Rebranding three Baltic law firms – an exercise in perseverance, integration and innovation
In order to explain the rationale behind the Triniti brand, we met with three of the partners from each national office – Tõnis Tamme from Triniti Estonia, partner from Latvia and Linas Sabaliauskas from Lithuania. The following is a consolidated version of the informal, free-flowing discussion between the partners.
We are lawyers. We are in the business of providing legal expertise to make our clients’ businesses work better. Marketing, branding, and public relations are definitely not part of the classic law firm’s operations – especially as in most countries the scope for promoting a firm is severely limited by law and self-regulation. Nevertheless, after a tense 6-month period we rebranded three Baltic law firms into a regional alliance. It would be wrong to say that this process did not test our business relationships, but at the end of the day, it has integrated the three firms more successfully than any training exercise could ever have done.
The legal business is notoriously conservative – why transform into a Baltic brand?
Well, this has been a long time in the making. Some of us in the three firms started to talk about the idea of further integration, as well as rebranding back in 2004. Many of the previous examples of Baltic branding in legal affairs were unimpressive or even discouraging – we did not want to do this for marketing’s sake alone, there had to be more substance to it. This is why we arrived at this place naturally – we started out pursuing common clients and working on Baltic projects and established our individual strengths. This led us to think about the benefits of common practice groups and more strategic co-operation.
There are plenty of examples of botched Baltic legal branding efforts – whereas we have found the formula for success. It’s about establishing a partnership of similar scope, size and ambition in all three countries. It is important to be able to issue a unique sales promise that is equally deliverable whichever country’s office you work with. Through practical work, we established that we share similar standards of business, personal and professional ethics and a client-centric attitude towards customers.
Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, building a Baltic alliance has been a business driven decision. Our clients need day-to-day partners in the whole region – Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius. Often enough, large multinationals view not only the Baltic States but also Poland and even Scandinavia, as a single market and this is reflected in their corporate structure and how they do business. They find it comfortable to work with a legal partner who can guarantee consistency of service over the whole marketplace. So, all in all, if we had waited to form the alliance, our clients would have forced us together sooner or later
At the same time – we are still different. This is why it would be hard for one firm to corner the Baltic market on their own, by opening branch offices in the other states. The differences are mainly cultural (although genetically, Estonians have become very similar to Latvians and Lithuanians).
You can see the effect that our Scandinavian neighbours have had in Tallinn. In Riga there is a stronger sense of capitalism and Russian investors are now becoming more visible. In Vilnius, people are more interested in establishing both educational and economic contacts with Warsaw and Berlin.
In Lithuania, you also have to take into account that there are other notable business areas besides Vilnius.
We want to push the law firm business model further down the road of evolution.
Understanding your client’s business and making a conscientious effort to have a positive effect on their bottom line sounds elementary in many business fields. In the conservative world of law, it hasn’t been the case thus far. In traditionally hierarchical law firms, there are a few partners at the top of the pyramid, who are trying to keep the clients close to them and the many associates working on clients’ projects every day often have little actual contact and knowledge of the business. This is not a sustainable model and we’re trying to encourage a more business-oriented approach from all of our lawyers. At the same time, we believe you could encourage your team members to pursue an additional business degree.
Shouldn’t law firms innovate?
No client will argue against rewarding good work. However, the rigid hourly rates that the majority of firms are paying are quite simply unsatisfactory. You have to be ready to have a more individual approach for remuneration schemes. You have to be ready to agree to fees dependant on the particular mandate, deal or dispute. You have to be ready to budget for your projects and assist the client with hedging against risks – and more often than not, you have to be willing to incorporate a result-based component into your fee arrangement. That makes sound business sense for our clients and as a Baltic alliance, we are working at setting a regional benchmark in transparent, flexible pricing.
Another important thing to point out, is the need to maximize the value that we have in our people. With a combined team of over 40 people onboard at the time of the alliance’s creation, that’s quite a lot of talent for the Baltic markets. In order to utilize the skill sets available, we have started to work on building cross-border practice groups that push the available skill set to the project where it is needed most.
Where do we want to go with Triniti?
The sky is the limit:)
It literally is, because in our experience, several previous attempts in forming regional alliances have mostly been in name only with unequal partnerships and little or no actual integration. Our business concept is to turn this alliance into a one-stop-shop for all clients with active interests in our region, delivering this via cross-border practice groups and highly motivated lawyers, who have a disposition towards helping clients run their businesses better. If you look at our history of working solely in our own domestic markets, in many fields, we already perform alongside tier 1 firms. We now wish to raise our business law standards even higher for the Triniti alliance as a whole.