12 Feb
2019

Jones Day named strongest US law firm brand, as Skadden closes gap

  • Jones Day named “strongest” US law firm brand for third year in a row
  • Acritas ranking reveals the biggest firms are growing at the fastest pace
  • Firms boasting deep trademark expertise dominate the new ranking

Jones Day has been named the strongest law firm brand in the United States for the third year running. However, on this year’s Acritas US Law Firm Brand Index, Skadden is rapidly closing the gap. Positively, firms that boast deep trademark expertise dominate the rankings.

The index presents the US firms perceived by buyers of legal services as having the strongest brands. Last year Skadden scored an ‘85’ rating on the ranking (all scores are calculated on the basis that the leader, Jones Day, boasts a ‘100’ brand index score) but this year the firm has jumped significantly, returning a score of 98. The biggest riser, though, is Sullivan & Cromwell, up by 26 points and rising from 16th to joint eighth place. Meanwhile, Morgan Lewis, which ranked eighth last year, has increased by 25 points and now sits in third place.

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

Rank

Firm

Brand index

1

Jones Day

100

2

Skadden

98

3

Morgan Lewis

83

4

Kirkland & Ellis

77

5

Latham & Watkins

75

6

Baker McKenzie

64

7

Hogan Lovells

62

8

DLA Piper

58

8

Sullivan & Cromwell

58

10

Sidley

56

12

Gibson Dunn

48

12

Norton Rose Fulbright

45

=12

Wachtell Lipton

45

14

K&L Gates

42

15

Mayer Brown

38

=15

Weil

38

17

Paul, Weiss

37

18

McDermott Will & Emery

35

=18

Ropes & Gray

35

20

Covington

33

=20

Foley & Lardner

33

=20

King & Spalding

33

=20

White & Case

33

In terms of major trends on this year’s ranking, which is the most crowded ‘top 20’ to date (with 23 firms named), Acritas reports that brand growth this year is mirroring the trend reported in law firm financial growth this year – specifically, the biggest firms are growing at the fastest pace. Outside the top 20, then, a number of firms are jostling for position – nine firms rank within three points of the top 20 (Cravath, Debevoise, Dentons, Eversheds Sutherland, Greenberg Traurig, Littler Mendelson, Ogletree Deakins, Reed Smith and Vinson & Elkins).

As brands gain in strength, competition naturally intensifies but Acritas’ research suggests that – across the board – firms are missing out on a significant financial opportunity. Lizzy Duffy, vice president of Acritas US, observes: “The US is the most in-demand legal market for foreign multinationals and receives the highest value of inbound legal spend.” However, she notes that – despite the top firms having offices in an average of 14 countries, fewer than half of the strongest US brands are making the top list for international clients’ US work. She contends: “There is a significant opportunity for US firms to make greater return on their investment in building an international practice, by not only servicing their US clients’ needs overseas but by capitalizing on the strength of their US brand credibility to bring work from clients in local markets back to the firm in the US.”

Acritas’ ranking is based on data derived from 624 interviews with respondents, in $50 million+ revenue organizations across the US, who have senior responsibility for buying legal services. It also includes the views of a further 258 non-US-based senior counsel who were asked which firms they used for their US-based legal needs. From this, brand strength is measured, states Acritas, “where it matters most – in the minds and hearts of senior legal buyers”.

While not focused specifically on IP firms, it does include a number of firms that were recognised for their trademark expertise in this year’s WTR 1000.

In WTR’s research project, 18 of the firms in the Acritas top 20 are ranked in the United States (Baker McKenzie, Covington, DLA Piper, Foley & Lardner, Gibson Dunn, Jones Day, K&L Gates, King & Spalding, Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins, Mayer Brown, McDermott Will & Emery, Morgan Lewis, Norton Rose Fulbright, Ropes & Gray, Sidley, Skadden and Weil). In addition, Hogan Lovells and White & Case – have individual practitioners ranked in the US.

This is a positive finding. As we have argued previously, in the trademark space strong brand equity and recognition is a plus – not least because it demonstrates a deep understanding of the nuances of brand building and importance law. On the flip side, where firms offering brand-related counselling find themselves embroiled in disputes centred on their own identity, this can result in acute reputational challenges.

We have written at length about the importance of brands in the trademark legal services market, as well as past mishaps on the part of some. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, the need to stand out and have strong brand recognition will only increase. We have written at length of the need for corporate trademark counsel to become brand ambassadors. The same is clearly true for their law firm counterparts, who have their own brands to nurture and build.

Trevor Little

Editor

[email protected]