I recently received a call from a former lawyer-coaching client of mine seeking marketing ethics advice. He’s a solo practitioner and plans to relocate to a new office building. In the new location, he will office share with two other solos. His question: What kind a signage is appropriate when three solos are sharing one office at the same address?
The two-word answer attorneys always provide to clients applies here. “It depends.” It depends on what the sign says. The signage must not confuse the public into thinking that there is actually a three-person law firm at the location, rather than three solos in one location.
One really doesn’t need a lawyer to make this determination. Just ask anyone who drives by the office. Moreover, if you look to the ethical rules for guidance, don’t expect much. There is nothing in the rules about signs. The rules simply say that lawyers must “communicate” in ways that are not “false and misleading.” The clearer the signage, the less likely any regulator would think the words to be “false and misleading.”
Confusion is common
With the ethics question addressed, I wasn’t done giving advice. I encouraged my client to take a step back before deciding which words to place on the sign. What is the purpose of the sign? The office is located in the small downtown area of a suburb. The sign must ensure that the lawyer’s clients don’t miss the office when they drive through downtown to visit the new office for the first time.
I am no more (or less) directionally challenged than most. I visit law firms all the time, and it amazes me how often it can be difficult to find the office I am looking for. Whether or not the signage implies a firm structure that does not exist is not the problem. The problem is my frequent confusion as to whether the lawyer I am looking for is actually in that building, on that floor or behind that particular door.
Basics of signage
Four aspects of signage make it easier for clients to find you. First, your website should provide the office address, along with directions to get to your office and find parking. Second, if there is signage outside of the building, make sure the address or building name is easy to read from street. If the sign lists tenants, make sure that tenant names can be easily read.
Third, when you walk into the lobby, is the directory clear and easy to find? Are you listed in the directory properly? Is the floor number obvious from the office number? If not, how does someone know which floor to go to? Finally, what kind of signage appears in the window by the office door or on the door itself? Does your name appear, or only the name of the entity that is subleasing the space?
Now, go find a teenager with a driver’s license who lives near your office. Get in the passenger seat and provide the driver with your website address. See if he or she can get all the way to your desk without any confusion or wrong turns. If not, it’s time to talk to the landlord about making some changes.