by: American Legal Magazine

When starting a law firm, you must first tackle the daunting question of what to call it.

As long as law firms have been in existence, many lawyers have preferred to simply use their names. Recently, some firms have taken a more brand-oriented approach by adopting descriptive or suggestive terms as their names. Both approaches are viable and have their respective merits and limitations.

There are various factors to consider in naming a law firm. Increasingly, new (and existing) law firms are hiring branding agencies to help them build corporate identities. They want to connect with their target clientele and create a brand that communicates their firm’s goals and values. There are various legal and practical issues to consider for both approaches. Firms must make reasoned and informed decisions that account for all pertinent factors.

1. Using Attorney Names or Surnames

Using attorney names or surnames is a time-tested approach that remains in widespread use. While it may be considered “traditional,” this is not necessarily a bad thing, even in today’s fast-paced market. They are instantly recognizable and, as a solo practitioner or small-firm partner, marketing your own name can help build your personal reputation as well.

2. Adopting a Descriptive or Suggestive Name

Studies have shown that generally speaking, descriptive law firm names are more likely to resonate with the millennial generation. This is important to note, as millennials are increasingly coming into leadership positions in corporate organizations. These names can also offer some unique branding opportunities. They can instantly inform prospective clients about the firm’s practice areas, which, in some cases, can provide a distinct advantage over the more-traditional naming options.

3. Making Sure Your Chosen Name is Available

Whatever name you choose, you need to make sure it is available before you hit the ground running. Even if the name is legally available from a trademark law perspective, there are other factors to keep in mind. If another firm is already using a similar name in your target market, it may make sense to consider other options. Ultimately, one of the most important attributes of a law firm’s name is its distinctiveness. If prospective clients are constantly confusing you with someone else, your law firm’s profitability is going to suffer.

4. Applying for Trademark Registration (If You Can)

Just like other businesses, law firms can and should obtain federal trademark registrations for their business names. The one major exception to this is that surnames generally are not eligible for trademark protection, absent proof of acquired distinctiveness or “secondary meaning.” But, if you are able to register your law firm’s name as a trademark, you can market your firm’s new name with confidence. You can also mitigate the risk of other firms using confusingly-similar names to compete for clients.