Some law firms are mouthfuls

May 6, 2010
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

You’ve got to admire the receptionists at Indianapolis law firm Woodard Emhardt Moriarty McNett & Henry LLP. When the phone rings, they rattle off a mouthful. One can enunciate all 13 syllables in about three seconds.

“Woodard,” the shorthand used on the street by everyone else, is among a vanishing breed of law firm—those with more than two names.

Scan IBJ’s Book of Lists and you’ll notice that 12 of the 25 largest local law firms have two names, and only seven have four or more.

The largest firms in town have some of the shortest names: Barnes & Thornburg; Ice Miller; Baker & Daniels. The longer names, such as Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman, and Plews Shadley Racher & Braun, are further down the list.

Law firms rarely worried about cumbersome names before they embraced marketing a decade or so ago, says Bob Birge, a consultant who headed marketing at Bingham Summers Welsh & Spilman before it merged with McHale Cook & Welch and was renamed Bingham McHale. (Bingham went first because it was the larger firm of the two. But Birge also cringed at how McHale Bingham would roll off the tongue.)

Now, though, protracted names don’t fit in ads and marketing materials. Just try putting Scopelitis Garvin Light Hanson & Feary on an elevator button.

If two names are better than three or more, then one must be even better, right? Not really, Birge says. Two communicates the message that it’s a professional firm rather than a business.

Scratching off names can be sensitive, and the Bingham McHale merger in 2002 accommodated some major ones. William Welch was no longer at McHale Cook & Welch, but his son, Brian, was. So a conference room was dubbed Welch. Other conference rooms were renamed and portraits were hung on walls.

Some firms, though, are still going the other direction. Unbelievably, Birge was contacted not so long ago by a law firm in eastern Indiana wanting to add a sixth name.

“At the end of the day, you really should do everything for the client,” he says. “And the client really doesn’t care” about the names.

What are your thoughts?

  • firm
    Here's one that may be familiar to you:

    Sagman, Bennet, Robbins, Oppenheim and Taft
  • Law Firms
    Dewey Cheetham and Howe....

    Law firms are made up of lawyers. Bottom line, they promote greed and have become the ruination of our congress, our industry, and our society.

    Unless and until someone comes to their senses in Washington and does something to act on Tort reforms, it's not going to get any better.

    Ok, someone will say the bad guys are politicians. Yeah, fine, but how many of those politicians are lawyers? As for me, I won't ever vote for a lawyer to be anything again (other than a judge). Not that my decision will do much good, but at least I did something to make a difference.

    So the names are shortened, who cares? Too bad we can't shorten the number of lawyers and law firms!
    • Whiner
      BerwickGuy obviously has a burr up his saddle, and I always find it disheartening when someone uses an innocent forum like this to share all his/her shortcomings. Berwick, if your son or daughter were seriously injured - or perhaps killed - in an auto accident, who are you gonna call? Lawyers have served an important role in society for hundreds of years, and yes, it only takes one to spoil a bunch, but don't take it out on the legal profession for all your shortcomings. And no, I am not a lawyer!
      • Response to BerwickGuy
        BerwickGuy -
        I have to respond tou your post because it appears that you do not have a very good understanding of the modern day practice of law. Lawyers, and law firms, come in all shapes and sizes. The vast majority of practicing lawyers have nothing to do with tort claims, personal injury or class action suits. There are corporate lawyers, real estate lawyers, estate planning lawyers, environmental lawyers, IP, labor, tax, and the list goes on and on. Your frustrations only relate to a very small fraction of the legal community (and your arguments in that regard are oversimplistic, at best).

        For example, Woodard, one of the firms mentioned in the post, is almost entirely devoted to patent/IP work. So maybe you should scale back the tort reform rhetoric just a little.
      • Roots
        I always liked the lengthier names as it helped show the history of the firm and the city. Barnes, Hickham, Pantzer, & Boyd, for example, highlighted the accomplishments of each of those very noteworthy lawyers and citizens. Similarly, the loss of the Sommer & Barnard name to that of a fine but regional firm contributes to the generic quality of current life.
      • Lawyers
        Tom Tom,

        First of all, it's not my shortcomings. In our country's current state of affairs, we are at a crossroads with a Government entity, made up of lawyers, that has miserably failed to do its job. We are left with soaring debt that we are not going to be able to dig ourselves out of, unfunded pensions, unprotected borders, and a plethora of government takeovers from the private sector. So the best we can do in this "innocent forum" as you call it is to bemoan all of the lost names in the legal profession? Boo hoo.

        Yes, I would agree that there are many, many respectable individuals that have made up the legal profession, both in the past and present. However, where we are today has resulted from turning away from our values and the focus upon individual greed.

        If I could accomplish any one thing for the good of the country, it would be to wipe the American Civil Liberties Union off the face of the earth. Some fine lawyers they are!
      • Firm Names
        As one whose name resides near the end of Woodard Emhardt Moriarty McNett & Henry, I was delighted to see you raising the issue of firm names. We find that clients appreciate receiving legal services from partners listed in the firm name, something no client of the firms with two names you listed can receive.

        Quite a few years ago I did a statistical analysis of all patent firms in the U.S., correlating growth of each firm over time with, among other factors, the number of names in the firm name, and whether the persons in the firm name were active in the firm's practice. Particularly for firms our size, the study actually reflected excellent growth for patent firms having four or five names in their firm name. The country's largest patent firm with 276 patent attorneys/agents remains Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP.

        Best wishes, and keep up the good work on your blog.

      Post a comment to this blog

      We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
      You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
      Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
      No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
      We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

      Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

      Sponsored by
      1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

      2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

      3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

      4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

      5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.