News and Views on branding tech and innovation by law firms
Findings from our research among innovation and technology professionals working at the UK’s top 75 law firms indicate positive changes in attitude.
One of the most positive outcomes of the current crisis could be the lessening of internal resistance and barriers to the adoption of tech. Firms have been promoting how tech can help their clients, and with positive feedback from clients, partners are increasingly using tech and engaging with innovations.
With clients ever more receptive to messaging around efficiencies and cost savings, and with obvious demand, it remains to be seen how quickly this will translate into investment. Inevitably, with constraints on budgets, any business case will need to be strong. Yet the very least, there have been positive changes in attitude, in favour of using tech and innovation.
These findings arose in a survey we conducted in early May among innovation and technology professionals working at the UK’s top 75 law firms (drawn from The Lawyer’s 2019 UK 200 report). Our aim was to understand more about the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on communications strategy and activity (both internal and external), and to get insights into how firms plan to move forward after the crisis.
Our top-line findings include:
All firms are using this crisis to promote how their tech can help clients. A variety of approaches is being used, from developing guides to undertaking webinars and refreshing website content. For example, one firm is:
Half of firms surveyed are taking the opportunity to work and collaborate with clients on how to use tech more effectively when the crisis recedes.
The majority of firms (92% of those responding) anticipate a favourable mood change post Covid-19 from partners toward increasing the uptake of tech and innovation. Firms told us:
“(Partners) will have experienced the need for tech and innovation.”
More than half of firms anticipate changing their messaging post Covid-19. What’s the plan to do so? Firms told us:
Most firms mentioned they intend to build on the impact (and importance) of communications, post Covid-19. They told us:
One firm saw the crisis as a catalyst to review strategic communications:
The theme of digital and virtual communications was also highlighted:
Branding ALSP: trends and issues
A line-in-the-sand moment came in November 2018, when Elevate became the first of the big ‘new law’ players to rebrand itself a law company and attempt to redefine market perceptions.
Previously, Elevate was – like others – labelled with the catchall phrase ‘alternative legal service provider’ (ALSP). Becoming conscious of the potential for negative connotations of ‘alternative’ (risky, inferior and new age, for example) to diminish its standing against law firm counterparts, it took the plunge.
As other players in the sector look to influence market perceptions and carve out niches, they’ll learn what Elevate has learned already: that changing a name on the back of a T-shirt won’t (by itself) work. Something more fundamental is needed.
Look and say the same
Right now, big players in ALSP (or ‘new law, or ‘Enterprise Legal Service Providers’, or ‘Next Generation’ or ‘Flexible Contracting’) are jostling for market position and growth. This can be seen in DWF’s acquisition of Mindcrest; Axiom Managed Services’ rebrand to Factor; high-ranking appointments at Elevate; and, more recently, United Lex’s acquisition of Paul Hastings’ eDiscovery capabilities.
As firms look to create depth and breadth, expand global footprint and commercial might, and improve client focus (to match the attributes of most large professional services business), there is a real danger these players will lose their differentiation: that is, they will begin to look and say the same as the very organisations from which they have aimed to become distinct. Differences between ‘law firms’ and ‘law companies’ will become blurred, as have lines between traditional law firms and legal service providers.
Tone of voice is key
Of course, they are different. Culture, style, focus, expertise, outcomes and other factors make these two types of organisation very different, serving different customer needs. Without the baggage of partnership and all that comes with that, an ALSP (et al) has much greater flex to position itself differently. When it comes to visual and verbal identity, tone of voice is critical. But as with any branding exercise, achieving distinction requires the combination of clear vision with brave leadership.
As others think about emerging from the ALSP label, they do well to remember it’s not as simple as hanging out a sign that says ‘new law’. A business needs to think hard about positioning and how it wants to be perceived in the legal market. The label ALSP, for example, is a broad umbrella covering a wide variety of services, but some companies are opting to become more specific in their rebranding.
Factor rebranded in January from Axiom Managed Services. Instead of using a label, it’s built a clear proposition on being at the centre of transactional legal work (“where clients spend a lot of their time,” as it is eager to claim). Providing complex legal work at scale is the mantra. Name and copy lines support this proposition, while the tone of voice gives it a modern, leading-edge feel that’s just right in a mobile, digital world. Overall, the branding conveys that Factor is a disrupter, fitting with the idea that ‘Factor represents Legal Innovation 2.0’.
As others take stock of the legal ecosystem and think about where and how they fit within that, they also need to consider – if they haven’t already – the elephant in the room: the Big 4. Big brands, big resources, big budgets; already progressive, modern, innovative and fully aligned challenges (not just in the legal market, but more widely).
Re-labelling alone won’t be good enough!
Linklaters has a strong reputation for excellence in innovation and technology. Francesca (‘Fran’) Bortoli is part of its innovation team, helping to drive the narrative internally and externally. We talked with Fran about her insights into marketing and communications.
BrandTech : Currently your role is Senior Client Innovation Adviser. So what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Fran : I focus on innovation-driven marketing and business development initiatives and opportunities, and amplify our firm’s innovation messaging both internally and with our clients. For example,
BrandTech : Your background is in marketing. How does this help with your present role?
Fran : There is a clear overlap between business development and innovation; they can’t operate in isolation. I help join the dots to make sure we provide a bespoke, tailored response to our clients. I understand how the different functions in marketing operate, know when to bring them in when required, and know how their different clients like to receive information. I also worked in practice marketing for three years, working with lawyers from four different practice groups, so I understand exactly how they work and the different demands from their clients.
BrandTech : You are part of the innovation team. How does the group champion innovation and tech?
Fran : Our team is excited and curious about technology. We see it as something that guides, speeds and supports us, and our clients. The tech doesn’t replace our people: it allows our people to spend more time on strategic and interesting tasks. We invest and champion the tech when we clearly see the benefits this brings to the end user. We work very closely with our technology experts in the firm to ensure we select technology and then work closely with our Practice Innovation and Efficiency (PIE) teams and innovation lawyers to design onboarding and training programmes that maximise adoption, thus ensuring we get the best return on investment.
BrandTech : Getting partners’ buy-in to tech and innovation is a big challenge for any firm. Can you share any techniques or stories in which you (literally) saw the light bulb come on!
Fran : Adjusting to a new way of working during Covid-19 has seen a huge increase in adoption of our global WebEx platform, with people using a headset for calls and video calls. Previously, some partners didn’t trust the platform and preferred to use their traditional desk phones. Through having to use it to continue working, they’ve built trust in the technology and seen the benefits it brings to their internal and client interactions We have found that having adapted to working in lockdown, our lawyers are now totally open to trying new things – so we have taken that opportunity to share many of the tech tools we would look to bring into the firm in the coming months/future years, use their time to help benchmark solutions against each other and run pilots. There is so much more engagement now and we should be harnessing that openness to trying new things. For all the grief lawyers get about being slow to adopt change, they have done that literally overnight and while still delivering excellent client service!
BrandTech : Would you agree internal communications are fundamental to driving external perceptions and attitudes among clients and other stakeholders?
Fran : Internal communications is a MUST! Your firm could have every piece of technology available on the market but if you don’t communicate to your people why they should use the technology and explain how it will save them time or allow them to wow their client, you will never see adoption. It’s also important to tailor internal communications to different audiences: how a trainee thinks about legal design is different to how a partner thinks about legal design. Success stories are key to impact. People need to hear evidence to believe in something, or feel empowered to share an idea. Failures and lessons learned are key in communications. The best solutions are those that are refined. Sharing challenges faced can help someone else when they approach something similar.
BrandTech : Firms are embracing tech differently. What are your top three tips for success for firms starting the journey?
Fran : Work with your end users to make sure you are building and using technology that works for them all. Give your people time to use technology to build their own experience. Only then will they feel the benefits it can bring. Finally, don’t get distracted when a new ‘shiny bauble’ piece of technology comes out as the solution to everything. Identify the problem you want to solve then find a tech solution to fulfil that need.
Branding law tech
When selling tech solutions, how do you make a law firm look not like a law firm? Increasingly, as tech and innovation professionals in law firms plan how to position their tech and resourcing credentials, they ponder this question.
For most, the answer is close to home. Positioning tech as part of, or adjunct to the corporate brand. Firms see clear benefits in leveraging the reputation and awareness of a corporate brand, particularly among existing clients. Ashurst, for example, simply adds ’Advance’. Ashurst Advance looks and feels very much like its mothership.
A few, however, see it differently. In the opposing camp is Reed Smith’s GravityStack, which looks and feels nothing like its parent. And that’s deliberate – because it is different.
GravityStack was born out of Reed Smith as “the next-stage evolution of Reed Smith’s in-house legal technology team”. It positions itself as a data solutions company that focuses on connecting “people, data and technology” in law and beyond. With a different name and corporate identity, it has a real tech feel.
Close to GravityStack’s positioning is nakhoda, from Linklaters. In between, Condor (from Fieldfisher) has the look and feel of a law or professional services firm, as do Denton’s offspring NextLaw Labs and insurance specialist Kennedys’ tech arm, Kennedys IQ.
Traditionally, law firms haven’t strayed too far from the corporate brand. Sector and practice area groups are happy to co-exist under one name: that makes it easier to cross-sell, too.
But tech has begun to challenge the status quo. New products, services and competitors are putting pressure on the model of the traditional law firm. So far, most firms have resisted this movement. From a commercial, cultural and political perspective, they’ve contained their tech within the corporate brand (although some do adopt a sub-branding approach).
At the moment, GravityStack is the only standalone tech brand from a law firm, and it’s now free to establish its own (Shoreditch? Silicon Valley?) culture and credentials.
So what – if any – is the right approach?
As with so much else, it depends on many factors. In identifying what part of the market you want to grow and prosper in, and just how you do that, it’s important to consider strategy, audiences, competitors, competencies and aspirations. Managing risk plays a part, too.
Reed Smith’s decision to spin off its tech credentials and plans was bold. But naming it GravityStack – a modern, edgy, corporate identity – is a good start for standing out in a pool of similar legal tech companies.
Positioning is not static. Your position will evolve and adapt to market dynamics. Right now, the debate is hotting up on how to release tech from the boundaries of a traditional law firm model. How far firms react, and how quickly they might change, will become clear.
Branding alliances and partnerships
‘Alliance relationships’ are a big part of tech, but they’re not new in law. It’s common for firms to want to combine expertise and collaborate to solve business issues.
These kinds of relationships are set to continue at pace throughout the legal market, but how firms brand their alliances and strategic partnerships depends to a large extent on the nature of each relationship and aspirations, together with the philosophy of the partners involved.
In most instances, no single brand dominates and both parties aim to leverage brand awareness and the other’s quality reputation for the common good of the client. Hogan Lovells, for example, has formed a series of strategic relationships to offer a variety of services that cater to the needs of clients through ‘new law’ businesses. One is Cognia Law in which both brands – Hogan Lovells and Cognia Law – coexist.
Adopting hybrid & stand-alone brand structure
Some have taken the ‘alliance relationship’ a step further. Norton Rose Fulbright and Syke Legal Engineering’s new strategic alliance is branded NRF | SYKE. This hybrid approach to brand architecture (blended identity) combines the acronym and visual style of NRF Transform (the technology and innovation platform) with the name and logo of Syke. While NRF is more dominant (and the brand only appears on the NRF Transform website), the approach aims to leverage the reputation and awareness of both brands to tap into growth areas. It does so by adopting a low-cost, lower-risk business model than, say, in a traditional merger and acquisition.
Others have gone even further. Bird & Bird and bidding experts ShineX, for example, have formed a separate brand, Foothold, for their partnership agreement. Clearly standalone brands such as Foothold require more sales and marketing activities to build awareness than branding structures capable of piggybacking off awareness of the corporate brand.
Using brand architecture for clarity
There is no right or wrong approach to branding alliances and partnerships, but any approach should be informed by brand architecture. Without a blueprint for how firms brand tech – both at corporate and product levels, and for in-house grown tech, acquired tech and solutions developed in partnership – the end result will be a smorgasbord of names and identities. Inevitably this makes it harder for internal and external audiences to understand; and buy!
Tips and anecdotes from top ‘creatives’
During the crisis, several ‘must have’ themes emerged: resilience, ability to adapt, ability to work collaboratively. Creativity too has risen in stock. A creative mindset has become ever more important as firms grapple with the current demands, from how to prepare and deliver a winning pitch to developing new products in anticipation of market opportunities.
If creativity is a key business resource, how can we develop and encourage it?
Here at Soukias Jones Design, creativity is what we do every day. We asked five people from creative backgrounds to share their tips on how they have been able to unlock and develop creativity.
Maeve, art director: “Look for outside input and champion creativity”
It’s so important to have somebody there to champion and drive creativity. As art director, I ensure my team rises to creative challenges daily. I seek and encourage outside stimulation in this, visiting new environments (such as libraries and museums) and attending talks by inspirational and challenging speakers from different backgrounds.
Maroulla, copywriter: “Allow yourself to waste time to unlock a creative solution”
Coming up with a creative solution to a brief isn’t something that can necessarily be achieved in an office environment or during a 9-5 working day. Go and do something that will completely fill your mind and heart. Allow it to happen. The best creativity comes from deep within us and not from our thinking selves.
Nigel, designer: “Create an environment that inspires staff and clients”
We expressed our creativity by investing in our studio space from the beginning, and making it a canvas for our personality. Your environment should embody your brand and be a place that inspires staff and clients alike.
David, strategist: “Challenge yourself with creative exercises”
Allow your imagination to imagine. Going offline helps in this. Explore your day in a more traditional way. Challenge yourself with creative exercises, such as doodling in a sketch book or writing. I keep a journal of my ideas.
Ranjit, illustrator: “Display sketches as a catalyst for brainstorms”
Putting visuals, sketches and sticky notes on boards and walls helps to inspire me, and others. This makes my ideas transparent, sparks curiosity in my team, and starts new conversations.
Post Covid-19 mood change in tech
5 ways to get into a creative mindset
How ‘the other half’ brands tech
Using innovation to attract graduates
From confusion to clarity: How to brand innovation in legal services
Top3Legal. View case study
To discuss any aspects of our insights and capabilities, please contact Grahame Jones:
M: 07961 357 358