Before this column launched, I spent several moments stewing over possible pseudonyms. After all, branding is everything. So, I wanted to come up with a name that said to my audience that I was a small-firm expert and a super-cool chick. Naturally, I picked the name that is synonymous with post-menopausal Jewish bubbies. Perhaps I still have a thing or two to learn about branding.
I am not the only small-firm lawyer with a problem selecting the right name. Indeed, after Jay Shepherd opened my eyes to the hyphen-crisis, I began noticing a comma-crisis. Specifically, I noticed that there are a lot of small firms with way too many last names strung together with commas.
Why is it that many small firms have such problems coming up with the perfect firm name? Let’s explore this age-old question….
A 2007 post on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog discussed the longest law firm name (and it belonged to a small firm): the Los Angeles entertainment firm previously known as Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf. When asked (in a follow-up post) why the name was so long (and included more than half of the firm’s attorneys), founding partner Kenneth Ziffren said:
I realize in one sense this is humorous but in another sense it’s serious. The people merit them. We’re a meritocracy as a law firm and when people deserve the recognition of having their names on the masthead, then we do it.
I guess Ziffren’s sentiment is nice. And, unlike Biglaw, small firms are able to include their deserving partners in the firm’s name because, well, the firm is small.
But is that reason enough to include ten partners in a firm’s name? After all, how can you build up name recognition with a name that is too long for most people to remember (unless you are one of those named partners)? That is likely why Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf shortened its name to Ziffren Brittenham LLP.
Even though Ziffren Brittenham went short, there are many other small firms with really long names. Didn’t these small firms read Gina Rubel’s piece in The Legal Intelligencer in 2009 (or the discussion here and here), suggesting that law firm names should be short and sweet? The movement towards law-firm name-shortening was so two years ago, small firms. Look at how successful the name change was for Howrey, Simon, Baker, & Murchison. (Hmm, maybe that is a bad example.)
I recently had a conversation with a partner at a small firm about how I believe small firms must have short names. She said that one reason attorneys may decide to join a small firm is the possibility that they will be able to one day become a named partner. “If you arbitrarily limit the length of the firm name, you eliminate that as a possibility.”
Perhaps she had a point, but there has to be a limit. If a firm has more than three last names, it might not be able to distribute pens, or tweet about important firm news (since 100 of the 140 characters would have to be devoted to names only). In short, law firm names should not resemble a David Foster Wallace novel.
And while we are trimming the fat with long firm names for small firms, let’s do away with the following: “The Law Offices of” or “Law Group.” Of course it is a law office. If it were a dental office, the letters “d.d.s.” would follow. And, what is a “law group?” Is this some kind of legally protected business association?
Why am I so hopped up about the relationship between length of firm name and size of law firm? Obviously, because it is the most important legal question of our time. Or, as my therapist would say, I am projecting because I am bitter that I did not choose to refer to myself as “Rose Judicata” or some other hilarious play on words.
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at Valerie.L.Katz@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.