Fordham Law School to offer Law Firm Marketing in JD Program

Silvia HodgesWe have all been:

  • Waiting for the other shoe to drop
  • Waiting for Hell to freeze over
  • Waiting for a law school to teach marketing to students as for-credit course.

The long wait is finally over. Fordham University School of Law in New York will begin offering a course on “Law Firm Marketing” that counts as 2 credits towards a law degree. Taught by academic pioneer Dr. Silvia Hodges, the elective course is designed to bring reality into the classroom starting in Spring 2011.

No marketing course is offered in any JD program at any other law school.

Hodges has already taught a similar master’s degree level, for-credit course on professional services/law firm marketing at Emerson College in Boston since May 2008. She also teaches the course “Law firm as a business” at Fordham Law School. In spring 2010, Hodges has moved to New York, and will continue to teach the popular courses at both Emerson as well as Fordham Law School as an adjunct professor.

"We are painfully familiar with client complaints that large law firms charge too much for new associates who know too little about the practice of law to be worth it," said Hodges. "The clients may have a broader complaint. For all their glittering academic records, these young lawyers not only don't know much about the realities of the practice, they know even less about the business world. Associate Dean Sheila Foster really understands what’s going on in the market place. Marketing is a very good thing for law students to study,” Hodges said.

A LexisNexis survey reveals that law school students are feeling the impact of the current turmoil within the legal industry. More than half of law school students surveyed (54%) say that the current state of the legal industry has made them consider career alternatives, while almost two-thirds (65%) believe law school does not teach the practical business skills needed to practice law.

“Especially in this competitive world they need to have the tools and be prepared for what they’re up against. Law graduates must understand their clients and how they choose lawyers. And they need to see the business side to hit the ground running,” Hodges said.

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Elizabeth Munnell - April 28, 2010 1:46 PM

It's about time. Bless the forward thinking people at Fordham. As a BigLaw partner (24 years), career rainmaker and committed associate mentor I have long believed that law firms should acknowledge, and aggressively address, the deterioration of the apprenticeship associate training model. For structural and cultural reasons, however, only a handful of firms are inclined to do so. Meanwhile, as I know you agree, most law school graduates enter the law firm workforce without adequate networking, communication and other practical skills, much less serviceable business sense.

In addition to fulfilling a core pedagogical obligation, business development and other practical skills training is an appealing and low-cost way to respond to pressures on tuition, enrollment and reputation borne of disappointing hiring results. Needless to say, the law school that launches graduates on a faster track to productivity can distinguish itself from the competition. One need only review the recently issued US News law school rankings to identify a number of institutions whose sliding reputations alone call for innovative curriculum change.

I'm hopeful that the top ranked law schools will follow Fordham's lead and expand the curriculum to include this type of course (team taught by B-school professors and seasoned lawyers just like me). For now, it makes sense to get out in front of the trend, if only on a limited basis, with single or multi-session training programs designed for students embarking on summer or "permanent" jobs at law firms.

As both a career rainmaker and mentor/coach I take an aggressively integrated approach, highlighting the practical skills that must first be demonstrated within the firm by every associate, then deployed in the broader market of prospects and clients (e.g. networking, self-promotion, project management and communication skills, service mind-set, work ethic and so on). In a hands-on program, the most effective, individualized coaching would be offered to those students able to identify either their employer or, absent that, a preferred city or market. Skills learned or enhanced through coaching would be equally useful in any job search.

Betsy Munnell

Elizabeth Munnell & Associates
Business Development Training for Lawyers and Law Students
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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