One a hard-boiled negotiator at ease with complicated legalese, and the other a French aesthete. What can possibly draw together two such completely bipolar individuals? But Rabindra Jhunjhunwala and Clement Derock are both deeply aware of the equity of goodwill that comes with one’s heritage, legacy and roots.
So when Clement Derock, co-founder and creative director of design hotshop Seenk — who was incidentally first introduced to the firm as one of its many clients — told Jhunjhunwala, a partner at Khaitan & Co — one of India’s oldest full service law firms — that, “you have so much history as a top class law firm but your old fashioned branding design and logo hasn’t got any personality” the message drove home.
KCo’s centenary year was just a year-and-a-half away. Naturally a fresh, new rebranded look would get the perfect launch pad and the Rs 1-2 crore cost didn’t matter either.
Seenk – whose client list includes trophy French brands BNP Paribas, Capgemini, Roland Garros, Lacoste and Dassault – had a first brush with KCo’s visual identity through its digital signature and had thought “the only option would be to go in for an evolution.” But the two year association turned out to be quite an eye opener.
Hundred years of working with A-listers — both corporate and constitutional — had ensured that the credentials of a strong Khaitan moniker and its reputation as a blue chip service provider was already deep rooted. But the mandate now was to position the firm as the benchmark brand in the legal fraternity. And the best way to convey the essence of the firm had to be through a distinguishing visual image and not words — the obvious cookie cutter in a crowded and competitive marketplace.
“As we increasingly compete with global law firms, it is critical to have a strong visual identity which is recognised and appreciated globally. A brand identity needs to resonate with the clients and importantly, also within the firm,” says Haigreve Khaitan, the senior partner of the firm.
Branding or rebranding a law firm is not as easy as it may seem to be. Just like France, law firms cannot advertise in India. So it is a business to business communication. The audiences too are evolving in a universe of corporate and robust brands and have global exposure. Moreover, the world is closing in. So are global trends and practices. So law firms in India also need to open up. And talk.
Call it subtle marketing, but just like investment bankers, they are also realising the need to focus on league tables, publicise their involvement in headline deals. “Today, you may be a great lawyer, but people need to know that,” admits Jhunjhunwala.
The final outcome is therefore a perfect balancing act — the new logotype is the emblem which represents the brand. “We have taken the route based on continuity, keeping the logo more conservative with the shape but making it more contemporary and stylised. It reflects the values of the firm,” says Jhunjhunwala.
Branding has always been a strategic tool for the firm. And there has always been a specific rationale. “Twenty years ago, when we were a 30-40-lawyer firm, we had to differentiate and distinguish ourselves from the other firms who had branched out but were still using the Khaitan family name, especially in markets like Delhi,” says Jhunjhunwala. He has personally been involved in most of the previous initiatives which had earlier seen the then black and white logo getting added to the email signature.
Then when KCo moved to Mumbai from the base in Kolkata in 2001, it all got redesigned. “For the first time we started focusing on branding and brought colour into the logo, and the KCo stationary. Blue looked good to us and we used it consistently,” he further elaborates.
But this time around, there was a thought within to try something truly daring. From three partners in 1911, all of whom were from the same Khaitan family, the firm today has 300 fee earners, including 57 partners across its four offices. Its area of expertise is also equally expansive to cater to the different needs of today’s clients.
So the question was should the firm still bear the family name or instead opt for something more generic just to emphasise on the professionalism? After reaching out to clients and well wishers, the idea was summarily dropped.
“We are one of the earliest firms in India to have placed the goodwill of the firm name with the firm itself rather than the Khaitan family. So, while the family name is definitely an asset for the firm, it serves as an umbrella,” clarifies Khaitan.
For both Haigreve Khaitan and Rabindra Jhunjhunwala — third and second generation with the firm – it’s been a proactive endeavour to broadbase the talent pool and inculcate best practices.
“We have borrowed, adopted, imbibed new ideas and still we are evolving,” that’s their philosophy.
It gets reflected in HR practices. If in the past, the senior most were responsible for taking strategic decisions, there is now an executive committee of elected partners, chosen from within via a formal election process. The members of this apex body will also be rotated every two to three years.
Just like the interlacing blue Mobius band of the KCo logo, continuity is the basis of the firm’s evolution.
With inputs from Shine Jacob in Kolkata