Law firm Nixon Peabody seeks a new take on an old brand


Randy Kelly, Colette Dafoe, April Stephen and Michael Goldman are part of Nixon Pea-body’s Institute for Professional and Executive Development. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

One night three years ago, Andrew Glincher was sitting in his family room with the Red Sox game on in the background, fiddling with his iPad.

“I was looking at the [American Lawyer] 100 list of the largest firms, pretending to be a client,” said Glincher, who at the time was a rookie managing partner for the law firm Nixon Peabody. “It occurred to me if you’re a general counsel looking at all these firms, they look very much alike, except how many attorneys they had and their profits. And clients don’t really care about how much lawyers make.”

It was virtually impossible to distinguish one firm from another in a way that would resonate with clients, he said.

“If law firms, like other businesses, could aspire to be different. . .that could be a game-changer,” Glincher said.

Glincher decided it was time to make his firm stand out. Nixon Peabody, which has about 170 attorneys and staff in Washington, passed up on using a branding firm that had worked with dozens of top U.S. law firms, instead turning to New York-and-London-based brand strategy firm Wolff Olins, which has designed campaigns for Spotify, Adidas and Sony, to help them create the image of a firm that is less stuffy and more approachable than the typical large law firm.

The firm revamped its Web site to look more like that of a design firm than a law firm. The new logo is in neon green and attorney bios are written in the first person, including each lawyer’s response to the question, “What do you see on the horizon?” — their personal thoughts on the direction of the industry where most of their clients do business. The language is intentionally pared down.

“We looked at some of our old stuff and thought, ‘Who understands this?’ ” Glincher said. “It could be on Jay Leno headlines. It didn’t make any sense, it was all written in legalese. An average business person reading it would be scratching their heads. We tried to write it in plain straightforward language so that anyone in the business world could look at it and say, ‘I get what this means.’ ”

Glincher said these initiatives and the rebranding efforts are partly a response to the economic downturn that began in 2008 and forced corporations to dramatically cut back on legal spending.

“If business kept booming, would we change our ways? Maybe not,” he said. “The slowing demand in the industry forced our business and our industry to be more like every other business. . .it had to think about how it was going to be different and how it was going to act going forward.”

Nixon Peabody is known for taking unconventional approaches to solving some of the legal industry’s nagging problems. To counter the lack of diversity at large law firms, Nixon Peabody leaders in 2010 began urging lawyers to log at least 40 hours a year on diversity-related activities like recruitment and training efforts. To take on the industry’s notoriously slow pace of innovation, D.C. managing partner Jeff Lesk started requiring lawyers in his practice group to come up with an “innovative” idea every year that would ultimately impact how much they get paid.

The current rebranding effort is no different. One of the firm’s primary goals is to have clients — typically companies — think of the firm’s attorneys as business partners, rather than just someone to go to strictly for legal advice.

“We need expertise in areas where our clients work, and we need to do this on our own dime,” Glincher said. “We need to be predictive of the future, and essentially be looking around the corner to help our clients do business better.”

As part of this effort, Nixon Peabody is investing more heavily in a program called NP Capital Connector, created in 2010, and an affiliate business unit called the Institute for Professional and Executive Development (IPED). Both put on networking events and industry-specific conferences to help connect businesses, investors and capital.

Since Nixon Peabody does a lot of work in affordable housing development, IPED hosts events for developers and investors that feature the firm’s attorneys as experts. Getting all the players together in one room gets the juices flowing — people start talking about trends and potential deals — which positions Nixon Peabody to win new business if future deals come out of those meetings.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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