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Jones Day and Skadden named strongest US law firm brands

Jones Day has been named the strongest law firm brand in the United States for the second year running. According to the Acritas US Law Firm Brand Index 2018, Jones Day extended its lead in the table, while second place Skadden strengthened its brand over the past year. Bubbling below the surface, though, is the rising threat to traditional law firms from alternative legal service brands.

Acritas’ index is derived from more than 600 interviews, conducted with respondents in $1 billion+ revenue organizations who have senior responsibility for buying legal services. It also includes the views of a 176 non-US-based senior counsel who were asked which firms they used for their US-based legal needs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the key trend to emerge this year was of intensifying competition amongst law firm brands, with almost the entire top ten strengthening year on year.

In the press release announcing the latest findings, Acritas US vice president Lizzy Duffy observes: “Jones Day is more favoured this year for its practical style of delivery, along with its global coverage and breadth of services – all areas we know align with clients’ evolving needs, especially now that half of legal departments are assigning responsibility for optimising legal operations.”

The top 20 law firm brands in the US were revealed as:

Rank Firm Brand Index
1 Jones Day 100
2 Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom 85
3 Latham & Watkins 78
4 Sidley Austin 70
5 Baker McKenzie 64
6 DLA Piper 61
7 Kirkland & Ellis 60
8 Morgan Lewis 59
9 Hogan Lovells 54
10 Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz 48
11 K&L Gates 46
12 Norton Rose Fulbright 41
13 McDermott Will & Emery 38
13 Ropes & Gray 38
15 Weil 35
16 Sullivan & Cromwell 32
17 Mayer Brown 30
18 King & Spalding 29
19 Dentons 28
19 Ogletree Deakins 28

As with the global index, published last year, the majority of the firms in the top 20 boast a significant level of trademark expertise – 16 are ranked for their trademark services in the US chapters of the latest edition of the World Trademark Review 1000 – The World’s Leading Trademark Professionals. Of the remainder, K&L Gates were ranked in Australia, while Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Sullivan & Cromwell and Ogletree Deakins do not feature in the current edition.

As we argued previously, for those in the trademark space, the need for strong brand equity and recognition is particularly acute, and not just with respect to demonstrating to clients a deep understanding of the nuances of trademark law. On the flip side, where firms offering brand-related counselling find themselves embroiled in disputes centred on their own identity, this inevitably gets picked up in the media and can result in reputational challenges.

In short, brand really does matter. After all, in an increasingly competitive market for trademark services, any opportunity to stand apart from rival firms is to be seized upon – and that challenge is set to continue. For its latest ranking, for the first time Acritas scrutinised alternative legal service brands. While still not in a position to rival traditional entities, the data suggests that alternative brands in the legal space – particularly when they are tech-driven – are fast catching up. Duffy observes: “For now law firms still have a richer brand profile – they are seen as authorities in so many more areas of expertise, the current advantage the alternatives have is centred on technology and process efficiency. As clients look for ways to drive value in managing their legal work, the threat from alternatives will continue to rise. Our latest research study shows top of mind awareness of Axiom has almost tripled in four years in the US. Law firms must use this threat as an opportunity to adapt to clients’ current needs.”

As a reminder, Axiom offers lower-cost outsourced legal services. In the trademark space, new models have most commonly appeared in the form of low-cost online-based filing portals, which have come under fire from law firm practitioners cautioning over the commoditisation of trademark work. As we have reported on in detail, new outfits – many with their own dedicated trademark practices – have also entered the market to capitalise on practitioners’ growing dissatisfaction with the traditional law firm structure. Whether through the virtual or subscription-based law firm, an on-demand model or a gamified approach, disruptive innovation is throwing up new ways of doing (legal) business.

While strong, resilient legal brands will help traditional firms maintain market share in the immediate term, there is clearly a need to react to changing client needs and ensure that new technologies are properly harnessed in a bid to stave off new competitors.