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Legal marketing haiku: Firm descriptions in 160 characters or less

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Signage is seen on the exterior of the building where law firm Latham & Watkins LLP is located in Manhattan, New York City, August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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(Reuters) - Here’s a law firm branding quiz.

What Big Law firm provides “strategic and innovative legal solutions to clients' complex business and legal challenges”?

How about the firm that “advises corporations, financial institutions and government entities around the world on their most complex, high-profile matters”?

Or the firm known for providing “global legal representation across a comprehensive range of industry and practice areas that are critical to our clients' success”?

What? You didn’t immediately know I was talking about Latham & Watkins; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and WilmerHale?

As opposed to, oh, literally every other Am Law 100 firm?

Law firm branding is hard. How do you sum up a mega-law firm in a single, distinctive sentence or phrase? You don’t want to be too cutesy or glib, but the alternative is often generic and dull.

At least that’s what I found when I Googled all 100 of the top-grossing U.S. firms to compare how they describe themselves in the little snippet of text that appears under their website links in search results.

I’m fascinated by this so-called meta-description text, which forces firms to sum up their essence in a highly visible and tightly constrained format -- Google cuts the descriptions off after 155 to 160 characters.

It’s like law firm marketing haiku.

“It actually has a fairly significant first impression impact,” Melanie Trudeau, director of new business at digital strategies at legal PR and marketing firm Jaffe, told me.

Most people looking to visit a law firm’s website won’t know the URL, so the meta text becomes “the first touch point,” she said.

For boutique or specialty firms, coming up with a pithy summary of what they do usually isn’t too difficult. But for a large, full-service firm, Trudeau noted, devising something “that differentiates them, and will be memorable and resonates with the audience” is a tall order.

“For so few words, it could take months,” she said.

At the same time, she added, “most firms are going to be very conservative in what they say. They’re not going to step outside the mold and be really creative.”

You’ll get no argument from me there.

My first takeaway from my (weirdly engrossing) afternoon of law firm Googling? Big Law loves the word “global.”

Some firms are content to simply describe themselves as such (DLA Piper, Orrick, Norton Rose Fulbright).

However, Mayer Brown is “a distinctively global law firm,” while Winston & Strawn is “a distinguished global law firm,” and Ropes & Gray is “a preeminent global law firm.”

See how different those are?

Also, Cleary Gottlieb is a “global leader,” Dechert has “built a global platform,” and Debevoise & Plimpton has “a global perspective.”

None of this of course is to be confused with firms that are “international.”

Paul Hastings and Alston & Bird both bill themselves as “a leading international law firm,” while Reed Smith is “a dynamic international law firm,” Milbank is “a premier international law firm,” and Jenner & Block “is a law firm of international reach.”

I like what you did there, Jenner.

These descriptions are actually more exciting than many, which boil down to this formula: (Insert firm name) has more than (insert number) of attorneys in (insert number) of offices.

Baker Donelson marketers jazzed up that message in an oddly specific way: “As the 74th largest law firm in the U.S., Baker Donelson offers more than 650 attorneys seamlessly connected across 21 offices to serve virtually any legal need.”

(Woo hoo! We’re Number 74!)

A few other firms also took stabs at trying something different.

For example, “Paul, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP is a firm of more than 1000 lawyers with diverse backgrounds, personalities, ideas and interests who provide ...”

Google cuts off the rest of the description. But what do the Paul Weiss lawyers provide? Could it be pet ponies? Cold beers? Or is it “innovative and effective solutions to our clients’ most complex legal and business challenges”? See if you can guess.

O’Melveny & Myers keeps it concise and snappy. “It's more than what you do: it's how you do it. Across sectors and borders, in boardrooms and courtrooms, we measure our success by yours.”

They should put that first bit in Comic Sans font on a poster showing a sunset or a soaring bird.

Hogan Lovells also busts out some pithy marketing-speak: “Straight talking. Thinking around corners. Solving the problem before it becomes one. Our lawyers work with you to solve your toughest legal issues.”

As for Cravath, Swaine & Moore, it seems to realize that meta descriptions are no place for false modesty.

“Cravath has been known as one of the premier U.S. law firms for two centuries. Each of our practice areas is highly regarded, and our lawyers are recognized ...”

Again, Google cuts it off. But how are Cravath’s lawyers recognized? Personally, I’m imagining a crowd of paparazzi outside the firm’s offices at Worldwide Plaza in Manhattan shouting things like “Hey Evan, can we get a smile? Are you wearing Armani?”

Or maybe it’s “for their commitment to the representation of our clients’ interests.” That too.

But I’d still love a photo of Chairman Evan Chesler signing autographs for a crowd of swooning fans.

Opinions expressed are those of the author. Reuters News, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence and freedom from bias.

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Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.

Jenna Greene writes about legal business and culture, taking a broad look at trends in the profession, faces behind the cases, and quirky courtroom dramas. A longtime chronicler of the legal industry and high-profile litigation, she lives in Northern California. Reach Greene at jenna.greene@thomsonreuters.com

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