Why law schools should train business developers

Law schools and new graduates facing challenges

Law students face increasingly limited employment opportunities within the legal services sector and mounting student debt, while faculties face whether to implement practical training courses in law school in an effort to bolster relevance in a changing legal landscape, as the New York Times reported in an article last month.  And law graduates from 2011 have about a 50% chance of securing legal employment within 9 months of graduation, as Paul Campost recently reported in Business Insider.


Calls for practical training

Calls for practical training in law school relevant to the practice of law versus the theory of law are numerous.  Among them is Jon M. Garon, Director of Law & Informatics Institute and Professor of Law at Northern Kentucky University, who argued recently in the ABA Journal that: “Law schools rarely address commoditization or marketing. They are only beginning to recognize the need to prepare students for the discipline required to operate successfully in a highly competitive, performance-based market economy.”

And Cole Silver, lawyer and marketing strategist recently outlined in HG Experts that: “The two most important skills needed to succeed in today’s legal market is “marketing” and “building relationships..neither of which are taught in law school.”

Institutionalize law firm business development, some argue

Jayne Navarre, Law firm marketing strategist, recently made the case for institutionalizing sales in law firms, stating: “Layoffs may be de rigueur for law firms today, but cost trimming isn’t enough. Blaming the economy isn’t effective, either. Neglect the real issue — reinventing or recharging your sales force — and you may find the next headline about your law firm in the obituary.”

Peter C. Ross, Senior Consultant, William Thyme & Prophet, management consultancy to professional services firms, echoed that sentiment with a slightly different theme when he argued in the Australian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) Blog: “Let the professional managers manage and the lawyers practice law.”

A new law school curriculum: The hybrid lawyer/business developer

The legal profession today faces an existential crisis requiring informed action.  The circumstances which many law school graduates find themselves in is a result of that crisis.  How the legal profession got here – is less relevant to how it gets out of the crisis.  And to get out of the crisis – law firms need to become more commercially astute not only about how they provide legal services, but also about how they generate new revenue.  Indeed, without revenue – discussion of how to create efficiencies in the delivery of services are irrelevant.  As well, law schools need to change with the times and offer a curriculum reflective of what the market needs while maintaining a commitment to academic rigor.

Law schools, therefore, should adopt a teaching programme aimed at creating a new generation of hybrid lawyers/business developers.  The combination of these abilities would provide the legal profession with a highly sophisticated, institutional sales force capable of generating new revenue at the highest levels of corporations, governments and other prospective clients – throughout the world.   In fact, this is a discipline sophisticated enough to warrant formal acknowledgement and study both within the legal academy and within the practicing profession.

Importantly, this discipline might generate support and assuage concerns among some law school academicians concerned about turning law schools into trade schools.  As well, there is precedent for this sort of academic program in law schools.  Harvard University, for example, offers a joint degree in both law and public policy (JD/MPP).  Indeed, Harvard Law School recently outlined a “bridge seminar for the Harvard joint degree program in law and government—(which) aims to teach students to give advice on issues that have both legal and policy dimensions but also to understand the stakes for the institutions involved.”  At Fordham Law School, Dr. Silvia Hodges already teaches a course on legal marketing.  Therefore, why not take it much further and train new hybrid practitioners who work as specialists in the genuine fusion of a lawyer and business developer?

A law school curriculum proposing to train hybrid lawyers/business developers would include, but not be limited to, the following core skills:

The traditional curriculum:

  • A comprehensive knowledge of law gained from studying the core curriculum currently offered in law schools.

Complimented by a legal business development curriculum, including:

  • How to comprehensively understand the domestic and global commercial context in which law firms operate.
  • How to identify saleable services from within often complex legal practice areas.
  • How to carefully match and integrate closely – law firm services – with the commercial needs of prospective clients.
  • How to identify where law firms will secure new revenue from advancing the commercial objectives of clients.
  • How to perform sophisticated market research sufficient to generate a substantial pipeline of new clients in both domestic and international markets.
  • How to most effectively initiate, manage and drive forward the entire business development process from the identification of ideal potential new clients to securing new client engagements.
  • How to create legal transactions around those ideal commercial opportunities you’ve already identified while working in concert with subject matter practitioners and prospective clients.
  • How to write semi-scholarly content on topics of highly specific relevance to ideal potential clients, for strategic dissemination on and off digital platforms.
  • Comprehensive selling skills training, arming new graduates with an ability to successfully identify and persuasively communicate vital messages to audiences ranging from CEO’s of global corporations to the heads of foreign sovereign governments.

Why institutionalization of the Lawyer/Business Developer would help everyone

  • Law schools would win by offering highly relevant training for a new generation of sophisticated hybrid lawyer/business developers within a new legal services landscape, while continuing to remain relevant and solvent.
  • Law students would win as they would have greater career options relevant to the changing legal profession — as well as more return on investment for the substantial sums they pay to attend law school.
  • Law firms would win as they would find themselves with the opportunity to employ those trained specifically in the most sophisticated methods of business development that would institutionalize practices devoted to generating revenue – the area where law firms most need reform.

Challenges to adoption

While support for marketing and business development is widespread within the profession, there remain profound challenges to the concept.  Indeed, the challenge to more market-oriented practices within the profession come not only from the academy, but perhaps more notably, the practicing profession itself.

Resistance within law firms

In a January blogpost entitled: The Arrogance of Lawyers.  Will It Be Their Undoing?, Greg Lambert, Director of Library & Research Services at Jackson Walker LLP cited commentary from a reader of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog highlighting the institutional resistance marketing professionals face within law firms:  “Too many marketing professionals at firms are treated as glorified secretaries. They may have deep experience and truly valuable marketing skills and experience. However, most of what they do is dictated to them by the lawyers in a firm. Mind you, these are lawyers with no training or background in marketing. They make marketing decisions based on what they want to hear, not on real market information about what a customer would want to hear.”

Resistance within law schools

Dru Stevenson, Hutchins Research Professor, South Texas College of Law, outlined last year one academicians opposition to practical training in law school when he wrote on Circuit Splits Blog:  “The most troubling aspect of turning the focus of law schools completely toward “skills” is that this is the seed of our institutions’ destruction…the push to turn law schools into trade schools is not about specialization; on the contrary, it’s a get-on-the-bandwagon thing.”

Unemployment, law firm collapses, highlight growing need

As law firms continue to face challenges to their ability to sustain themselves as profitable enterprises — law schools naturally also face a decline in applications and calls for market-based curriculum reform.  One need only read about the heartbreaking real-life challenges recent law graduates are facing to recognize that change — not only within the academy — but also within the practicing profession – is far overdue.

John Grimley helps law firms, law firm practice groups, individual lawyers, financial services and governmental relations professionals develop and implement custom business development initiatives. To enquire about his services, contact him at +1.213.814.2855 or at jg@jgrimley.com.

One thought on “Why law schools should train business developers

  1. This reminds us of the conundrum pharmacists often found themselves in – especially – during the days of the mom and pop “drugstore”; just before the big chains like Walgreens and CVS put so many local pharmacies out of business.

    The Pharmacist was basically a drug chemist or someone with a strong understanding of pharmaceuticals studied, intensely, at a four year college or University.

    Once in the business, they also realized that they also needed to be retailers peddling greeting cards, fragrances, cigarettes and gift items. Many were/are not well prepared or suited for this. Yet, it could easily dictate their ultimate success or failure owning a pharmacy.

    Marc LeVine
    The Midmarket Institute

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