My hypotheses are:
- It’s rare to see a single monolithic brand offering high-end and economical products or services under one name. Even where it’s clear that there’s common parentage, brand names are distinct, as are distribution channels (read: stores or offices). “Giorgio Armani,” “Armani Exchange,” and “Mani” are all clearly part of one corporate parent, but it’s a parent that works very hard to keep the lineages separate. Mixing them up will kill you. If you doubt me, just ask those with long memories at General Motors. In the 1970’s it came out that the carefully manicured brand distinctions between Cheverolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac were more imaginary than real. An impressive array of not just parts but entire drivetrains, chassis, and fundamental platforms were shared indiscriminately. Oldsmobile “Rocket V-8’s” in Chevy’s? You betcha. If you’re tempted into operational efficiencies, don’t even think about it.
- If you want it to borrow from the cachet of the established parent by sharing the name, you may be able to get away with it (the jury is still out on Hyundai/Genesis, and I would argue that the Armani stable is the exception), but then again staking our entirely new mental territory in the clients’ minds is probably better. “Lexus” not “Toyota,” “Smart” not “Daimler,” and for that matter “Scion” not “Toyota.”
- Safeguarding the integrity of the “offshoot” brand is paramount. Do not pollute its operations, marketing, finances, or talent-acquisition processes with “learning” from the parent.
- Keep it geographically separate (LaJolla, not Battle Creek).
- Give it its own stores/offices.
Fundamentally, these add up to one imperative: Don’t meddle!
So what are the prospects for this kind of dual-track offering in Law Land?
Highly improbable, bordering on “not going to succeed if you try it,” I would argue.
For one simple reason which has far more to do with culture, psychology, and training than it has to do with marketing, finance, or operations: Lawyers cannot control themselves when it comes to meddling. They simply won’t be able to restrain themselves and keep their hands and their opinions away from the offshoot. (If the offshoot is looking for funding from the parent, which seems far more likely than not, the meddlers will have a ready-made rationale: “It’s my money.”)
I’m not fond of this behavioral dynamic and I disapprove of it mightily. After all, it boils down to the unattractive attitude that lawyers can do anyone else’s job but no one can else could possibly do the lawyer’s job.
But is this attitude real? With resignation, I admit that it is.
So can the “offshoot” be pulled off? I fervently hope so. Allen & Overy/Peerpoint may be the first large-scale effort in this direction, and I am following its progress avidly and frankly rooting for its success. But even if it succeeds, would I wager on others? Only with someone else’s money.