunch. This included signing off on their business card information, as well as updating bios and generating email signatures. We then tracked responses in our spreadsheet to confirm who had completed the tasks and who had not. 

...we finished 90 percent of our attorney headshots and website photography in two months, thanks to a process that used Google Docs

We used a similar process for confirming our new attorney headshots. In fact, we finished 90 percent of our attorney headshots and website photography in two months, thanks to a process that used Google Docs to create a scheduling system that – due to the platform’s collaborative nature – our attorneys could access.

4. Start Early

When it came to redoing our website content, we had our work cut out for us. Not only did we have our 500 attorneys review their bios and experience listings, we also redid all the copy across the entire site, which totaled well over 200 pages of content. This included integrating new messaging into pages about the firm, as well as collapsing and reorganizing our practice group pages. We also added completely new content, specifically an assortment of case studies that tell the story of our client successes. These case studies required additional preparation, since they required not only input from our attorneys but approval from our clients as well. Suffice to say, we learned that content is, by far, one of the most time-consuming elements of any website redesign.

...content is, by far, one of the most time-consuming elements of any website redesign.

Fortunately, we set the stage for content development months in advance of any copy being written. The process started by showing the practice group leaders design decks that featured templates for what the new front-end visuals of the practice pages would look like. That helped them get a sense of the overall look and a feel for how the content would be displayed, and empowered them to start thinking about how they would like to reorganize their practice and subpractice descriptions. We then unveiled a preview of the new

in with the newIn with the new...

logo and some of the new website’s key pages at our attorney retreat. This fueled more excitement for the endeavor and helped us achieve buy-in firmwide. 

 

The lesson we learned was that, by providing attorneys with an actual sample of the new identity and website, we were able to achieve buy-in quickly, which then allowed us to move on to the next step in the process.

5. Get Inspiration from Everywhere

One of our goals with the website redesign and the rebranding was to modernize the look of our law firm brand. Our old website had been the child of a merger with Boult Cummings Conners & Berry PLC. By starting fresh with a new brand identity, we could create a more cohesive digital identity. 

Deciding on this new look required a lot of research and discovery. Our digital agency, One North Interactive, interviewed multiple stakeholders within the firm, including members of the Business Development & Marketing Committee. The feedback received was fortunately unanimous: Everyone wanted a clean, professional look that would give the site a modern feel. They also wanted the value proposition of the firm and its experience to be clearly communicated to website visitors. With this feedback, we now had our objectives.

We then moved to deciding on the particular design elements of the website. To do this, we researched websites within and outside the legal market. Our goal was to break out of the law firm mold and do something that was still familiar to our audience but unique in the context of law firm websites. Together with One North, we looked at other law firm websites that we thought had innovative features and found ways to make those elements our own. We also drew inspiration from websites for universities, accounting firms, investment management firms, and organizations outside the USA.

6. Select Vendors that Serve as Partners

If we could go back and redo one thing above anything else, it would probably be to streamline the number of vendors we used for this project. Initially, we started out using multiple vendors for multiple aspects of the website redesign and rebranding. We discovered that using a large number of vendors quickly turned into its own job because vendor management became a time-consuming task. In addition, we were worried that

the original rebranding listThe original rebranding list.

there would be a lack of cohesion in design and messaging, although that concern was assuaged when all of our vendors happened to identify similar key messages to incorporate into their efforts.

 

As the project moved downstream, we found opportunities to consolidate vendors. First, our original content partner, in essence, could not finish the project, requiring us to pivot quickly to stay within the parameters of our timeline. Fortunately, we discovered that our PR vendor, Jaffe, also provides content services. Although we only had two months to have all practice descriptions and case studies written, reviewed, and approved before the site launched, we were able to transfer the work to Jaffe seamlessly, thanks in part to their familiarity with our branding and messaging, as well as their use of a dedicated project manager. In addition, for the sake of further consolidation, we ended up transferring some of the branding work to Jaffe as well, which helped to further streamline the vendor management task. 

Reflecting on the project, we realized that the vendors who served not only as service providers but also as partners made a significant difference in our ability to see this project to completion. For example, when we had to put the website redesign on hiatus, One North supported us and continued to be a partner. Without missing a beat, they picked the project back up when the time was right. And all of our vendors provided project management and timely communication to help our marketing department stay on track with deadlines so we could keep all the disparate parts in motion.

7. Do Not Underestimate the Scope

A law firm rebranding affects every department of the firm. We worked with our human resources department to update staff appreciation items and orientation materials. For our accounting department, we added the new logo to invoices, both printed and electronic, as well as our financial reports. We worked with our library to incorporate the new brand into the firm newsletters and reports, and we altered all of our training materials. 

We also created custom logos for various firm initiatives and departments, including the Bradley Foundation, Bradley Training, Bradley Research Services, Bradley Firm Retreat, and Bradley Finance, among others. Fortunately, we purposefully designed the logo to be highly customizable, so tweaking the logo for different uses without compromising brand consistency was easy. 

Of course, one of the most prominent uses of the new brand that we had to coordinate was signage. In fact, we added a sign displaying the new brand to the top of the building where our Birmingham office is located. This required our team to go before the city’s design review committee to seek approval, which was a task that those undertaking a rebranding might not even consider.

8. IT Is Your Friend

If you’re doing a website redesign or a rebranding, make good friends with your IT department. They were a critical component to our success. Once we ensured that our new content management system would integrate properly with our proposal generator software and other key business development tools, One North collaborated with our IT department to manage the technical components of the website launch.

If you’re doing a website redesign or a rebranding, make good friends with your IT department.  

Specifically, the two entities worked together to set up a website redirect to automatically transfer visitors from our old URL to our new URL, bradley.com. One North and IT also took a “divide and conquer” approach to updating all of our attorney and staff email addresses with the new email domain. One North conducted a batch update for all the displayed emailed addresses on our website, while IT handled the internal technical updates.

We also partnered with our IT department to push out our new email signatures to all staff and attorneys; update electronic letterhead, fax, memo templates, and macros; place the new logo on phone screens and desktops; and create a new screensaver that incorporates the new logo.

9. Cushion Your Budget and Your Timeline

Finally, allow for a cushion in your budget. Trying to guess the actual cost of a rebranding and a website redesign is like trying to hit a hole in one. It’s best to set the expectation for yourself and others at your firm that, with such large-scale projects, exceeding the original budget is almost inevitable. By giving yourself some leeway, you’ll ensure that you’ll be able to complete the project at the level of quality you set out to achieve while avoiding going back to firm management and surprising them with a much higher bill than anticipated. 

In addition, while we had a projected timeline from the start of the rebranding and website relaunch, we discovered that part of the journey is dealing with the surprises as they arise. After all, no matter how much you strategize at the outset of a large legal marketing project, the unexpected will occur. So while we had envisioned launching the new brand and the website simultaneously, we ended up creating separate phases for the two initiatives, which worked in our favor by giving the firm an opportunity to steadily roll out the new brand to our market. 

When rolling out your new brand, make it a firmwide experience to generate excitement and buy-in from attorneys and staff alike. 

We attribute the key to our success to the dedication and teamwork of all the personnel who contributed to this effort, from our vendor partners to our IT department to firm management, who were incredibly supportive throughout the process.

10. Involve Everyone in the Launch

When rolling out your new brand, make it a firmwide experience to generate excitement and buy-in from attorneys and staff alike. This should begin before the new brand even launches. For example, we designed and hung posters throughout our offices with messages that teased the new brand. We then coincided the day of the launch with the start of Administrative Professionals Week to show staff that they were part of the effort as well. 

As a surprise to our employees, we put together “desk drops” that included newly branded business cards, notepads, and other promotional items. Over the weekend, we had these placed on attorney and staff desks throughout our offices so when they came in Monday morning, they were greeted with a gift bag that conveyed the new identity. 

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[Kelly Schrupp is Bradley’s Director of Business Development & Marketing and Jacqueline Madarang Bradley’s Senior Marketing Technology Manager.]

 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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