Paul Caplan reports on the five firms short-listed for The Lawyer’s corporate brand award.

A few years ago the very idea of marketing awards for the legal profession would have been unthinkable. Very few firms would have thought an entry worthwhile and it is doubtful there would have been anything worth judging. But times have moved on and not only does the profession have its own marketing awards but there is a specific category for best corporate brand. In itself, this category shows the sea change that has happened. Firms are not only embracing marketing, they are embracing branding.

And as last year’s international merger mania sees no sign of slowing, firms are having to deal with the problems of what happens when two or more identities merge: how to create an international brand that remains sensitive to local traditions and history while building an international position.

Clifford Chance, one of the short-listed firms for this year’s award, knows these problems only too well. The new millennium saw the birth of the world’s largest law firm as the UK’s Clifford Chance, US firm Rogers & Wells, and German firm Punder Volhard Weber & Axster merged business and brands.

In just 14 weeks, the firm sought to get partners, staff and clients on board with the new identity using a variety of different methods: a road show for senior management, an internal launch pack for more junior staff, press advertising, a new brochure for all major clients, a revamped website and internal intranet as well as the inevitable new stationary, business cards and signage at its 43 offices worldwide.

Nothing was left to chance. The firm’s choice of colour for its new identity was not simply the favourite colour of the managing partner. Teal – a greenish blue – was chosen because, the firm says, it is “internationally inoffensive”.

Kennedys avoids the cultural complexities of colour altogether. With the strapline “Legal advice in black and white”, the firm has sought to create an identity to complement its business strategy of focusing on high-value complex claims. Through the use of striking but not avant-garde black and white photography and clear, clean typography the firm created a coherent feel across the range of materials from lecture programmes to a photo-led millennium desk calendar, that subtlety pushed Kennedys’ events and sponsorships.

Field Fisher Waterhouse, another finalist, could not be more different. Opting for a wide palate of muted colours and illustrations rather than photography, the firm has moved far beyond its previous identity that it refers to as “grey and anonymous”.

The firm uses a complementary range of colours, a sweeping design to echo the lines of its logo and an illustration style that does not overpower the information or marketing copy.

DJ Freeman also opts for colour as an integral part of its brand identity. From its complementary wallet of jelly beans to its website, it has built its identity around coloured spheres. The firm has chosen to carry not only the colour but also the shapes through its range of materials, giving the disparate range of publications that a law firm must produce a modern, coherent feel.

The firm has also exploited the latest in CD technology with a business card-sized disc which offers one of the firm’s reference publications, details of the firm and links to its website.

Medium-size firms are in some ways even more keen to position themselves as distinct from their rivals. When Rowe & Maw, the final short-listed firm, realised it was in danger of falling behind, it embarked on a long-term and ambitious advertising-led branding exercise. With press ads in the Financial Times, The Times and the Evening Standard, and a campaign on London Underground, the firm sought to create awareness of its name particularly within the City.

Firms are clearly starting to make the next move in their gradual embracing of marketing. When next year’s awards come round, not only will competition be fiercer as firms rename and redesign, but the battle will be joined in the wider media. In-house counsel will be bombarded with competing brands as they peruse their morning papers on their daily journey to work.