Look at your law firm’s name on your business card. Say it out loud. Do you find it hard to pronounce? Think how hard it is for other people — potential clients? Almost every firm has a “street name” that everyone uses when they refer to your firm. Perhaps you and your partners even use it internally at the office as well.
Don’t you think it’s time to consider adopting and embracing that name? After all it is how everyone else refers to your firm and a big part of any firm’s strategic and positioning goal should be to make it easier for everyone to say and recall your firm name. Studies* tell us that this is true with people’s names — so why wouldn’t this be true with a law firm as well?
How We Process Names
Adam Alter, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at NYU and one of the study’s lead researchers say this has more to do with the way our brains work. He said. "When we can process a piece of information more simply, when it’s easier to comprehend, we like it more because we don’t have to work so hard." This is why most of "big law" has already adopted a shortened version of their firm name to increase retention and recall. Midsized firms with living partners have yet to get there — if a current or prospective client is anxious or nervous about pronouncing your firm’s name, you should consider how anxious they may feel about giving you their business.
So how might this knowledge help you? Well, there are things to keep in mind, according to Dr. Alter — how you perceive the names of others and how others perceive your name. Here’s what he suggests…
Build up your awareness. A series of names can be an unconscious source of a subtle bias. If you are in a position about to consider hiring or introducing a firm to your board with a name such as: Clinton, Milner, Shrives, Falconine, Mealier, Geiger & McDonivitch, wouldn’t be better for everyone if your contact making the introduction only had to say “Clinton Milner” or “the Clinton Law Group”? The shortened name is going to make everyone feel more positive and comfortable referring and talking to you, and we are in a business that is all about the quality of the relationships you are able to build.
Reduce everyone’s anxiety. In the studies where the researchers examined a series of surnames names they found that when you have a string of hard to pronunce names and you like it, you certainly shouldn’t feel you need change it — after all, your name is your identity and it often provides meaningful insights as to who you are culturally in other professional settings. What you can do is create a brand name for your firm that can be used in for marketing and positioning while retaining your full firm name for legal reasons. In some cases firms might want to consider a two-tied approach much like Skadden has recently adopted.
Here they have referenced the firm’s full name at the top of their website, but are also using the shortened “Skadden” brand name throughout the rest of the website. If you are offended by the idea of using a brand name, cheerfully (and slowly) educate people how to correctly pronounce your firm’s name until they can grasp it. “It’s a difficult, sensitive issue,” said Dr. Alter, “but the ultimate goal is to make people comfortable around you [and your business].” The greater the comfort level the greater the opportunity you are given your best shot at developing a successful relationship.
How has your firm addressed the name game issue? We’d welcome your comments.
*"The Name Pronunciation Effect: Why People Like Mr. Smith More Than Mr. Colquhon", New York University (NYC) and University of Melbourne, Australia