Renaming Your Law Firm: How to Avoid Mistakes

Renaming Your Law Firm: How to Avoid Mistakes

Renaming your law firm might seem simple. Add a partner. Subtract a partner. Change a practice area.

But if you stop and dig into the details, there are many ways your new name could cause unintended complications in your strategy to attract clients.

Think about it.

If you need to rename, it’s probably because your firm name no longer fits your actual legal practice and goals in one way or another.

You don’t want to pick another name that will soon have the same problem — and find yourself wishing you’d done it differently.

In this post, we’ll break down what to consider while renaming your law firm, so you avoid mistakes and get a new name that really works.

One Lawyer’s Take on the Challenges of Firm Name Changes

Don Pilzer Law in Greenville, S.C., is in the process of renaming itself to recognize a junior attorney and position the firm for the eventual retirement of its founder and managing partner — Don Pilzer.

Pilzer himself recognized that the name has a real impact on the firm’s image. It affects all of the firm’s marketing, from its website and internet marketing to its TV advertising.

“This is tricky stuff, certainly over my head, and I am not interested in figuring out how it works by stumbling around, stressing over it,” Pilzer said.

“I should be a lawyer and manager, not an internet expert,” he said.

Pilzer made sure all his angles were covered by contacting Firmidable. After a consulting session with the niche legal marketing agency, he ultimately decided to rename the firm Pilzer Klein. It keeps the name recognition he has built for years. It adds the new partner. It’s clean and simple. And the internet domain name was available.

He agreed with Firmidable that the new firm logo should appear stylistically similar to his previous logo to emphasize firm continuity.

Knowing that he’s put some thought and planning into it, Pilzer can now look forward to a new chapter in the life of the firm.

How exactly you change your firm’s name will depend on your individual circumstances. You can get Firmidable to guide you. For an overview of the process, read on.

Top Reasons Law Firms Change Names

Here’s why you might be weighing a name change:

Top Law Firm Name Change Options

Most law firm names fall into three categories:

  1. Single Attorney or Partners’ Names — When you list key partner names, you benefit from the brand power associated with those names, especially if the partners are well known in the areas you serve. But if the partners are not so established, the brand power of partner names might be limited.
  2. Names of Partners and Types of Law Practiced — If you use partner names and a type of law practiced, prospective clients know right off what you do. And your firm benefits from people searching online for your practice area. But as you add or lose partners or change practice areas, you’ll need to change your firm’s name again and again.
  3. Types of Law Only — And if your firm’s name is a field of law — say “The Workers’ Comp Law Group” — you get the full benefit of people searching Google for workers’ comp lawyers. It’s absolutely clear what you do. That can be great for your position in your market. But without the personal branding, it’s not as clear who does the work, and it can actually be hard to remember. For example, was it “group” or “firm?” And if you add or change services, you’re faced with yet another name change.

Your firm’s name is the first impression many clients get about you.

You want something that people will recognize, that they can say easily and spell correctly.

And no matter whether you include partner names or not, the overall project shouldn’t be about partners’ egos — thus the trend in so many law firms of reducing the number of partners in the firm’s name.

The key to naming your firm is how it will be perceived by clients and prospective clients.

What’s in a Law Firm Name: 3 Stories

Here are a few real-life scenarios with law firm names:

Story #1: A Lot of Allens

Virginia personal injury lawyers Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen obviously believe in the branding power of the Allen name.

No wonder.

The firm has been in business more than 100 years and seen three generations of Allens practicing law there.

The firm’s website says it has seven members of the Allen family currently involved with the firm. Its roster of attorneys lists 31 lawyers, four with the last name Allen.

Story #2: Paging Mr. Levine and Mr. Benjamin

Then consider the Levine Benjamin Law Firm in Detroit, where Gary Bimberg and Joe Houle are managing partners.

There are six partners in the firm currently — none named Levine or Benjamin.

The firm’s name comes from its founding more than 50 years ago. Levine and Benjamin haven’t worked there in a long time.

About 10 years ago, Gary said, the firm underwent a name change. The decision then was to eliminate four partner names and only keep Levine and Benjamin.

Bimberg said he and Houle both believe there was real value in keeping the names of Levine and Benjamin associated with the firm they founded in the 1960s. It’s a well-recognized and respected name in Michigan law.

There are hundreds if not thousands of business cards and other materials with Levine Benjamin on them out in the communities the firm serves.

Bimberg and Houle are the current “faces” of the firm, appearing in its TV commercials and prominently pictured on its website.

Despite the different names in the logo, Houle and Bimberg still get plenty of prospective clients asking specifically for one of them by name.

And yes, they do get the occasional call asking for Mr. Levine or Mr. Benjamin, but not often enough to cause any real issue.

Story #3: Tongue Twister Test

Nathan Chapman, president and founder of Firmidable, tells a story about two brothers who were starting their own law firm and contacted him for advice about its name.

They were thinking about Packard & Packard (their last name).

Nathan says he probably grimaced when he heard their idea. From his extensive experience with broadcast marketing, he knew the name could be a tongue-twister when said out load.

An announcer has to be able to say it rapidly to meet a commercial’s time constraints.

At Nathan’s suggestion, they ended up choosing The Packard Law Firm. Smooth to say. And later, when a number of additional Packard brothers joined the firm after they became lawyers — the firm’s name still worked.

Where to Start Your Law Firm Name Search

Nathan says any firm’s naming decision should start with its overall branding strategy. Branding is all about what you project to the outside world that reflects who you are.

The history of business is full of examples of companies that changed their names when their old names no longer reflected their identity. Computing Tabulating Recording Company became International Business Machines and still later, IBM.

Many times the name recognition and branding associated with key partners means it’s a good idea to keep them in the name.

But sometimes, Nathan says, you want the imagery of your branding to have broader potential, so you don’t have to change the name when it no longer fits who works there.

When we think about Apple, we think about Apple computers and iPhones and all sorts of other technology products and services.

Had the company been named after founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak — maybe Jobs Wozniak Computing — the name likely would’ve needed to change by now.

Nathan says this is a reason why his own legal marketing agency — undergoing a name change about a year ago — went with Firmidable, which is a play on the word “formidable,” but for law firms.

Since it’s not associated with his personal name, the Firmidable name has potential to live on after he’s gone, signaling the agency is bigger than he is, or bigger than any partners in the agency.

There was an additional benefit, Nathan notes. The fact that “firmidable” is a made up word made it possible to get the internet URL domain name.

Law firms could deploy a name like that, asserting a broader message about their positioning in the market, though most still prefer the tradition of putting partners’ names on their door.

How to Cover All the Details of Changing Your Law Firm Name

So if your firm is considering a name change, you can see how a task that looks fairly basic can be deceivingly complicated.

Once you’ve decided on your overall strategy and settled on a name, you have to think about updating your logo, changing your website address and bringing old clients over to your newly renamed firm.

You might consider getting legal marketing specialists to help you successfully make the change.

“Changing the name (of your law firm) without your marketing team’s participation is sort of like being the disability client who casually drops the lawyer as he goes into a hearing….” says Don Pilzer, whose firm focuses on disability law.

Your marketing team will understand all the elements you already have in place and how to carry your program forward under the new name.

“Normally we value brand continuity because the law firm usually has built up brand equity, especially if the firm has been around a while and even more so if they have spent thousands of dollars over the years in marketing,” Nathan Chapman said.

In one law firm name change he remembers — where the firm was adding a junior partner’s name — continuity across marketing channels was the key goal.

“We changed almost nothing else,” Nathan said. “We kept the logo fonts and colors all the same to try to keep as much continuity as possible.”

Another logistical point to consider: Sometimes law firms hire their own graphic artist to design a new logo, but if that artist mainly worked in print before, for example, the design might be good for stationery and business cards but unsatisfactory for digital or TV.

Marketing professionals can coordinate the different pieces. Nathan said your marketer should think “multi-channel” to be sure your logo works in all media, even in your email signature.

And remember, you’ll also need to change your website’s URL along with your firm name. You might wonder whether your web address should influence what name you choose and how to make the switch to a new URL.

“In the past,” Nathan said, “things like AtlantaWorkersCompLawyer used to have benefits in terms of ranking (in search results), but no longer.”

Nathan says finding a unique URL can be difficult these days. Squatters are sitting on category names they hope to sell at a big profit — which Nathan says is rarely worth it unless you’re trying to go national.

When you reach the point where you’re ready to switch to your new URL, Mike Crimmins, digital manager for Firmidable, says it’s important to keep your old web address and automatically redirect its visitors to your new address.

That way you capture visitors who were still looking for your old name — and you prevent someone from causing confusion by taking over your old name.

And in keeping with the consistency theme, Mike says it’s important to carry over design elements from the old site to the new site so visitors still recognize you visually, even when the name is different.

You may initially see a small drop in website visitors in the transfer, but there are things your marketing team can do to lessen the impact.

Pilzer was concerned about how a name change would affect his search results. Would prospective clients stop seeing his firm’s Google reviews? Would the firm lose its place at the top of web searches?

Those are issues professional marketers can help a law firm work through, minimizing any negative impact and maximizing the firm’s new branding.

Law Firm Name Change Consulting Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive

It’s possible to get professional advice about your law firm name change for a modest cost, so the benefits would be well worth it.

If you’re giving the firm a whole new identity and seeking to develop a nationwide base, then the process is more involved, but Nathan says the typical law firm’s base is regional and the goal is continuity, “so the less people who notice the change, the better.”

Nathan says many naming projects can take place over a couple of video chats to discuss questions like what happens when other attorneys become partners.

Good marketers will also ask questions you might not think of, to help you see angles most law firms wouldn’t consider.

Working with a professional marketing agency helps a firm zero in on what the partners really think about the identity of their firm, and what they want the world to know about it.

Once you’ve considered your answers to those questions, professional marketers can help you work through the details of building your own good name.

Firmidable is the nation’s best legal marketing agency. If you’re considering renaming your law firm, or you just want to grow your revenue, call (504) 525-0932 or contact us via e-mail.

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About the Author: Will Chapman

Will ChapmanWill Chapman is a writer based in New Iberia, La., and a former newspaper publisher and columnist.

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