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Why I Still Say Nein to Ninety-Nine Designs and Other Contest Sites

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Over the years, I haven’t had much luck with branding.  Partly, it’s just the  Gemini thing; I split my time between my law practice and my practice blog, MyShingle – and even those broad categories are subdivided into various niches.  The few times I’ve embarked on attempts to create a logo, I simply settled for something OK after the back-and-forth and ticking time clock ran my bill higher and higher.

So you’d think crowdsourced design sites like 99Designs — where I could hold a contest with a $300 prize and attract dozens of entries with different concepts — would be ideal.  But notwithstanding the potential savings, I simply can’t bring to use a site that forces others to work on spec when I wouldn’t do it myself.

Back in 2010, I asked Would you work on spec?  Why should your logo designer?   Few lawyers paid any attention – and in fact, some of the others in the “start a firm”/practice management blogging genre ( here or here) continue to endorse speculative logo design.

Nevertheless, my post drew significant traction in the design community.  And now, via my friend Matt Homann, I came across this video that makes the point even more powerfully.  Don’t miss the part towards the end, either, when the video narrator asks whether a designer can ask several lawyers to work for free and just choose the product he likes the best.

I realize that for many new solos, sites like 99designs present an affordable option.  But remember – a logo isn’t exactly a necessity for starting a practice.  Moreover, even if you’re dead set on a logo, 99designs isn’t the only game in town. You can find reasonably priced designers on Etsy and of course, or (which aren’t necessarily financially great for designers but at least they don’t have to work free).  Some lawyers have also developed basic logos and business card designs on their own, as evidenced at the online Lawyer Business Card Fishbowl I created.

But my question from two years ago still holds.  Would you work for free on a regular basis, particularly to enrich others?  If you wouldn’t do it, how can you justify asking others — including designers — to do the same?

  • Tamar Cerafici

    I totally agree. I can take a sunday afternoon and google my way to a logo pretty easily. On the other hand, I live near Pittsburgh, where there’s a thriving arts community. My stepdaughter is a photographer of epic talent. University business and marketing programs are just aching for opportunities to help solve real world needs. Designing a logo shouldn’t be a priority for any lawyer until it becomes a priority (branding your own firm, building a program that is you very own IP are a few good reasons). 

    When that happens, spread the good karma and work with a student who needs the experience. Do it over a meal, so they can at least eat that day. Stay local so you have some control.

    One must always remember the cardinal rule of marketing. People don’t care how cool your logo is. They don’t care how cool you are. They want you to fix their problem. All of the permutations of a scale image are not going to do that.

  • The argument that you shouldn’t solicit work on spec because you wouldn’t work on spec does not withstand scrutiny. You probably wouldn’t work as a waitress for minimum wage either, yet I suspect you eat at restaurants that employ staff at minimum wage.

    I am a new lawyer and I am not billing on most of my files, because I have neither the experience nor the reputation to do attract the work I want. Over time this will change. I would hate to think that there are clients out there who aren’t contacting me because “they wouldn’t work for free”.

    But a thought-provoking post nevertheless. 

  • I can’t think any serious client would hire a lawyer based on her logo.

  • myshingle

    I agree. I didn’t want this post to come across as endorsing a need for a logo. I agree that logo branding doesn’t make sense for most law practices

  • Gene

    99designs is a joke. Most so called designers are not designers at all. Heck, I’ve designed logos in the past and I can’t even call myself a logo designer. Logo design is an art form, you can’t just whip up some colors and fancy glowing stuff and call it a logo. There are rules. Sites like 99designs simply outsource the work to amateur photoshop enthusiasts who want to believe they are logo designers – but they’re not. People who want a real logo should pay for one, or at least exchange it for a favor of some sort. 

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