A London-based designer offers tips on how to craft the right visual identity for a law practice.
Your mother always told you: first impressions count. She was right. If you are a practice owner or are in charge of generating new leads, you may be aware your fledgling business needs to have the right ‘look’. But you may be unaware of what to do about it.
Visual identity for your business is just as significant as the suit you wear or the décor of your office, but it’s so often left as a rushed afterthought. Branding is worthy of time and consideration. It brings your business plan to life and helps people to take you seriously—plus, it’s the fun part.
HOW TO BEGIN
You may wonder where law firms procure their branding and why so much of it is so same-y. If they’re a big firm their logo and shiny business cards have probably been created by a design agency who knows what they’re doing—in a loft full of MacBooks somewhere in the Arts District with Italian coffee brewing. So why would the end result be boring or the paper stock bad? I am going to stand up for them and say it’s not their fault. Weak brands are usually the result of too many people offering their two cents, ‘design by committee’ which bit-by-bit chips the edges off original ideas.
So as a smaller, plucky company with (perhaps) a trio of partners, you’re already at an advantage. Fewer voices in the room mean the good stuff doesn’t get lost amid compromise. But who can come up with these brilliant proposals? Dial a designer? No. In much the same way that you wouldn’t trust your building maintenance to a stranger who walked off the street, my suggestion would be to treat your branding like your air conditioning installation: get a recommendation from a friend or associate who has a great logo and see a few references.
MANAGE THE PROCESS
With a designer chosen, it’s really important to ensure the project—and your investment—run well. That means you need to write an informative brief. If you’re opening a new practice, my key piece of advice is to think about two important questions:
- What sort of personality do you want your business to have?
- Who will your future clients be?
This basic information is a useful starting point for a designer. In a more general sense, it’s also not a bad principle to have as your ‘north star’ in every business matter.
At the risk of slurring plastic surgeons, the branding process is rather like a nose job: you never know exactly what what you will end up with. The good news is that it’s also rather less permanent. While you can never predict what the imagination of your designer will devise, this uncertainty can be mitigated by suggesting a style you feel best represents your firm. However, it’s worth mentioning that some of the best branding outcomes I’ve been involved with have ended up being the unexpected ones or the brave choices.
With a piece of branding you can be proud of under your belt, the next consideration is a great web presence. The best starting point for this is to start granular. Make a comprehensive list of the services you want to promote. Look around at other sites and note down what key features you want to see. Then write (or commission from a good copywriter) a set clear, crisp pieces of text which speaks directly to your client base.
With that little lot in hand, you have a couple of choices: use one of the many pre-packaged template solutions on the market, or commission a bespoke design.
Starting and launching a business website could be an entire article on its own, but for the sake of brevity here, many of the principles I mention earlier about preparing a brief before commissioning branding work apply. Assuming your finished site is visually appealing, the most important consideration is to ensure a page for each of your core areas of knowledge and expertise such that they can be marketed successfully. With a balance of style and substance you can’t really go wrong.
OUR LEGAL DESIGN PROJECT
Every good piece of advice comes from experience. The inspiration for writing this piece came about following a great—but unconventional—designer/client relationship this past summer.
My graphic and web design business is based in London, England and over the years we’ve worked with law firms as well as corporate businesses in the fields of investment, real estate and fin-tech. After a referral from a mutual friend, we were commissioned by Californian employment lawyer Kevin Rivera to create a launch identity and website for his new consultancy.
Needless to say we were fascinated at the opportunity of working with a law firm in Santa Monica from our offices near London’s Chelsea Football Ground. For starters, we are 5,447 miles apart with an eight hour time difference. But we overcame these obstacles easily, and so an unusual trans-Atlantic working partnership was born.
As a result, this particular project has highlighted a few good ideas which might be useful for legal entrepreneurs. One of these conclusions is that while communication is key, you don’t really need to be in the same city as your designer if they come up with the right ideas.
While researching this post, I was messaging with Kevin and he sent over a few reflections on commissioning design from a ‘legal client perspective’ that I include verbatim below:
- ‘Have a general idea of what you want, or at least know what it is you do not want. I gave Richard examples of law firm websites that contained design elements I wanted to stay far away from as well as examples I did like.’
- ‘As for the content, think about how to convey the most important information with as few words as possible. People don’t want to spend a long time sifting through a bunch of paragraphs and clicking on a lot of links to find out what it is you do. Think of your practice in terms of bullet points, which can be used as the main headings or pages for your website.’
My final thought which essentially sums up this project is that sometimes an external aesthetic—in this case a European design sensibility—serves to give stand-out personality to a new business. After all, what could be better than a memorable piece of design for an excellent law firm?