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Behind MoFo’s ‘Subversive’ Name

April 8, 2016, 10:24 PM

Does the phrase “Any press is good press” apply to law firm names?

Morrison & Foerster has embraced the nickname MoFo since the 1970’s, when a group of rebellious young turks wanted to turn the firm’s “street name” into its actual name — or at least put it on the San Francisco cable address.

Today, practically every lawyer in Big Law knows the firm — without question —as MoFo, and its chair emeritus Keith Wetmore believes that it’s come to represent the firm’s identity.

“There is something seductively subversive about having a name that has a secondary street meaning, which, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing to think of your lawyers as being,” said Wetmore.

“I think it evidences that we are able to not take ourselves too seriously, while taking our work very, very seriously — that we are skilled and confident, and not stuffy.”

Wetmore said the firm was named MoFo when Marshall Small, who is currently senior counsel, was chair of the firm. He said that Small relented to the young turks and pointed to the Anglo-Norman maxim as justification:Honi soit qui mal y pense, which means “Shame on whoever may think badly of it.”

Over the years, Wetmore said that the firm’s lawyers and marketing department wrestled with how it should brand itself as MoFo internally, externally, and to who. They listened to concerns that it could suggest an incompetency or unprofessional demeanor.

“Does it evidence a lack of seriousness, or does it evidence a Maverick bravery?” was the internal question the firm grappled with, Wetmore said.

In the end, Wetmore said the firm felt that it was best to own the nickname by which those in the legal and business communities knew it. In recent years, he said that the firm has been particularly aggressive in using the name in recruiting efforts at law schools.

“Law students love it, which led to our recruiting campaign of “Finding your MoFo Mojo.”

Wetmore holds that it’s the best American law firm name because of its memorability. As proof, he pointed to two instances — in the late 1990’s and then again in 2010 — when the former talk show host Jay Leno used the name as material for his comedy show .

“Nobody forgets it,” said Wetmore. “There is no other firm whose name is quite as sticky.”

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