When Will Law Schools Finally Teach Marketing?

Yes, law schools are now marrying the JD with technology and engineering.  I’m even honored to be part of the Advisory board for Suffolk University School of Law’s new Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation.  And law schools should be teaching technology.  I’ve even gone as far as suggesting they should also be teaching entrepreneurship. I can say, so far the idea has been pretty well received. Let’s see what happens.

But the truth is this heretical idea of teaching technology met with a lot of resistance until the pressure was so great any more resistance seemed futile. No one can deny technology is permeating every aspect of law practice.  Failure to teach it at this point is tantamount to sending one out in the ocean with a boat but no oars.  You’re not going to get anywhere you want to go and quite possibly you’ll capsize and drown.

But here’s the rub. In the real world of solo practice and BigLaw associates, how far are you going to get without understanding marketing?  I can hear all the groans now from those who already feel that legal education has sold out by offering anything remotely related to the business world.  I’m not going to offer you anymore opinion, however.  I’m going to surprise you with real life.

Do you remember my new friend Sara, the young attorney I met at the Kentucky Bar Association Annual Convention?  The one who was professionally adopted by a BigLaw attorney?  Well, there is more news to this story.  This very large, contemporary Kentucky firm reached out to interview her. And they are actually interested in possibly hiring her on a part time basis to start.  However, they made a request of her which makes them either light years ahead of the rest of the (hiring) legal world or it is more common than anyone is willing to admit.  As part of the interview process they have asked her to come up with a marketing plan for how she would bring in clients.  Let me repeat that.  They asked this new attorney barely out of law school to come up with a marketing plan to generate business for her desired practice area – equine law.  They want her to be a rainmaker and to be able to create a cogent, cohesive marketing plan she can implement to bring in business and earn her keep.

THIS is the real world.

Mmmmmm. And where was she to learn this?  She should have had at least one course in law school teaching her ethical, responsible and effective marketing of legal services. Today, whether a solo practitioner or an associate, everyone must be their own profit center.  You can’t be your own profit center if you don’t know how to generate business.  And you can’t learn how to generate business if you don’t know what marketing is or its importance to your professional success.  The days of putting our professional noses in the air and ignoring the realities are gone.

The days of law schools and the ABA pretending marketing is irrelevant are gone.  The future success of law schools turns on their ability to turn out practice ready lawyers.  Part of being practice ready is knowing how to build a practice.  You can’t successfully build a practice if you don’t know how to market that practice.

If there is a law school out there teaching marketing, please tell me.  I’d like to give them a shout out.


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6 comments on “When Will Law Schools Finally Teach Marketing?

  • It is getting better. When I was in law school in the early 80s there was a pretty harsh response concerning any talk about money or marketing of legal services. You certainly never spoke about how attorneys retain clients, make a living, or the mechanism for doing so. They referred to this self-imposed gag rule as “professionalism”. I was a little like sex in the sense it was not something that decent people (or decent lawyers) talked about in public. Now, at least, there is some discussion of it in law schools, students think about it more openly, and law school include the matters in some CLE programs.

  • From Jay Foonberg:
    I have spent 40 years trying to get basic management and trust accounts into law schools. The fundamental resistance comes from the faculties. The simple truth is that in most cases, even when the school wants to teach management ( INCLUDING MAKING ONES SELF AVAILABLE TO SERVE), which you have called marketing, there is no one qualified to teach the course. Law School professors are frequently academics who have never had a fee paying client or managed a law practice and who may never have one.

    The solution is to bring in adjuncts to teach. The adjuncts are a threat to the tenured faculty. Some law schools will only bring in adjuncts to save salaries as many adjuncts are volunteers.

    One solution is to have state and local bar groups fund the adjunct. When I lectured to law schools in Minnesota, I believe the courses were funded by the county bar association and the state bar association.
    I believe the most likely way of getting what you seek is to ask your mailing list to ask their local Bar association to meet with the local law school to bring a course or a series of lectures to the school, to be funded by the bar association if expenses are involved.
    Alternatively, the course(s) could be AT the local law school, but presented BY the Bar Association.
    Lastly, the course (s) could be presented by a local undergraduate institution with a Business Administration courses or curriculum
    It is extremely unlikely that the school will give academic or degree credit for the course, but that means that those who attend really want to learn rather than just get credits.
    I note your affiliation with Suffolk. When I lectured there, ( many moons ago), I believe I was sponsored by and funded by a New England Bar Association and a New England Law Student.
    For reasons not relevant here, I refuse to do Law School programs as I consider the effort not worth the results, but perhaps times, students and faculties have changed .

    Unless you can achieve success at Suffolk, you might consider directing your skills and time to the the students and not to the institutions.

    My thoughts. I have talked the talk and walked the walk.

    Good Luck!


  • From Judy Norberg:

    Hello Susan,

    I am an adjunct professor at Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m also a law firm consultant. We are in our third year of teaching “The Business of Lawyering” course. We meet 2 hours per week for 13 weeks. The course has been very well received. As part of our course, we have a law firm marketing professional, Terrie Wheeler, teach the class on Marketing. She has graciously offered to also teach the class on managing client relationships this semester. She teaches law firm marketing fundamentals and how to apply them. The student come out of the class with their own marketing plan.

    As a former law firm administrator, I was delighted when asked to teach the B of L course. For many years, I have felt that lawyers came out of law school with absolutely no understanding that they were going into a business when joining a law firm. A course such as ours gives them fundamental business concepts to apply to their legal careers – whether joining a firm or starting their own firm.

    Best regards,

    Judy Norberg

  • From Ed Poll:

    Our coaching reaches out far beyond marketing; marketing is only one, than an important, piece of the equation. Whether one calls it entrepreneurship, small business, or just plain business, one must understand and be skilled at the full range of activities that make up the organism that we call the enterprise (or business) of running a law practice.

  • Harvard Law School, Fordham Law School, Bucerius Law School, Emerson College, George Washington University have all been introducing marketing to lawyers. Silvia Hodges has been an adjunct professor at some of them and a guest speaker on marketing at others. Contact her here on LinkedIn Silvia Hodges Silverstein

    • Thanks, Dee. Silvia and I already have a chat planned. Excited my post has started the conversation and is helping to bring to light some of the programs already in place and growing.

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