Can independent law firms build a global brand?

I have just arrived in Rome for the annual IBA (International Bar Association) Conference which starts on Sunday.

The event is expected to draw record numbers of attendees this year – probably topping 6,000. The weather is very warm, everyone’s diaries are packed full of meetings, panel discussions and parties and of course we will be launching the second in our series of white papers: ‘The legal directories: are they keeping pace in a connected world?’.

Speaking of a connected world – is the world really a smaller place now and is a global brand open to firms of all sizes?

Becoming a global brand is on the to-do list of many firms attending the IBA.

A certain size player can even look at lists on how well they are doing.

This week Baker McKenzie once again topped the snazzily-titled ‘Acritas ninth annual Global Elite Law Firm Brand Index’, which makes them a great example of a law firm that has truly built a globally recognised brand.

Acritas CEO Lisa Hart Shepherd said: “They chose their path of wanting to be the most global firm and put that as the main priority of what they were going to do.”

This wasn’t the first time that Bakers have netted the top spot, however as brand building moves to the top of every firm’s agenda, there’s no guarantee that prominence will continue.

But if you want to compete with Baker McKenzie, where should your focus lie?

Deep local knowledge

A global brand is one that has genuine depth when it comes to local knowledge and which is able to demonstrate a considerable footprint in a jurisdiction. If you’re using the Acritas feedback as a guideline then just ‘planting a flag in the sand’ isn’t going to cut it.

A long-term brand building strategy

It’s worth noting that Clifford Chance and Linklaters are the only UK magic circle firms now represented in the top five of the Acritas index.

Being overtaken by more savvy firms with a focused brand-building strategy is one of the main reasons why brand awareness has dropped even for the biggest UK firms.

Investment in digital

The value of digital marketing and social media spend is starting to really reap rewards for those who have invested in it. The digital world is the only truly global channel with an audience of billions reachable via social platforms and carefully crafted online marketing.

Successful digital marketing can change everything for a law firm and it will be interesting to see the way that the Acritas index adjusts in the years to come as this element becomes increasingly more influential.

Value for money

Value seems to be pushing into every area of the industry now as clients can no longer justify paying premium prices for work anymore.

The firms that will surge ahead globally are those that can re-price and adjust to offer genuine value to clients in every individual jurisdiction the firm operates in, as well as clients who straddle many.

Of course, there is limited room on this select list. But the smaller firms at the IBA next week should keep these suggestions front of mind. When thinking about brand, the question “what do you want to be known for” is always front of mind (or should be). A smaller firm can improve its position by doing all of the above.

And the good news is, when a small or medium-sized firm does decide it’s going to make a start on standing out, the partners find they are a more nimble operation than the global leviathans, and can start right away.

So if you’re in Rome, come and find me and let’s discuss how you’re going to do it.

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