A Trend Toward the Brief in Law-Firm Names

Marketers are helping firms brand themselves with snappy names. On Saturday, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr becomes WilmerHale. Partner William Lee and consultant Ross Fishman explain the change.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Ready the recycling bins. One of the country's most prestigious law firms is going to need a lot of new letterhead.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

As of tomorrow, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr will officially become just WilmerHale.

NORRIS: That's WilmerHale, no space between the names.

BLOCK: WilmerHale.

NORRIS: The old mouthful of a name was the product of a merger between two firms last year, Wilmer, Cutler Pickering and Hale and Dorr. And in this age of mergers, WilmerHale is one of the many law firms looking for a snappier title. Co-managing partner William Lee explains it's all about marketing.

Mr. WILLIAM LEE (Co-managing Partner, WilmerHale): The reality of the situation is that people need to refer to you by something shorter than five names. They need a quick reference market name. And the name WilmerHale allows us to have that name, but also a name that still captures the legacies of both the firms that merged a year and a half ago.

NORRIS: So when you say people need to refer to you by a shorter name, how do you know that?

Mr. LEE: Actually, our clients have told us; our lawyers have told us; our staff has told us. I even had a judge say to me in court, `Mr. Lee, when are you going to come up with something shorter as a name?' So we've heard it from many different constituencies.

NORRIS: Now Mr. Cutler and Mr. Pickering have both passed away. Did you have to contact their families and explain this to them?

Mr. LEE: Actually, no. The decision to do this was made before they passed away. And in fact, one of the last conversations my co-managing partner and I had with John Pickering was one week before John had his stroke. We went to see him. We told him what the recommendation was. And his quote to us was, "What took you so long?"

NORRIS: That's William Lee of WilmerHale. His firm is not the first or the last to reduce the number of partners in its name. Ross Fishman is a marketing consultant. He specializes in law firm mergers.

Mr. ROSS FISHMAN (Marketing Consultant): As firms merge, they tend to add the names to the end, and at some point it becomes almost ridiculous. The names extend so long that it's hard to remember which firm and doesn't work well for the logo or the letterhead. And it's easier for them to remember if they have shorter, simpler names.

NORRIS: But you know, if you're actually going to change the name, to truncate the name, you're going up against a lot of ego.

Mr. FISHMAN: That's a problem, and it certainly becomes much easier when the people being truncated are deceased. When that's not the case, then there have to be some egos that are soothed and someone has to take it for the team at some point.

NORRIS: You know, I'm wondering if you--you deal with law firms all the time. When you hear someone pick up the phone on the other end, what do they normally say if there's, you know, six, seven names? Do they list all of them?

Mr. FISHMAN: Well, if any of the six or seven people have a strong enough ego then, yes, the poor receptionist is forced to slur together all of the names, often...

NORRIS: Every time he or she answers the phone.

Mr. FISHMAN: Hundreds of times a day.

NORRIS: Can you give me an example of this?

Mr. FISHMAN: Well...

NORRIS: What's your favorite? Which one of those calls gives you a chuckle every time you make it?

Mr. FISHMAN: You know, there's two I particularly like. There's one that's Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen. And if you go to the Web site, there's, like, I don't know, eight or nine Allens who work there at the moment. And then there's one in Florida that I've had to go to the Web site to remember it because it seems to be Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb, Dumbaugh, Jones, Krotec & Westheimer--one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight names.

NORRIS: I was actually counting the consonants. (Laughs)

Mr. FISHMAN: Yeah. ...(Unintelligible). I'm sure I pronounced most of those names wrong, but so would the receptionist, presumably.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

TAMARA(ph) (Receptionist) Syprett, Meshad, Resnick & Lieb. This is Tamara.

NORRIS: That's how the receptionist answers the phone at Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb, Dumbaugh, Jones, Krotec & Westheimer. Teresa Jones is one of the partners.

Ms. TERESA JONES (Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb, Dumbaugh, Jones, Krotec & Westheimer): When I introduce myself, I don't say, `Hi, I'm Teresa Jones of the law firm Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb, Dumbaugh, Jones, Krotec & Westheimer.' I generally just say, `Hi, I'm Teresa Jones. I'm with Syprett, Meshad.'

NORRIS: But this Sarasota, Florida, firm has also considered shortening its name.

Ms. JONES: The times that it has come up is when we've have a person--an addition of a partner to the firm; it's come up when we've talked about reordering--I mean, it sounds mundane, but reordering letterhead or reordering cards. And we did talk about reducing the name to Syprett, Meshad, but it was felt that would do away with name recognition that we felt was good to have in the community of the other partners.

NORRIS: So name recognition, it seems, is no small thing, if you can remember all eight.

BLOCK: Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb...

NORRIS: ...Dumbaugh, Jones...

BLOCK: ...Krotec...

NORRIS: ...& Westheimer.

BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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