Some law firms are mouthfuls

May 6, 2010
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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.

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