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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

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David Coldrick lifts the lid on the QualitySolicitors brand and considers whether it actually does what it says on the tin

Branding is a popular subject for lawyers right now. The word originated from marking your cows with a red hot metal pattern to indicate ownership. Instant recognition to avoid confusion and to thwart theft.

Nowadays a brand can be represented by a name (eg Starbucks), a sign (eg John Lewis), a symbol (eg the Costa coffee beans), a design (eg the iPhone), a slogan (eg ‘the citizen’s lawyer’) or a combination of particular colours (eg a football strip). In some cases it may also be associated with a particular person – the cult of personality (eg David Beckham). If it is protected by law, then these visible things can also ?be a trademark.

Making its mark

Everyone is probably familiar now with the advertising of QualitySolicitors, which claims to be the first big legal services national brand name. Apparently, the test that something has become a true part of popular culture – a real brand – is if it starts to be used in jokes (I refer again to David Beckham). Sadly for QualitySolicitors I am not a comedian. ?But that’s never stopped me in the past. Being first does carry a price.

First there is the logo in pink and black. It took me a while to work out that it is a Q with an S superimposed on it. But it’s a logo that the colours alone make noticeable. Then there are the allegedly shapeless QualitySolicitors black polo shirts and even, so I understand, a QualitySolicitors hat.
oes the name ‘QualitySolicitors’ work?
The obvious annoyance is that it suggests that they are the best on the high street. That goes down badly with other firms who know they are the best. The advertising of the other firm may of course be more limited than that of the local QS emporium, perhaps simply consisting of a traditional lawyerly window display, a dust-covered selection of coffee tables obtained from recent house clearances, a pile of dead flies, a client-friendly ‘closed for lunch’ sign and a display of some plasticine figures arranged with their arms in slings and legs in pots apparently as an attempt to advertise a speciality in personal injury. I can tell you where to find each of these firms but I dare not name them. The branding fairy clearly passed them by.

But on a fundamental level, how much ?potential goes QS have? D

So having a consistent approach of some sort, ?even in pink and black, is at least a good start.

But a brand is really more than a name, it’s a particular identity. In terms of legal services it will be a particular customer or client experience. It’s what is in the tin of sweets that identifies it, as well as what is on the tin. Personally, I only like the green chocolate triangles and feed the rest to my great aunt. I found her totally overdosed on all the leftover coconut ones just after Christmas last year so I will have to mix in some toffees next time to slow her down.

?????A brand has a clear psychological element – ?the brand image – it’s what you think about when you see a logo. The brand image is therefore a symbolic representation – a figment of your imagination if you like – but one that creates connections in the brain that will either work or not. The aim of brand imaging is to align the image presented to you with certain expectations. The clear import from the QualitySolicitors example is that it implies quality in all things. The question will therefore be: is it quality?

Apparently, something that will get firms thrown out of QualitySolicitors is poor service, as measured by client feedback. The introduction of feedback criteria associated with actual accountability for the service is actually a brave move. Standards set without accountability plague law firms operating on a more traditional model. But in the new branded world of legal services it will be essential.

Spot the difference

Why bother to attempt to create a brand? If successful, it differentiates you from the rest. Most people cannot spot a good or a bad solicitor or law firm. We all look the same to them. Differentiation, positive differentiation, should drive business to you, or at least stop you losing the business you already have.

The driving fear has been the likes of Tesco law or Co-operative legal services. They have the money to deal with some parts of the volume market because they have the technology to create economies of scale. They also have direct access to customers, they know their spending habits, and send out tailored birthday cards and special offers. There are, however, only so many free wills you can offer and retain credibility.

Many law firms have no economies of scale, don’t really know who their clients are or where they live, or indeed even if they are still alive. However, a brand actually relies on such things. We know that, for the most part, we cannot compete in the way that the great retailers can. And perhaps we don’t want to either. But that does not mean that the whole brand thing is not for us. A brand is saying there is something unique about working with us – something special.

The good news is that our exams and our title ‘solicitor’ or ILEX or STEP or SFE membership does still count for something – and that is being professional. A brand cannot create that, but if you ?get it wrong, it can undermine it. If you join a brand, or seek to create one on a small or larger scale, you need to make sure it’s right and fits with the professional title – the ‘solicitor super-brand’ – ?which still counts.

Trust is not all about the portrayal of images or even conjuring up a set of associations, it has to work in practice. There is, for example, no point aligning all your signage and advertising and service-offering to older people if there is no easy access to your office. The nature of a brand – a real brand – is to offer a promise and deliver on that promise. The one must have the other.

Weakest link

A brand is only as strong as its weakest links, so organisations such as QualitySolicitors will need to find a means of securing consistency and ruthlessly imposing it where necessary. So it is likely to be a dynamic time for them and other similar entrants. Personally, I wish them well.

Solicitors, good solicitors, should be experts in branding. They already sell themselves – often very well indeed. They know how to differentiate themselves. It can be very simple. Dress smartly. Wear a clean shirt. Adopt a pleasant manner. Be above average technically speaking and deliver whatever you do on time and on budget.

The experience of coming to see you or you ?going to them is for the client a microcosm of what branding is all about. But, in my experience, it’s ?not the dress code or the shop front or the smiley receptionist that is absent in legal practice, it’s the service delivery, the timely and on budget bit, that ?the client notices.

It still works and that is why any number of expertise-based law firms in any number of fields will survive pretty much as they are – at least for now. It’s not the absence of branding they should worry about, it’s other issues, such as succession planning, and it’s staying ahead of that expertise-based curve which is always moving on. That can prove wearing. n

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