By Ian C. Schick, PhD, JD, CEO & Co-founder of Specifio (first posted on blog.specif.io)
Should your firm’s patent work product be a part of the firm’s brand strategy? How does having a “house brand” for work product matter for law firms involved with patent procurement? These are some of the topics covered in this article but, before getting into the weeds, let’s first take a step back and discuss branding for patent law firms more generally.
What is “brand” when it comes to patent law firms?
In the broadest sense of the word, your firm’s brand could be thought of as a collective mental construct associated with your firm. It is the overall impression of the firm felt by clients, prospects, and the public at large. It includes everything that comes to mind when one thinks of your firm—both factual (e.g., firm name, logo, attorney pedigree, types of clients, etc.) and emotional (e.g., reputation, quality, value, prestige, etc.).
Why is brand consistency important for law firms?
Brand consistency refers to a pattern of expression affecting perception about your firm. The more consistency in the pattern, the more consistent the brand, which is important on a variety of fronts. For example, a cohesive law firm brand projects professionalism as compared to a brand expression that is all over the place. With professionalism comes trust and loyalty. Brand consistency encourages confidence among law firm clients that they’ll dependably receive a certain level of service when they engage your firm.
A well-defined brand image acts as a guide for marketing and branding decisions. It is crucial for shaping your firm’s brand perception. Only when all brand elements are coordinated and complementary can a firm’s brand be reliably shaped in the minds of clients and others. And it’s not just important for people outside of your firm. A consistent brand facilitates internal direction by aligning attorneys and staff with the firm’s values and positioning.
One of the most important functions of brand consistency is for differentiating your firm from other patent law firms. In competitive markets with near-identical offerings, a clear and consistent brand is what sets your firm apart while attracting new clients and helps retain existing ones.
Is patent work product an element of a law firm’s brand?
Your firm’s brand is what it projects to the world outside your firm, most crucially to the firm’s existing clients. Along with direct client communications and billing, the provisioning of work product is one of the most important interactions between a firm and its clients. Substantive work product for patent law firms primarily includes patent applications, office action responses, and briefs.
The work product itself is the culmination and results of what your firm’s brand stands for. It represents delivery on the promise of a level of service your clients pay for and expect. As such, to support brand consistency, the work product coming out of your firm should consistently reflect your firm’s brand–just like any other brand element.
Who controls brand–the patent law firm or individual patent attorneys?
Imagine if every cook at McDonald’s had their own twist on the Big Mac? Customers would never know what they were going to get unless they only went to McDonald’s when their “favorite” cook was there. But even with their favorite cook, they may never be content and may instead be constantly wondering whether they could be getting a better sandwich from a different cook at the same restaurant. While this analogy may be silly, it is exactly the type of situation many patent law firm clients find themselves.
A law firm client cannot be consistently assured they are getting the value they’re paying for if the work product is not well-defined. Because one client’s patent cases are often handled by a team of practitioners with ranging experience levels and backgrounds, the work product they receive can vary widely depending on who was responsible for preparing it. That is, unless the firm’s work product is managed to provide a consistent work product each and every time.
What about the argument that diverse work product is actually an advantage when it comes to patents because it acts as a hedge against future changes in laws affecting patent interpretation and validity? To some, this may seem more like an unprovable client pacifier than savvy business advice. While sounding logical and soothing on its face, the argument reflects a dangerous underlying position that a firm’s attorneys should not do what the firm regards as best practices and should instead “do their own thing” when it comes to work product.
Because the business value of brand consistency in work product likely outweighs any potential benefits of diverse work product, patent law firms may be wise to consider dictating firm branding as it relates to work product, instead of leaving it in the hands of individual attorneys.
How to make patent work product consistent across practitioners such that it supports brand consistency?
A variety of strategies can be deployed to promote consistent work product across a firm. First and foremost, however, it is essential to centralize the management of work product branding in a way that is accessible to individual attorneys. The firms should establish what it regards as best practices to guide practitioners as they generate work product.
Among chefs, there’s a saying that diners eat first with their eyes. The same goes for law firm clients when they’re evaluating your work product. The appearance of the documents is a reflection of your firm’s brand. A clean-looking and well-organized document will always be received better than a sloppy or inconsistent one. Templates are a powerful tool for ensuring a consistent look and feel to your firm’s work product. Often, even template formatting can be augmented and changed by an individual attorney’s copy and paste actions, resulting in an ugly work product that is scrutinized more heavily based on the appearance of the document, let alone the content. Thus, to work effectively, templates need to be maintained by a single person or group of people. The benefits of templates also extend to efficiency and quality control. For example, with centralized template management, firmwide updates to boilerplate can be effectuated instantly and consistently for all practitioners.
Standardized document parameters
Having well-defined and enforceable document parameters is another key element for generating consistent work product. Take a patent application, for example. Firm mandated document parameters may include things like the time spent taking in and studying each invention prior to drafting the corresponding application, the number of claims, the types of claims, the time spent drafting claims, the number of figures, the types of figures, the time spent preparing figures, the length of specification, the sections to be included in the specification, the structure and language used for each individual section in the specification, time spent preparing the specification, and so on.
Document parameters can extend to document-related processes as well. For example, there may be prescribed client approval checkpoints such as after the claims are prepared but before work has begun on the specification and figures.
Successful implementation of a well-defined set of document parameters will likely depend on a project intake process that includes categorizing new projects based on client, technology, and/or complexity. This is necessary to align each project with the appropriate parameters. An organized intake process may also complement the alternative fee arrangements (e.g., tiered flat fees) becoming ever more popular.
Why do law firm clients value consistent work product?
From an in-house practitioner’s perspective, consistent work product means knowing ahead of time what they’re going to get in return for each work assignment to outside counsel. That, in turn, means less review time and peace of mind knowing that they won’t be hung out to dry.
As for the patent-owner company, the value of consistent patent work product may be more along the lines of transparency into the strength of their portfolio. If a portfolio manager is confident in what is consistently portrayed in the underlying patents, then there is more clarity when it comes to opportunities for leveraging the portfolio. Indeed, work product consistency is so important for some sophisticated consumers of patent services that they prescribe their own application templates and stringent document requirements to their outside counsel.
How do patent law firms benefit from delivering consistent work product?
The benefits of consistent work product are not limited to brand perception and the value felt by firm clients. The patent law firm itself also benefits. For starters, it encourages systematization of document preparation, which in turn encourages efficiency. Despite the billable hour, law firm efficiency allows for “doing more with less” and coping with challenging economic trends in the patent market.
Consistent work product lets quality control be streamlined and tightened. For example, if the underlying document template is already firm-approved, the reviewer need only review the substantive parts of the document that differ from similar prior documents. Well-defined document parameters lend predictability to the work product itself, not to mention delivery times and the law firm’s cost associated with generating the document.
It is not controversial that brand consistency is one of the central tenants to modern businesses. Why should patent law firms differ? Law firm brand encompasses work product and, therefore, consistent work product across a firm is an essential element of successful branding. The stronger the brand, the easier it is to win new clients and keep your existing ones happy and loyal to the firm.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and (1) are not provided in the course of and do not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship, (2) are not intended as a solicitation, (3) are not intended to convey or constitute legal advice, and (4) are not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney. You should not act upon any such information without first seeking qualified professional counsel on your specific matter. The hiring of an attorney is an important decision that should not be based solely upon Web site communications or advertisements.