Acritas’ UK Law Firm Brand Index reveals four year market winners

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Smart strategic moves, a differentiated proposition and affinity with female buyers drive success for the UK’s leading law firm brands.

Top 20 UK law firm brands

Acritas' UK Law Firm Brand Index 2015

Our data makes it very clear that investing in awareness-raising and building favourability with clients accelerates a firm’s progression to the top tiers of its chosen niche.

Over the last four years, the UK legal market has seen many changes. Mergers together with new entrants from overseas and increasingly complex and sophisticated strategies have shaped the face of the market as we know it today. As part of its annual, global survey of over 2,300 general counsel, Acritas has been tracking how legal buyers select their firms and analysing those firms winning – and losing - brand equity.

2015 is the launch of the fourth annual UK brand index. Whilst the year-to-year picture has reflected the volatility in the market, the four year trends present some interesting surprises:

  • Firms with rising brands are the ones making smart strategic moves and offering a proposition that resonates more clearly with client demands
  • London-centric market leaders are losing brand equity in the broader UK market, as competitors strengthen and gain at the leaders’ expense
  • Women buyers present a lucrative and highly effective point of differentiation
  • Outside of the top 20, the US international firms are the ‘ones to watch’.

“When looking at which firms are making smart moves and compelling propositions, Pinsent Masons is the star of the show,” revealed Lisa Hart Shepherd, CEO of Acritas. “This firm has managed to rise six ranks over four years – an astonishing 30 points (double that of the next biggest riser) – through a combination of a merger and smart marketing. It also makes the top 10 in London this year for the first time. Its successful merger with the premier brand in Scotland, McGrigors, shows that it isn’t just politics that can be impacted by having a strong local presence in Scotland.”

Firms can resonate effectively with clients in a range of ways, but this is centred on the fact that firms need a strong point of differentiation. Some of the examples noted in Acritas’ findings include substantive international footprint, leveraging lower cost national offices, deep and authentic sector knowledge, delivering innovative added value and simply looking after their clients more effectively.

In the City, it is the Magic Circle brands and Herbert Smith Freehills who continue to dominate the much prized London market, with Linklaters making major brand gains despite an overall decline in international markets. We have however seen the overall brand equity of the Magic Circle diminish by a collective 15% in the broader UK market, as competitors have strengthened and gained brand equity at the former leaders’ expense.

Lisa also confirmed Eversheds’ consistent performance over the past four years along with its first entry into the top ten of Acritas’ London Law Firm Brand Index, which she believes reflects its efforts to build brand in the capital as well as its alignment with an under-recognised source of brand affinity – female buyers. The average firm has a 27% favourable female following, and according to Lisa, “One of the unique differentiators in Eversheds’ brand profile is its appeal to women. It is the only UK firm to have a statistically significant higher brand performance among this lucrative group of buyers; Eversheds achieves 45% with DLA Piper close behind at 38%, whereas Magic Circle brands average just 20%.”

Looking beyond the top 20, the US international firms are the ‘ones to watch’, particularly those with a credible international footprint. Slowly but consistently growing brand, Reed Smith, Jones Day, White & Case and MoFo have all moved up the rankings, reflecting their efforts in building capabilities in London. Reed Smith is now nine ranks away from making the top 20.

Commenting on the findings overall, Lisa explained that brand-building is not optional but obligatory for survival and growth, “There is no ‘right answer’ to the question about which approach to take in the pursuit of success in today’s market. Every firm has its own particular goals. However, our data makes it very clear that investing in awareness-raising and building favourability with clients accelerates a firm’s progression to the top tiers of its chosen niche.

“Firms vying for the highest positions in the Index need to ensure they are ‘firing on all brand cylinders’ by offering that elusive combination of service, expertise, commercial awareness, value, business understanding and geographic coverage.”

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Michelle Nesbitt-Burrell
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