Why Don’t We Teach Marketing in Law School?

Marketing Books

A few months ago an attorney whose business development efforts were lagging said to me, “it’s not like they taught me this in law school.” While he was a good lawyer—and certainly wanted to make partner—he was reluctant to reach out to potential clients to develop business. Like many attorneys, he felt the natural tension between maintaining a profession and being a salesperson. And he had overlooked one minor fact, they did teach marketing in law school.

The first lesson is called a law school application. It’s the first thing that we put together to show the world what kind of lawyer we intend to be. Another lesson is the resume we send out to firms to land that first job, which sets out the individual’s central value proposition. This is marketing. Most lawyers’ efforts to develop a business cannot stop there.

In the ‘traditional’ practice model, a young lawyer gets into law school, becomes a summer associate at a firm in their second year, does a good job, and then works at that firm after graduating and passing the bar. There the associate puts their nose to the grindstone, until almost a decade later when they are promoted to partner. As a partner, work falls from the sky and their book of business grows. There are a select few service partners for whom this tradition of inheriting clients might still be a reality, but for the most part, the ‘traditional’ model is a thing of the past.

As lawyers, there are specific ways that we need to communicate our value proposition in order to develop business. We must keep our essential value proposition central: we are trusted and credible advisors to our clients. Any marketing plan has to be built upon this basis.

The legal market is changing. Summer associate programs have been cut back, associates often make moves once they become ‘mid-level’, lateral Of Counsel and Partner moves are also common, and it isn’t unusual for a partnership track to last 10-15 years (if making partner happens at all). At the same time, contract attorneys and outsourcing have driven down fees for many. In other words, the competitive landscape has changed. In today’s competitive environment, effective marketing is part of the practice of law.

That being said, we lawyers aren’t Proctor and Gamble or Coca Cola. Marketing oneself as lawyer is much different than packaging a product for mass consumption. Rather, attorneys act as trusted advisors who must clearly communicate their specific value proposition to potential clients. While law schools might teach us the basics of how to get selected for law school and how to get that first job, many of these marketing skills do not get honed and the lessons remain incomplete.

As lawyers, there are specific ways that we need to communicate our value proposition in order to develop business. We must keep our essential value proposition central: we are trusted and credible advisors to our clients. Any marketing plan has to be built upon this basis.

With that in mind, here are a few central tenants to marketing yourself as a lawyer:

  • Build your brand – This doesn’t mean that you need to get business cards with ten kinds of images and a matching website. It means that you have to have something that you stand for and that clients and potential clients will recognize and understand.
  • Hone your elevator pitch – Your essential value proposition—what it is that you do professionally—should be able to be communicated on the ride from the first to the fourth floor. If you cannot succinctly summarize your practice in this amount of time, you risk sounding like you do not understand your field. This does not mean that you shouldn’t also be able to provide a more in-depth description of your practice. However, like all good business people, you need to be able to summarize what it is that you offer clearly and concisely.
  • Maintain your credibility – Regardless of your area of practice, you are being hired to be a trusted advisor. Using social media should not be an excuse to ‘let your hair down’ in such a way that it damages your credibility. Where you are advising a client in your office behind closed doors or are on Twitter with thousands of followers, maintain your credibility. Understand how your message will be received.

Perhaps there are a number of other lessons that law schools should be teaching about marketing yourself as a lawyer. But much like the practice of law often requires lawyers to teach themselves the law, the same is true with marketing. Learning how to market your legal practice is central to your career and who you are as a lawyer, whether you learned it in law school or not.


Amy Wall-Monte, TLS ‘12, is business development professional at Ballard Spahr LLP. Follow her on Twitter @mrktglawyer.