chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: February 2024

Adventures in the Law: It's the Ampersands, Stupid!

Norm Tabler

Summary

  • The trend across the profession is to abandon ampersands altogether.
  • A firm’s name can have an impact on prospective merger partners.
Adventures in the Law: It's the Ampersands, Stupid!
Yoshiyoshi Hirokawa via Getty Images

Jump to:

Back in 1992 James Carville, strategist for presidential candidate Bill Clinton, coined the phrase, It’s the economy, stupid! The phrase, which became the mantra of the campaign, made the point that the economy was the winning issue, and all other matters should be regarded as mere distractions.

That phrase came to mind last fall as I read the endless articles and columns written about the demise of a major national law firm, after a 150-year run.

Commentators speculated on why over half the firm’s lawyers had departed in the months before the final decision to close the firm. Did the firm fail because so many lawyers left, or did so many lawyers leave because the firm was failing?

Similarly, why did so many well-publicized merger discussions fail? Why did Hogan Lovells, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, McGuireWoods, and Nixon Peabody all ultimately reject the firm as a partner after apparently serious discussions?

But isn’t the answer to these questions obvious? Isn’t it right there in the firm’s name: Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. It’s the ampersands, stupid!

Yes, the ampersand: that old-fashioned character that looks like a backward cursive S and serves as shorthand for and. In an age when law firms—indeed, companies in all industries—are discarding ampersands right and left, Stroock insisted on maintaining not just one, but two of them. Nor were the unwieldy characters tucked away, out of sight. They were in the firm’s very name, at the top of every firm letter, front and center on every business card!

Is there even one other major national law firm with more than a single ampersand in its title? Indeed, the trend across the profession is to abandon ampersands altogether. Firms are shedding their ampersands as fast as they can get new stationery. Witness Hogan Lovells, McGuireWoods, Baker Botts, Squire Patton Boggs, and that ultimate exemplar of minimalism, Milbank, nee Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy.

Busy lawyers no longer have the time or patience to toss in an and (let alone two of them) every time they state their firm’s name. Nor are cost-conscious managing partners tolerant of the cost of a giant metal ampersand (let alone two of them!) on the front of every firm location. And, of course, there are the printing costs for firm stationery and business cards.

Is it any wonder that prospective suitors were put off by Stroock’s excess ampersand baggage?  Can we blame a leader of, say, McGuireWoods for balking. It was not long ago that firm shed not only its lone ampersand, but also the space on either side of it.

Or consider the firms that continue to hold on—no doubt reluctantly—to their single ampersand. Imagine the leaders of, say, Steptoe & Johnson contemplating the new name Steptoe & Johnson & Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. The mind boggles! A caller would have hung up by the time the firm operator finished uttering all four ampersands and five names. The new firm name would be so long that it would need to be continued on the back of each business card. The firm was apparently so sobered by the specter of ampersand overload that not long after rejecting Stroock, it shed its single ampersand and became simply Steptoe.

We can certainly mourn the passing of so fine a firm as Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. But can we honestly claim ignorance of the reason for its demise, or for its failure to secure a merger partner? I think not. It’s the ampersands, stupid!

    Authors