Branding Barristers – Valuing an elite profession Print E-mail

Published on 28 March 2013

In this article Nicki Lloyd of Lloyd Grey Design explains the true meaning of branding and the importance of the Bar developing its professional brand.

What is the brand of barristers in Queensland today? Do people know what to expect of a barrister and why a barrister may be important to them? Do they know the tradition of barristers and what makes them different from solicitors? Do they trust barristers and value their knowledge and skills?

As an increasing number of solicitors undertake work traditionally performed by barristers and the public is encouraged to think of the ‘no win, no fee’ model of justice, the profession is under increasing pressure. And, unlike solicitors, barristers can’t advertise and build their presence in the marketplace.

The answer, or one of the pivotal answers, is to consider the profession’s branding.

When people think of branding, they typically think of consumer goods like Coca Cola, Nike, Apple and Holden. They might think of the individual brands of companies like solicitors. But it may not be immediately obvious how branding can apply to a profession.

There are precedents to show how the same principles that are applied to developing any consumer brand can be applied to help increase the standing – and understanding – of a profession.

One obvious recent example in Australia is the work the Institute of Chartered Accountants has done to build its brand and change perceptions of its members’ role. No longer are Chartered Accountants the faceless, boring, backroom number-crunchers. They are now analytical thinkers who have a critical role in helping successful companies succeed. We are less likely to think of them as men in grey suits adding up columns of figures and more likely to think of them as energetic, creative men and women, participating in vibrant meetings and helping chart innovative ways forward.

Understanding brand

Before we can discuss the potential for branding the Bar, we must clear up a few misunderstandings about what branding is. ‘Brand’ has become a popular term but few organisations understand what branding really is and the tangible value it delivers.

To many, branding means the consistent application of the logo and positioning statement. However, this is not branding. A truly effective brand is the cornerstone of an organisation and is closely intertwined with its vision and strategy:

• What does it believe in?
• How should it look, sound and behave?
• How well does it connect with its stakeholders?
• Is it relevant and meaningful?

Branding represents the essence of the organisation or product. It provides an emotional connection with its target audiences. It encapsulates what we can expect when we interact with the product, service – or profession.

Importantly, it must reflect the truth or people will quickly see through it and the brand will be damaged. That truth can be a new aspirational step in the organisation’s evolution but must be reflected in the way the employees or members conduct themselves.

An integrated brand is visible in everything from the organisation’s website, to the language it uses, to the values of its representatives. It is the sum of both the tangible and intangible elements within an organisation. It is the physical, such as communication collateral, and cultural i.e. behaviour.

How is a brand developed?

Normally organisations that want to develop, enhance, realign or consolidate their brand call on the services of branding consultants who help them to get a better understanding of their strengths, values, motivations and unique potential to connect with their stakeholders. The process is an in-depth exploration of current and desired perceptions, and of revealing the genuine qualities already hidden or latent within the organisation.

Once this foundation work has identified the way forward, the insights can then be used to redesign how the organisation connects with its market. This includes reviewing the brandmark, key messages, photographic styling and design. Together, this has the potential to create a powerful and compelling proposition for the target markets.

From this point of transformed understanding, a brand continues to develop through every public interaction, both formal and informal. The manifestation of consistent brand qualities must be nurtured and the brand promise must be fulfilled with the same commitment one would give a legal agreement. It is the organisation’s contract with the public.

It goes without saying that major transgressions of a brand’s promise are very damaging and dilute the invaluable trust that clients or other stakeholders invest in the brand.

The benefits of a strong brand

The value of a strong, trusted brand is not to be underestimated. Many branding-conscious companies put multi-million dollar values on that unique combination of factors that constitutes their brand.

Some of the benefits of a strong brand for a profession include:

• Respect for their work and greater demand for their skills
• Ability to justify the costs associated with their services
• Pride in the profession and greater work satisfaction
• Recruitment of quality candidates for the next generation of professionals
• Resilience in a competitive or demanding environment.

An opportunity to brand the Bar?

All the signs point to the fact that barristers are in need of better branding for their profession.

The public generally has less understanding of a barrister’s role than barristers might like to believe. The average person lumps solicitors and barristers together as ‘lawyers’ and probably perceives them with an ambivalent mixture of respect and distrust. The glamourous face of smart lawyers in courtroom combat on TV dramas contrasts with the perception that lawyers are expensive, self-serving and the only ones who really win in any complex case.

A 2012 Roy Morgan survey of professions found only 30% of Australians think that lawyers’ honesty and ethical standards are high or very high. This was down 8% on the previous year and puts lawyers only marginally above financial planners and talk-back radio hosts.

Similarly a Readers’ Digest 2012 poll of Australia’s most trusted professions ranks lawyers and bankers in joint 29th place, marginally above journalists, sex workers and insurance salespeople.

While solicitors understand the barrister’s role (and hopefully have a higher regard for their trust and ethics), financial pressures and personal ambition may mean they underestimate the value a barrister can add and choose to argue more cases themselves. If the client doesn’t appreciate the barrister’s knowledge and role, they are unlikely to request one if a solicitor offers to do the job more cheaply for them.

This devaluing of the Bar is potentially disastrous for a highly-educated profession that attracts some of our best minds – and people who usually also have a strong passion for justice, fair-play and integrity.

If barristers can build and promote their profession’s brand, they have the opportunity to remain relevant and reclaim trust – both essential if they are to be profitably employed in a changing future.

Who is doing it well?

We already mentioned the Institute of Chartered Accountants that has found a way into our minds (and perhaps even a little into our hearts) over the past few years. In addition to advertising and promotional material that creates a new value and perspective of the profession for clients, the new brand also enhances recruitment of trainees and gives an umbrella positioning under which larger accountancy firms like Deloittes and PWC can align themselves. Accountants are collectively acknowledging the change in their market and have moved to shift perception of themselves from numbers people to design thinkers.

In the USA, the teaching profession has been rebranded – moving away from the tired images of apples and text books to teachers presented as educators of the future who ‘change the world’.

Of even greater relevance, the UK Bar Council has taken steps to position itself with a clearer brand. It presents a human and contemporary face for barristers yet still incorporates the sense of tradition and the knowledge that sets the profession apart. A tour of its website gives an immediate impression of smart people, of legal leaders with elite skills who are very much grounded in today’s world.

Defining a 21st century Australian barrister

How do barristers want to be seen in Australia in the next decade and beyond? How will they hold their ground in a changing legal environment? How do they connect with a public that is usually one step removed through the solicitors and not accessible through individual practitioner’s advertising? How do they rebuild low levels of public trust, when trust should be one of the pillars of their relationship with clients?

These are challenges that need careful consideration. Branding can offer some of the solutions if barristers are willing to collectively brand their profession and invest in developing perceptions that reflect their capabilities as knowledgeable specialists and skilled campaigners in the arena of justice.

Any investment in a branding journey should be repaid many times over in a stronger and more highly-regarded profession that connects with clients, engenders their trust and supports their best interests at times when they face the daunting complexity of the law.

Nicola Lloyd

Nicola Lloyd is a leader in brand creation, positioning and design-led thinking. Director and brand strategist at Lloyd Grey Design, Nicola (Nicki) is passionate about the positive effects a design thinking approach can have on Australian business, NFP and the regulatory landscape. She consults and mentors Australian CEO’s and leadership teams from a variety of industries, helping them to discover how they can use branding more effectively and how they can achieve brand differentiation in a crowded competitive market.

Nicki has earned a plethora of accolades for her contribution to the Australian design landscape including a raft of design awards, including receiving the Queensland Premier’s Smart State Design Fellowship in 2011. She is a Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia (Queensland Chapter), holds Certified Practising Marketer qualifications from the Australian Marketing Institute and is a longstanding member of the Australian Institute of Management.

For more information, contact Nicki Lloyd on 0412 415 514 or visit Lloyd Grey Design’s website: