illustration of partnership concept

Brand strategy is the tool that shapes a law firm’s identity and role in people’s lives—how it looks, sounds, behaves and interacts with them—to build relationships defined by trust and loyalty. And in a world that bombards people with choices, it can create measurable value whenever a firm needs to stand apart and compete. 

Once designed and brought to life, the brand can move all kinds of needles, across audiences. The law firm can demonstrate that it understands the needs of clients, talent/employees and potential partners of all kinds with targeted design, messaging and experiences that resonate deeply. But building a new brand strategy starts with only two parties whose mutual understanding means everything: the law firm and their branding agency. 

In our experience, law firms are as complex as the people they need to engage. They come with their own history, leadership structures and decision drivers. Review processes span sprawling teams that include the CMO, managing partners and practice area/service leads, each with their own priorities and hopes for the new brand. Growth plans shift all the time—the firm responding to new competitive forces. But a brand strategy needs to be durable enough to keep creating value over the long term.

That’s why we like to say, “It’s the law firm’s job to know and understand their audiences, but it’s the brand strategist’s job to understand the firm and all the people they care about.” To design and build enduring brands, it’s smart strategy to focus first on the branding collaboration itself—ensuring the law firm and branding agency stay in close, regular communication about the choices being made and the rationales behind them.

These four steps outline how to build a new law firm brand strategy—one shaped and strengthened through partnership.

1. Set Clear, High-level Goals

Short term, a rebrand or brand refresh might drive a quick spike in curiosity and ideally, revenue. But the same investment can support a law firm’s five-year plan and beyond.

In collaboration with the law firm CMO (typically brand’s best internal champion), start the conversation at vision level, and talk about future possibilities across practice areas and service offerings. The new brand strategy should be built on the law firm’s most enduring, overarching value propositions so it can continue to create value as it evolves.

This step gives the law firm and branding agency time to get to know each other’s expertise and define clear expectations for what the new brand must accomplish. The more the agency learns about a firm’s greater strengths and future possibilities, the more the new brand strategy can be built to support.

2. Map the Opportunities

Branding can help a law firm reach many goals, and it’s the brand strategist’s role to help direct its power. With long-term objectives in mind, it’s time to assess the firm’s current brand position: how they’re perceived by audiences and how they perceive themselves. This reveals nuances of the challenge (across goals and stakeholders), and the project scope becomes clear.

Unpacking perceptions requires studying insights that are deeply human. And sometimes, a brand’s true barriers are different than expected. (The agency’s outside perspective can be invaluable here.) But in the end, this step reveals ownable brand territory: the unique positioning story a law firm can tell to claim specific competitive advantages.

3. Agree on Process

Each law firm manages internal initiatives (like rebrands) differently. But in general, layers upon layers of review and discussion are to be expected. People whose time is very valuable will put in a lot of it. So it’s important for everyone to agree on how the project of branding will move through the firm.

By understanding how leadership builds consensus, the branding agency can ensure all stakeholders weigh in at key moments of decision with time for discussion, clarifications and questions. They’ll also serve as invaluable synthesizers—taking in masses of feedback, identifying common themes and crafting a brand story that’s clear and strong.

This step, too often skipped, is when the branding process can be tailored to work most efficiently and comfortably for everyone. Empathy plays a big role. Teams that understand each other’s paths can customize the tools and decision-making frameworks they’ll use, and seamless partnership can then free them to elevate the work.

4. Build the New Brand Platform

Now that the law firm and their branding agency have A) agreed on long-term goals, B) shared insights about current audience/organization perceptions and needs, identifying the problems the new brand must solve, and C) agreed on how to move the project forward efficiently and resourcefully, it’s time to shape the brand platform: the fundamental components of a strategic new law firm brand.

Every brand platform we build includes the following essential elements:

Brand Narrative

The high-level, inspiring story that celebrates the law firm’s essence and reason for being—the benefits it offers people in their lives.

This one story can convey a law firm brand’s positioning—its purpose, mission and vision—all at once. Such statements can be developed individually. But we find one clear story that sparks connections with people offers more useful strategic guidance across contexts. Every brand touchpoint and moment can bring this narrative to life consistently.

Brand Values

The principles that will guide the law firm’s behavior and decision making as a business.

A law firm’s stated values set a positive expectation for clients and employees alike. And when firms follow through and behave as they say they will, they build priceless trust. 

Today’s audiences have different expectations for their relationships with law firms, and values can help firms signal that they’re on the same page. General counsels and C-suites need their business needs met, but they also want to feel aligned on purpose. Talent wants their daily experience to feel meaningful and to grow personally as well as professionally through their work. So traditional table-stakes values like “Integrity” and “Quality” may not resonate. (They also don’t help much with differentiation.)

Building on the most fundamental, human reasons people choose the law firm, the branding agency can help identify authentic values more likely to spark a connection. Values like these signal that the firm and its stakeholders can share a growth journey as they solve problems together:

  • Ingenuity
  • Collaboration
  • Continuous Learning
  • Empowerment

Brand Voice

The tone the law firm will use in its messaging and communications.

The brand voice expresses the law firm’s personality. It can connect powerfully with audiences, making them feel like the firm, well, speaks their language. 

Voice is always important (no matter the industry), but it can be particularly helpful in the law firm context. What a firm says must be decided so very, very carefully—but how the firm speaks can lend messaging deeper dimensions, introducing subtle signals. People that the firm wants to attract can hear its voice and feel confident they’re in the right place.

Design Language

The law firm’s comprehensive set of brand visuals and standards, spanning logos, colors, graphic styles, iconography, shapes/symbols, typography, photography and illustrations.

What people see can trigger immediate thoughts and feelings, making design a powerful differentiator and source of influence for law firm brands. Instinctive associations with visuals give brand meaning, and their consistent use makes the firm recognizable at a glance.

Brand Messaging

The promises the law firm makes and the stories it will tell about its value proposition, in the context of stakeholders’ lives and needs.

Messaging drives relevance and communicates how the brand helps people. Beyond descriptions of available services, it highlights both tangible and intangible benefits of working with the firm.

When it comes to language, law firm partners—understandably—have extraordinarily high standards. They’re bound by ethics and laws that govern what they can and cannot say. So when developing law firm messaging, keep aspiration in its place. Instead, think inspired precision.

Once carefully deliberated and crafted, the law firm’s messaging can communicate ideas that make people feel understood and supported—shaping the feelings and perceptions that will motivate them to action. The more relevant and specific these messages are, the more value they’ll create. 

Brand Experience Principles

The people-centered standards that will guide brand behavior and shape consistent, memorable moments for every law firm audience, throughout their journeys.

A law firm’s visual identity, values, voice and other facets culminate in the experience it provides. Brand experience principles codify how the firm and its people will interact within relationships, engaging people on deeper levels to form lasting bonds.

From a candidate or prospect’s first visit to the website through long-term outside counsel relationships, brand experience principles guide the firm to build and sustain vital connections. Every moment becomes an opportunity to live the brand narrative and remind people: this law firm is for you and stands with you.

Through all four steps, partnership stays critical.

The branding agency-law firm rapport determines the strength and integrity of the new brand. So stay open and empathetic. And throughout the process, never stop prioritizing communication. 

Simple strategies like feeding back what you’ve heard to confirm understanding keep the process productive. Reminders about audience insights or goals keep the work focused. Questions about real-world implementations should be welcome, each new idea pressure-tested from all angles to ensure its lasting strength. (Helpfully, partners are great at this! Attorneys were born to analyze and question.)

Once carefully considered and debated, mapped and tested, the new brand strategy serves as a compass for the law firm, guiding every engagement effort: 

  • Guidelines bring all-important consistency to the brand’s voice, visual expressions, messages and experiences
  • The law firm finds differentiation, standing apart from its competitors
  • The firm connects with people whose motivators the brand seems to understand—even empathize with
  • Brand credibility and authenticity develop loyal stakeholder communities, whether they work for the law firm or rely on its services

ROI follows in the form of pure brand value—the cumulative financial benefit of shaping specific, positive perceptions and experiences of the firm. And when its brand strategy is strong and durable, that value continues to grow even as the law firm transforms to meet new competitive challenges, refines its employer brand or expands its offerings.

All of this starts, however, with meditations on brand that start in a room with a committed group of people. The law firm’s CMO, partners and stakeholders sharing their vision for the future: what they hope to see happen. And the agency’s team sharing what the power of brand makes possible—then diving into understanding the firm, its potential and all the people whose perceptions and actions will define its future.

For more information on how to shape a law firm brand strategy through partnership, contact us.

About the author

Anne DeAcetis

Anne DeAcetis is a writer and communications strategist at DeSantis Breindel. She is fascinated by how brands can inspire employees, fortify business partnerships and delight consumers to loyalty—by design.