Shearman & Sterling Spent Three Years Rebranding Itself

Shearman & Sterling has been around for nearly 150 years, and its clients have included the Rockefellers, Henry Ford and Jay Gould. But when the firm asked potential clients what would make it stand out in a crowded marketplace, they said that storied history hardly mattered. More important, they said, was that the firm appear approachable, pragmatic, and passionate.

In January, the firm unveiled a new logo and website to give its clients just that.

“The signature we’ve landed on in the logo speaks to personality,” said David McClune, the firm’s chief marketing officer. “There are few things more personal than when you’re signing your own name.”

The new brand was three years in the making, according to McClune.

To figure out what mattered to clients, the firm and its marketing agency Siegel + Gale came up with a list of 39 performance attributes across five categories: legal excellence, leadership, pragmatism, engagement and personality.

Then, 76 of Shearman’s top clients and 227 of the firm’s prospective clients ranked those attributes according to whether they were decision-making drivers or non-drivers, meaning they don’t make a huge difference in the decision of which law firm to hire.

The most important law firm characteristics, according to survey participants, included passion, pragmatism, and social responsibility. Legal excellence and having a long history ranked close to the bottom. “The expectation is that you’re going to be excellent lawyers,” said McClune.

McClune said the firm’s full name, which appears in block lettering under the signature in the primary logo, will be used for formal documents like letterhead and legal papers. The signature appears on the firm’s business cards and swag.

Siegel + Gale estimates that it put over 1,000 hours of research and analysis into the Shearman re-brand over the course of three years. A spokeswoman for Shearman declined to say how much money was spent on the campaign.

Shearman isn’t the only firm to place an emphasis on personality in its marketing efforts. In the past few years, other firms have redesigned logos meant to evoke warmth and trustworthiness, according to Deborah McMurray, CEO of Content Pilot LLC, a strategy, content and design firm, and co-author of the Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet.

In 2016, Goodwin Procter dropped its second name to become Goodwin, unveiling a faceted capital G in a warm orange color as its new logo. Cleary Gottlieb’s current logo is designed to illustrate “pragmatic confidence” and includes a script monogram derived from the signature of the firm’s founders, according to the designer who developed the brand. Nixon Peabody drastically altered its logo in 2013, choosing a bright, abstract and colorful design.

Robert Algeri, a partner at Great Jake’s Marketing in New York, said he cautions many of his law firm clients against changing their logo. “There’s a lot of equity that has been built up for decades that may get thrown out,” he said. Unless a firm is truly trying to signal a change, the investment might not be worth it.

Some Big Law partners turn their noses up at the notion of marketing altogether, holding the view that their work should speak for itself. But, Algeri noted, as firms face increasing competition including now from accounting and consulting firms, a rebrand may make sense to stand out in the crowd. 

McMurray said more and more firms are trying to convey personality by featuring larger attorney photographs on their websites, and by taking those photographs outdoors or in the firm’s offices — rather than in a studio.

In another shift towards personability, firms are also rewriting their attorney bios to use first names rather than Mr. or Ms., according to McMurray. She said this strategy leads to better search engine results but also creates a “shortcut to trust and likeability.”

Along with the new logo, Shearman also unveiled an entirely new website, which McClune said was designed with personality and content in mind.

The firm removed a significant amount of stale content, slimming the site down from 15,000 to 5,000 pages. “Much of it hadn’t been visited in many years,” said McClune. “It was a process to consolidate a lot of that.”

Attorney photographs are also far bigger than they were before.

“In the early phase, we got feedback from clients and partners that we did lack personality, that we lacked people,” said McClune. “That’s one of the important things we’ve tried to address with our new website. There’s people everywhere.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

To contact the editors on this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com.