Key Olfactory Considerations for Your Practice

There are a lot of things to consider when setting up and running your law office. But one oft-overlooked consideration is the olfactory brand you want to impress upon your clients. In other words, how do you make your office emanate confidence and competence? We’ve been advising attorneys on this issue for years. Yet, despite our advice, it’s still an issue that few attorneys understand, let alone address. We hope to change that with our few simple and easy-to-remember tips and considerations.

Keep It Simple

Don’t overthink your olfactory brand. While you may be tempted to grab a complex fruitchouli or create a custom scent with wisps of white pepper, suede, and aged ambergris, clients respond best to basic aromas. If you see clients squinting and looking at you with a “WTF” look, you’ve probably gone overboard. Channel it back a bit and add more scents only after you’ve done some basic focus group research. On the other hand, don’t just purchase an off-the-shelf air freshening product and expect it to build your brand. So what if your friend’s firm thinks Glade Chocolate Cherry Sparkle emanates competence? It doesn’t.

Know Your Client Base

While it seems intuitive to most, make sure you understand that the smell you use to help brand your office is one that is uniformly acceptable to all of your clients, or at least the vast majority of them. Don’t choose a fresh-grilled hamburger scent if your client base includes the Animal Defense League. And if you are looking to expand your client base, don’t ratchet up the smell factor to accommodate fifteen different cultures. Instead, ratchet it down to something that resonates across all cultures, such as the smell of clean but unused diapers.

Don’t Be Cute

Sure, it’s easy to purchase a Cinnabon smell canister at Walgreen’s and make your office smell like the mall. But that’s a bit too cutesy for most of your clients. It’s also shortsighted and dumb. Instead of keeping clients engaged with you in the office, they will want to leave right away to find a nine-pack of minibons. Avoid the temptation to go cute with what’s known in the industry as the “Fogo de Chão” smell. It just backfires in the end.

Avoid Classic Mistakes

Most law offices make several classic olfactory mistakes, usually not intentionally but typically because they do not give aromatic goals sufficient priority. Microwave buttered popcorn is one of the worst and offensive odors in an office setting– don’t let it happen to you. Ban microwave popcorn in the office. If this is difficult to do, provide your employees with an air popper and ask them to consume the popcorn outdoors, typically near the designated smoking section. A cheap air popper is an inexpensive solution that keeps staff morale high. Same goes for banning other office foods, such as cheap hot dogs, dried fish curry, tuna salad, and cabbage rolls– they are non-starters and should be considered contraband. At the same time, be proactive about unavoidable smells that could interfere with your olfactory brand. For example, keep a well-supplied bowl of Odor Eaters in the office lobby for you and your staff to use.

Finally, and we are compelled to bring this up, ask most of the male senior partners in the office (or do this yourself if you fit that bill) to use a bathroom on a higher floor in the building. If that’s not possible, determine if there is a gas station nearby that older male attorneys and staff can use for their morning constitutions, as these typical morning emanations have been proven to deter business and to decrease staff morale. As a compromise, change your law firm business hours to begin later in the morning, or spring for complimentary morning newspaper subscriptions as a way to provide continued good rapport with those who are slightly inconvenienced by your olfactory brand priorities.

With a small amount of planning, good common sense, and a research-based approach, you can successfully build your law firm’s olfactory brand. But in an increasingly competitive legal market, don’t ignore this important consideration. Ignoring your law firm’s olfactory brand provides one more reason for potential clients to go elsewhere, likely to a law firm or practice that has its perfumatory priorities in the right place. In a day and age when smell matters, make it matter most to your bottom line.


[box type=”note”]Recommended Olfactory Branding. While not definitive, our work with clients in the following practice areas has shown that certain scents have worked well to contribute to brand-building awareness. Let us know your olfactory strategy so we can add to this list.[/box]

  • Animal Law: Beach Sand
  • Civil Litigation: Coffee, Club Soda, Used Books
  • Criminal Defense (Over 40): Bryl Cream, Spilled Wine, Tater Tots
  • Criminal Defense (Under 40): Bryl Cream and Scotch
  • Admiralty: Sea Salt Caramels
  • Consumer Law: Black Pepper, Blood


  1. Lincoln Newberry says

    Not only did our corporate profits increase 8.3% in the 3rd quarter due to strategic placement of wombat musk oil, our employees who had grown somewhat lackadaisical became more efficient (and we have the metrics to prove it). Thanks again for a wonderful topic, Big Legal Brain!

  2. Knockwurst, Schwartzelbrot and Vane says

    Very helpful article. A few more suggestions

    Family law: Alphagetti-Os
    Divorce law: Bitter chocolate, jockstrap, wine cooler
    Environmental law: Burning plastic overlaid with Febreze(TM) “Meadows&Rain” room spray