How early in the game should you start marketing and branding yourself as a lawyer? The moment you make partner? When you're a midlevel associate? Or the first day you start practice?
Well, how about when you're still in law school and before you even have a clue what lawyers really do?
That's what some students at Fordham Law School are doing now. Led by professor Silvia Hodges (on right), who holds a Ph.d. in law firm marketing, the class is unapologetically practical. Students are urged to treat every class as a business meeting and are required to develop their own business plan, blog regularly on a practice area, and do practice pitches to hypothetical clients. And instead of listening to lectures by legal scholars, they hear directly from law firm marketing directors and consultants.
The class makes no bones that lawyering is now all about business these days. Having a book of business is a prophylactic that will "protect partners from being deequitized, or worse, squeezed out during the recession," says Hodges.
Talking with the students in the class, I didn't get a sense they were thinking that far into the future. Rather, their reasons for taking the class seem much more immediate, rooted in today's harsh economy. Some acknowledged that it's been tough to get a job for students at this twenty-ninth ranked law school. (In the student presentations I saw, there was a lot of wistful talk about how to network and market yourself should you come face to face with "the managing partner of your dream firm.") For some, there's the real possibility that they will have to hang up their own shingle or join a very small firm, where they will have to drum up clients very quickly.
"Marketing is really important to your career," says second-year student Jordan Franklin. "It shouldn't be a dirty word." Though Franklin has lined up a summer associate position in Florida, he says he eventually will want to start his own firm. Law schools, including Fordham, he says, tend to assume that everyone wants to work for Big Law. "No one says you should start your own firm," says Franklin.
The students seem to love the fact that the class is steeped in reality, but I wondered whether other law schools—especially the top ones—are ready for a course that blatantly acknowledges that salesmanship is critical to success in law.
Hodges admits that teaching anything practical in a law school meets resistance, though she says she had no problem convincing Fordham. "Many schools hesitate offering too [many practical courses], perhaps fearing that might have too much of a vocational touch."
Ah, yes, the myth that people don't attend law school for jobs—which also feeds into the myth that law is not a business.
Gee, didn't we lose our innocence on that score long ago? Didn't anyone tell the law schools?
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