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No More Pettifoggers – Real Life Marketing Lessons from Cornell Law School

by Carolyn Elefant on June 7, 2008 · 6 comments

in Marketing Lessons, MyShingle Solo, New Marketing Ideas

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I apologize for the down time over the past few days – my home office lost power for a couple of days and I needed to prioritize work related matters with the limited Internet access and power that that I was able to find offsite.  Right now, I’m up in Ithaca, New York at my 20th Law School Reunion.   I’ve always wondered what my own law school experience would have been like had blogging been available.  So I’ve broken awy from the reunion activities to put up a post about another real life marketing lesson that I’ve learned here at Cornell, the unlikeliest place to find this kind of lesson.

Like most other law schools, Cornell has stepped up its marketing efforts, branding itself with the tag line “lawyers in the best sense.”  The quote comes from Andrew Dickson White, one of the school’s founders, who envisioned the law school as a place to educate  “not swarms of hastily prepared pettifoggers but a fair number of well-trained, large-minded, morally-based lawyers in the best sense…” Indeed, a bunch of alumni are even circulating buttons with a picture of a pettifogger and a big red X through it.

My initial reaction was that this slogan is just so typically, quintessentially Cornell – removed from present times, stuck in the past and such.   At a time when lawyers out here in the blogosphere, on the cutting edge of the law, are talking about social networking and building relationships and 21st century practices, here’s my alma mater, concerned about stamping out pettifoggers.  And then I realized that’s why the brand works.  Because for better or worse, the tag line is genuine representation of Cornell Law School’s authentic self.  With it’s tag line, borrowed from its past, Cornell isn’t trying to be anything other than it is:  a solid, monastic place somewhat isolated from the real world where students can focus on their training.  Some may want this type of education, and others might not, but those who come to Cornell will get what’s been put out there.  No false advertising here.

And that’s the real life marketing lesson.  Some lawyers aren’t comfortable labeling themselves as twenty first century lawyers or thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs or business people rather than professionals first.  Some prefer to hold themselves out as dedicated or tenacious, as principled or experienced.   Needless to say, you still must find ways to convey those ideals uniquely and market them,  which is what Cornell has done with its tag line.  But you don’t have to distance yourself from your comfort zone, even it’s distinctly quaint or old fashioned,  to run with trends that don’t feel right for you.

  • http://www.myrlandmarketing.com Nancy Myrland

    Great post and thoughts Carolyn!
    Individuals and firms that take the time to articulate what is special about them, what makes them different, what others aren’t saying, or aren’t saying adequately, will be able to communicate a true “brand” that will be believable.
    Clients expect brilliant lawyers who are responsive, intelligent, know their area of need, etc. What will help you stand apart from the rest is the answer to “Well,so what? What else? What can you really do for me? Why are you different than all the other lawyers (or law schools in your example)? I really want to know, and I’m actually listening if you’ll just help me understand.” If you truly can’t identify those answers because you are too close to yourself, then ask your clients to help you answer those questions about you.
    It’s not always an easy process, but the best part about it is that it already lies within you. Like Cornell, you don’t have to invent it, or make it up! Sure, reinvent yourself if you think that is being responsive to your client needs, and when you are certain that what you stand for, or what you are doing, isn’t working. But don’t communicate that as your brand until it’s true, or close to being true, or there will be a disconnect in the minds of your client.
    Carolyn, again, great thoughts.
    Nancy

  • http://www.myrlandmarketing.com Nancy Myrland

    Great post and thoughts Carolyn!
    Individuals and firms that take the time to articulate what is special about them, what makes them different, what others aren’t saying, or aren’t saying adequately, will be able to communicate a true “brand” that will be believable.
    Clients expect brilliant lawyers who are responsive, intelligent, know their area of need, etc. What will help you stand apart from the rest is the answer to “Well,so what? What else? What can you really do for me? Why are you different than all the other lawyers (or law schools in your example)? I really want to know, and I’m actually listening if you’ll just help me understand.” If you truly can’t identify those answers because you are too close to yourself, then ask your clients to help you answer those questions about you.
    It’s not always an easy process, but the best part about it is that it already lies within you. Like Cornell, you don’t have to invent it, or make it up! Sure, reinvent yourself if you think that is being responsive to your client needs, and when you are certain that what you stand for, or what you are doing, isn’t working. But don’t communicate that as your brand until it’s true, or close to being true, or there will be a disconnect in the minds of your client.
    Carolyn, again, great thoughts.
    Nancy

  • http://blog.simplejustice.us/2008/06/09/ode-to-cornell-university-ivy-and-all.aspx Simple Justice

    Ode to Cornell University, Ivy and All

    Carolyn Elefant went home again over the weekend to her alma mater, Cornell Law School.

  • http://blog.simplejustice.us/2008/06/09/ode-to-cornell-university-ivy-and-all.aspx Simple Justice

    Ode to Cornell University, Ivy and All

    Carolyn Elefant went home again over the weekend to her alma mater, Cornell Law School.

  • http://avvoblog.com shalini_avvo

    Carolyn, I didn’t realize you were a fellow Cornell Law Alum. I hope Ithaca is as beautiful as I remember it in the summer.

  • http://avvoblog.com shalini_avvo

    Carolyn, I didn’t realize you were a fellow Cornell Law Alum. I hope Ithaca is as beautiful as I remember it in the summer.

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