Murray Coffey, Chief Marketing Officer at Haynes Boone, the unique and interesting challenges that go into rebranding a law firm from its plucky beginnings into a premium provider.
Can you first introduce us to Haynes Boone? Perhaps an overview of what you’re about.
Haynes Boone is among one of the largest law firms in the US. They started as a small firm based in Dallas, Texas back in the early 70s. They quickly developed a reputation as a plucky, high quality and ascendant commercial law firm.
They aggressively pursued market share, competed vigorously with other law firms, managed revenues conservatively, reinvested in the firm when they could, and experienced really high growth.
At the start, the firm’s brand was known as exceptionally effective, high value with a brand characterized by an often self-deprecating sense of self, zero-pretense, and intensely entrepreneurial brand. And as the firm grew, so did its reputation.
How about the brand’s identity through the years? Can you briefly walk us through it?
When I joined in 2012, it was fully transitioning from a regional powerhouse into a national player with a global reach. And while previous iterations of the brand relied on the idea of its pluckiness, it was apparent that the firm was maturing into something more.
They were at a transition point that was moving from being that plucky upstart to a more mature, more serious organization–not that they were ever jokesters, but if you want to work with global 1000 companies, there’s a different profile you need to work with that market.
The firm started as an ascendant, self-effacing brand. The old logo was lowercase letters squished together. Haynes and Boone were not separated with one word italicized. The idea was that there were no stars, we’re all one team. The name of the firm is less important than the work the firm does.
It was very appropriate at the time. They also had advertising that relied on humor and clever images, catchy copy, and taglines. It was a shrewd approach for a firm that was on the rise that needed to get some attention.
The past brand work was more of an internal marcom-driven effort. A small committee of partners, people from the marketing department, and designers come up with the new brand, push it out, and that was kind of it.
How about this current rebranding? How did it come about? How did that conversation start?
The Haynes Boone partners and leadership team are long-term planners, which is unusual in legal. In 2005, a small group of partners developed the firm’s 2020 plan. It had the firm identify 15 or 20 goals and to their great credit, all but one was accomplished.
In 2018, a larger, more diverse group of partners gathered to create what they called the ‘2025 Plan.’ This time it wasn’t another 15-year plan, but rather a roadmap for the next five or six years.
When I had seen various iterations of the plan, it immediately became apparent to me that much of what they were planning for and around was really the firm’s brand.
They wanted to know what the clients thought of the firm, what they hope to achieve in the future, who they were, what was important to recruits, what role they should have in the community and in achieving more equitable and diverse workplaces. When you put all that together, what you’re talking about is brand.
I spent some time with our Managing Partner and the executive committee and said, “When I look at this plan, we’re really talking about the brand. And where we sit today is not the brand that we’re talking in the 2025 Plan it really is about the future of the firm.”
With the wide distribution and embrace of the 2025 planning, we knew that the partners were primed for a real top-to-bottom brand review and brand refresh.
Lawyers, like most people who are not involved in marketing, think of brands as logos, type fonts, and overall look-and-feel. But, those of us involved in brand work know it’s much more than that. We know that the design is a deliverable at the end of the channel. You have a lot of work to do before you get to that design point.
Let’s talk about the rebranding process itself. How did it go? Where did you start?
We worked with Clarity Group on the brand strategy. The first thing they did was to dive into the 2025 Plan to get a good sense of where the firm’s thinking was in all manner of areas including recruiting, DEI, strategic growth, and community service among others. The 2025 Plan formed the anchor point for the whole process.
This branding effort was distinguished by being the first time that we included the voice of all stakeholders in such an effort.
We identified, partners, associates, professional staff, summer associates, and clients to be interviewed during the discovery phase. Client participation was key and not something we had ever done in the past.
Several years before we started the brand work, we had rolled out a successful client interview program. Through this program, our management team realized that clients were really interested in talking to the firm and hearing from our management.
The overall success of the client interview program alleviated any hesitancy from the partners about us talking to the clients. I am happy to report that every single client we asked said yes to meeting with our team to talk about the firm’s brand.
These are general counsel from some of the largest companies on the planet agreeing to spend an hour talking about our brand because they understand its value. Our brand is important to them because we are part of protecting their brand. So they like knowing we take our own brand seriously.
We had interviews with about 180 different stakeholders including 30 clients, 70 lawyers, associates, professional staff, and alumni–we talked to a lot of people and developed a pretty in-depth strategy document for the firm.
In terms of the design side, can you share with us how your logo has changed?
Initially, when I joined the firm, I was told that the logo could not change. And, given the equity they’ve built since it launched, I agreed. One of the drivers for the logo change, however, was what emerged from the brand work. The firm was no longer an ascendant brand.
Previously, the firm’s branding was scrappy and focused on delivering a message that they wanted to provide their clients with exceptional service and compete with the best firms in the profession. That was then, and now they were well on the way to achieving this exceptional status. They had achieved so many of their goals but still were often seen as a regional powerhouse despite having offices around the world and clients from Fortune 1000 companies.
We found there was a gap in the marketplace and that external brand awareness is about three to five years behind where the brand actually is. We needed to fill that gap. We needed to show that we’re a strong, confident firm ready to own its place in the market.
Haynes Boone needed to fill this gap and present itself to the world as the firm it had become and still aspired to be. In order to do that with the logo, we looked at different premium brands including those of luxury consumer goods such as yachts and automobiles. The new look and feel of the firm’s new design has probably more in common with the look of the Maserati brand than it does with an old-school law firm.
How about the color palette? How did you land on those colors?
We did an analysis of the Am Law 100 firms' use of colors and they were clustered around shades of blues, reds, and burgundies–the color of law school hornbooks, and case reports–because that’s often the comfort zone for lawyers.
We selected a color we could own, that was ours, and when you saw it, you would immediately say it was Haynes Boone. We knew other firms wouldn’t be imitating it. We actually have a term for it: HB Plum.
For the color palette, the colors we landed on were strong, confident, and direct. These are colors that look like something you might see in a swatch book for high-end interior design. They’re not trendy colors, they’re bold colors and not used in a lot of collaterals by other law firms or professional service organizations.
We wanted to keep the palette relatively small and concise, yet giving us enough wiggle room. The palate is made up of a small number of colors that work together. We’re also adapting to the new brand standards, which is why we have some gradients mixed in as well so we have a bit more optionality for different kinds of applications.
Lastly, what are your major takeaways from this rebranding experience?
First of all, don’t try to please everyone. You are never going to, especially at a law firm. If you do, you’re going to probably wind up with a mediocre and poorly thought-through brand and design.
But while you have to know you’re not going to please everyone, you do need buy-in. You need to be the voice of the brand to get buy-in from your CEO or management. If you don’t have them on board, it will be a frustrating and possibly failed effort.
The most important thing for us, and what kept us on track, was getting the voice of the client upfront and center. Every time we presented a strategy document to the partners, every single recommendation was backed up with a quote or an insight from partners, clients, or alumni.
This is effective because they’re quotes from people who are the most important to the firm talking about what the firm means to them.
Another is, that if you have the budget, hire strong strategists and strong designers then get out of their way. Be there to guide and give feedback, but don’t dictate what they need to do. They’re pros and there’s a reason that they’re doing what they’re doing. Let them do their work.
Stand firm. Design discussions have to be based on how it does or does not move the brand forward. Talk about why a color or design supports the brand, and why it’s important to have for the firm as you’re moving forward.
Law firms are complex business organizations. Getting consensus is hard work that takes careful planning and a focus on details and the opportunity for any enterprise-wide effort to stall or worse yet fail is relatively high. For most lawyers, a branding effort is outside their comfort zone. As such, you need to have iron in your spine to keep a forward momentum.