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NewsTalk

Welcome to the archives for NewsTalk, an IBJ blog published from November 2007 through December 2010.

Some law firms are mouthfuls

May 6, 2010

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?

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