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ALM, All Over Again

I used to work for a company called ALM. Sometimes when I tell people that, they answer, "Now, which one is that?" When I add, "You know, it publishes The American Lawyer and The National Law Journal and operates," I immediately see any uncertainty disappear.

There is good reason for people's confusion. The company has been through several changes of name and several changes of ownership, not necessarily corresponding to each other. This week, with a flourish of branding deja vu, it changed its name once again, back to an earlier one, and changed its ownership structure to boot.

The company was American Lawyer Media until 2005, when it changed its name to ALM. The new name was supposed to better reflect the company's diverse array of offerings that included newspapers, magazines, books, events, market research and online information and services. Then, in 2007, ALM was sold to U.K.-based Incisive Media. A year later, the ALM name was dropped in order to bring the company under the umbrella of the Incisive Media brand.

That is where the name stood until this week. Yesterday, a press release made official what had already been reported by Gawker, Above the Law and others: The company would operate under a new ownership structure and a new name. The new name would be its former name, ALM.

For anyone who has been around the legal industry for awhile, these name changes were made even more confusing by the fact that ALM, nee American Lawyer Media, was itself borne out of the earlier shotgun wedding of two legal-publishing companies that were long-time competitors. One, National Law Publishing Company, published The National Law Journal, which it launched in 1978. The other, American Lawyer Media, put out The American Lawyer, which it started in 1979.

In 1997, a company formed by investment banker Bruce Wasserstein purchased the original American Lawyer Media from its then-owner, Time Warner. Soon after, this new incarnation of American Lawyer Media purchased National Law Publishing. It then went on to buy a Pennsylvania-based company, Legal Communications Ltd.

Through various acquisitions and start-ups, the company once and once-again known as ALM branched out in various directions. Of particular pertinence here, it owns (although for awhile it spun that off into a separate company) and it owns this very blog on which I write. Its CEO, Bill Pollak -- who has been its CEO from the Wasserstein acquisition forward -- has a blog of his own, on which he shared his thoughts about the new/old name:

For those who have been with the company for awhile, this will feel a bit like "back to the future". For 10 years, from 1997 to 2007, we were an independent company owned directly by a private equity fund (Wasserstein & Co.). And here we are, once again an independent company owned directly by a private equity fund (Apax). We were successful in the last go round, and I have no doubt that we will succeed in this one as well.

Not that anyone asked my opinion, but I never much liked the name ALM. It never seemed to resonate or hold any meaning for anyone outside the company. I understand why the company -- which has expanded outside the legal arena -- would not want its name saddled with the delimiter "lawyer." But at least that earlier name, American Lawyer Media, told you what the company did and carried a certain panache.

Above the Law labeled this latest move "In(de)cisive Media." That is clever but not accurate. The company does not have an identity crisis. But it does have a branding problem. ALM is the umbrella for a number of instantly recognizable brands. But the umbrella brand is not well known. I am enormously proud to have worked for ALM and to still be able to contribute to this ALM-owned blog. I just wish that when I tell people that I'd worked for ALM, they would instantly know the name.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 9, 2009 at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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