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Around The Firms
29 September, 2003  
The struggle to be "different"

Special survey of big eight law firm web sites. Justinian’s Olde Mugge awarded to the firm spewing forth the most gruesome marketing babble.


It’s the moment for a law firm web site award that meaningfully reflects the awfulness of what’s on offer. Thomson’s offshoot FindLaw had its annual awards knees-up last month with Allens Arthus Robinson winning best and fairest in the big, fat firm category.

Runners-up were Clutz and Freehills.

It was a glittering night at which Justinian’s proprietor-cum-copy-boy made a moving warm-up speech.

Of course, the criteria for the judging of that event failed to concentrate on the fertile fields of crassness, hyperbole and marketing gibberish that infect the law firm landscape.

With a view to repairing that deficiency our team of bankrupt barristers and web gurus has visited the sites of the fattest eight firms and identified a batch of finalists and the ultimate winner of the Justinian Olde Mugge (see below).

The essence of our inquiry was to evaluate what lies behind the “ABOUT US’ link on these sites – because it is here that you enter a world where restraint has no foothold, where no boast is too brazen, where language is slaughtered.

Invariably the hyperventilating clichs by which law firms struggle to uniquely “position” themselves all deliver an identical message: “Trust us. We’re fabulous.”

Allens Arthur Robinson

The positioning line for the firm is “Clear Thinking”, and it tries to sell its difference in these terms:

“What makes this law firm different from our competitors? It’s technical excellence combined with commercial insight. It’s the ability to take the most complex of questions and provide the clearest of answers.

“Our lawyers unashamedly love the law. But we understand clients don’t want pages on what legislation says. They want succinct answers that achieve their commercial aims. To achieve this we use our intellectual creativity to distil complexity and provide clear-cut solutions.”

The home page features an ever-charging array of Allens’ people, ranging from madly beaming young sylphs to podgy bald headed blokes.

Allens is the official law firm for the Rugby World Cup and there is an interactive game on the site where carefree hours can be whiled away playing drop-kicks – more stimulating than working on those Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises.

The colour scheme of the site is soft greys with fetching teal blue.

Clayton Utz

The positioning line is “Innovation. Creativity. Expertise.”

Clutz asks, “what makes us unique?” and in a bold effort to nail down the answer once and for all it has come up with seven answers. Here are a few, just so you catch the drift:

” We are passionate about helping our clients be more competitive.

We have a ‘can do’ approach to the business of law. We do more than help our clients manage risk; we provide practical and innovative solutions that improve our clients’ business performance. We are easy to work with because we work collaboratively with our clients and colleagues. We know that technical excellence is not enough – we ensure our people are accessible, responsive and empathetic to our clients’ needs ”

The web site’s colour scheme switches between tones of orange, pink, grey, brown and even a dab of chartreuse. The artwork attempts to reflect abstractions such as “connectivity flexibility and creativity”.

Freehills

This is probably the most forbidding looking site for a fat Australian law firm on the web.

Freehills’ tag line is: “Expert advice. Approachable people. Outstanding outcomes.”

A trip to the “About Freehills” link uncovers some prime promo-babble:

” Our ability to provide clients with legal, commercial and strategic solutions is built on experience and the desire to understand the commercial context in which your business operates We understand that sharing knowledge and technological resources with our clients leads to improved strategic outcomes”

Surprisingly there’s scant attempt to grapple with the uniqueness factor.

The front page is austere. There’s an unhappy looking projects partner up in the top left corner and links to “recent developments” down the middle, eg: the Takeovers Panel’s thinking about the Powertel No 3 case, COAG water agreement, the anti-spam legislation, renewable energy update and other ball-tearers.

There’s minimal art work and a blue and yellow colour scheme throughout, reminiscent of the paintwork on old government bus shelters.

Mallesons Stephen Jacques

Mallesons has an absolute winner of a marketing tagline, “Going Beyond”. It must have cost of fortune for an image consultant to come up with that one because it says so much, yet so little. There’s an explanation within (brace for the tautology):

“It suggests the many ways in which we transcend the predictable, the expected and the conventional. It is purposely elastic – so it can be stretched and applied across everything we do as a firm.

“For us, ‘Going Beyond’ means:

We deliver results beyond our clients’ expectations. We provide advice that is beyond just legal counsel. We are able to achieve personal goals beyond our aspirations.”

This hype is also repeated in Japanese and Chinese.

Colour scheme: duck egg blue, dark blue and a red line.

Blake Dawson Waldron

This is quite dull, which is surprising for such a technologically innovative firm. No slogans, no zing, and far too restrained to be successful in our competition.

When you open the home page you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of the curious, well-varnished fingernail hovering over a globe of the world.

News stories dominate the home page: food law updates, the Spam Bill, the sale of Pasminco’s lead/zinc mine in NSW, blah, blah, blah.

“About us” rather clunkily makes all the well-worn points – closeness, value, solutions:

“We recognise the importance of establishing close personal relationships with our clients and our objective is to achieve best commercial practice in the delivery and use of legal services.

“We provide value to our clients through innovation, solutions and thought leadership, particularly in the use of technology to deliver legal services. BDW’s Legal Technology Group, comprised of lawyers and IT professionals, is recognised globally for its leading work in this field. Our lawyers understand the commercial environments facing our clients”

Home page colour scheme: a staid dark blue and gold – the old national colours of Australia before Bob Hawke introduced the green and wattle.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth

Corrs Chambers Westgarth is another plain entrant, but somehow that does not surprise us.

There is no snappy catch-line and the firm’s entire profile takes no more than three paragraphs. Like the others it believes its winning ingredient is its close massaging of clients:

“Our strong reputation for excellent and pragmatic legal service is the result of the emphasis we place on understanding our clients objectives, priorities and requirements. An important element of this is the close working relationship we foster with our clients.”

The home page carries pointers and links to stories too eye glazing to be investigated: The Full Federal Court decision in Universal Music v ACCC, the national water initiative, High Court decision on News Ltd v the Rabbitos, coal seam gas development in Queensland

A tired display of boosterism and razzamatazz puts this site into the failure category. In fact, one of our panellists fell asleep looking at it.

Primary colour: mid-blue with grey streaks.

Phillips Fox

Just when you thought things were utterly glum and there was absolutely nothing new to say along comes Phillips Fox, showing that if you try hard enough you can be really, really, different:

“All law firms are not the same.
At Phillips Fox, we celebrate the difference.

It’s a difference in the way we think.
The way we work.
The way we respond.
Most of all, in the way we commit.

Don’t expect the usual from Phillips Fox.

Legal skills are a given for a firm of our size and strength. What isn’t a given are the things that make us different. At Phillips Fox we are committed to helping our clients and our people succeed. We are committed to providing our clients and our people with a different experience – a better experience.

At Phillips Fox, our vision has never been stronger.
Our people more focused.
Our commitment, more proven.”

The text is accompanies by a photo of a newspaper delivery boy on a bicycle. A most innovative juxtaposition of concepts.

The site is designed around little mauve, light blue or chartreuse boxes which are the links to the various components on the site

Points off for not have an outrageous slogan.

Deacons

An intriguing positioning line is to be found here: ” the two imperatives in an emergency are speed and initiative”.

The profile contains some words and phrases that we thought had gone out of fashion, so it’s nice to see them making a comeback: “mindset long-haul bringing new perspectives to the table”

As the blurb says:

“Actions, not buzzwords

Many firms talk about building relationships. Few deliver. Yet Deacons entire service culture is centred on this concept. We make it our business to be in step with our clients ambitions – not merely at a superficial level, but in a way that enables us to function as genuine ‘long haul’ business advisors.

We look out for our clients’ best interests. We provide services that are of real commercial value and advice that can be relied on”

There’s also a fun idea of having “This Week’s Spotlight”, featuring a particularly interesting solicitor or partner. It’s a bit like the way Woolies or McDonald’s have “Salesperson of the Week”, featuring the delighted countenance of a particularly efficient checkout chick or a floor mopper.

All in all though the marketing muffins have been a touch too restrained here. The use of the ever-respectable shades of blue renders an awfully conservative finish.

Gilbert + Tobin

Strictly speaking Gilbert + Tobin isn’t one of the fat eight, but we thought we’d have a squiz anyway because the firm prides itself on being such a contemporary, groovy, with-it sort of outfit.

However, the “look” of the firm’s web site is staid to the point of pallid. Pale blues and a splash of cream turning to fawn are the primary tones.

What is it about blue? Maybe it’s because it is a mood as well as a colour that makes it so attractive to lawyers and their desire for respectability.

In any event, G + T has produced a web site that looks as plain as a pikestaff.

In the “about us” department it too could not resist the use of hackneyed expressions, viz: “raising the bar (twice) outside the square thinking”.

Apart from that blemish we are reasonably fond of G + T’s “boast” section. It is matter of fact, not over the top, does not make ludicrous claims about getting into bed with clients and changing their lives forever.

Anyway, we’ll leave a full review of G + T until our forthcoming review of mid-range firms.

Runners-up

Phillips Fox. Its celebration of the difference makes this a very compelling site, particularly as the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras once used the same idea as its slogan.

Clutz. Its claim to be passionate about helping clients to be more competitive and its assertion of a hideous can do approach is accurately reflects the Clutz persona.

Allens Arthur Robinson. It should also have won our contest for the claim that its lawyers unashamedly love the law. However, to give this outfit yet another first prize would further inflate egos that are already sufficiently well manicured.

The winner

For splendid vulgarity, narcissism, braggadocios, bombast and communications babble it is hard to go past Mallesons Stephen Jaques with its incredible elastic and stretchable slogan, Going Beyond. The fact that Malleys is not content to just allow English speakers in on the excitement but carefully translated the gobbledegook into two Asian languages gave the firm a winning margin.

A worthy recipient of Justinian’s Olde Mugge