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Fordham Law Offers a Marketing Class—Will Other Schools Follow?

Vivia Chen

April 30, 2012

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?

SilviaHodges.JPG mediumThat'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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Comments

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Funny how mere mention of lawyer marketing makes the "law is a profession" types uncomfortable - like adults when children ask where babies come from - "Mommy, where does BUSINESS come from?" At least Fordham is willing to tackle this issue head-on.

I have taught a class on the Business of the Practice of Law for the last nine years are Golden Gate University Law School in San Francisco. The students work in teams to create a business plan, including a detailed marketing plan. Since few GGU graduates go to Big Law, the students tell me this is the best course they have had and gives them a realistic view of what they must deal with if they hang up their own shingle. Needless to say, there is also a heavy emphasis on ethics.

I teach rainmaking to lawyers and think this is a brilliant idea. It is one class. Students will still learn about the law. I usually work with confident or at least comfortable lawyers, but I also sometimes speak with fearful, even terrified ones.

As Anatole France said, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." When we teach the law, it is only kind to help the people we teach not need to sleep under bridges.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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