Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Law School Branding and the Internal Focus

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

I'm moving to a new apartment in New Orleans, and my Wall Street Journal subscription has not caught Fearlessleader up with me.  So I am indebted to Fearless Leader Caron (Cincinnati, pictured left*) for his picking up the article yesterday on the efforts of business schools to define their "brand."

Let's note a couple things here.  First, the focus of the article was not the Podunk Business & Bible College.  It was the Haas School of Business at California-Berkeley, and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.  Second, why is it that business schools seem to worry up front about things like leadership, creativity, value propositions, and having students who are NOT arrogant?  Here's an additional squibbet from the Wall Street Journal article:

"Business schools need a clear, compelling value proposition," Dr. Smith says. "But it can't be vacuous. It has to be backed up by proof points in the curriculum and the school's graduates."

Berkeley's Haas School believes its "Leading Through Innovation" slogan is already well supported by its strengths in technology and entrepreneurship and by its students' creativity. But it plans to put even more substance behind its new brand.

Professors and industry experts are teaching seminars on innovation, and the curriculum includes new courses on leadership, managing innovation and change, and creativity and innovation in marketing and finance. Faculty members also are writing new case studies and articles for the California Management Review, which is published by the Haas School, about leadership and innovation.

To attract the right kind of student, the Haas School has added an essay question to its application that asks people to tell how they have demonstrated innovation and creativity in their professional or personal lives. "We're looking for intelligent students without arrogance, who can lead and manage in a changing environment," says Tom Campbell, the Haas School's dean.

We used to talk in the business about "internal focus" and "external focus."  External focus was generally on getting the job done, being concerned about the growth and vibrancy of the institution, and on serving customers (the sine qua non of everything else we aspired to do).  Internal focus was on US:  our compensation, our needs, our careers.  Having shuffled back and forth between law firm and corporate, my casual empiricism was that external focus was a moderately unnatural act for lawyers.

Russell Korobkin (UCLA, right) has written extensively on what I think is the closest thing to aRkorobkin1 branding analysis** for law schools, both in the Texas Law Review and the Indiana Law Journal (the latter as a keynote address at the symposium on law school rankings at IU a couple years ago).  To summarize quickly, Professor Korobkin sees the rankings as a coordination mechanism by which schools more efficiently compete in the market for status.  Not to take anything away from the scholarship (and the somewhat prurient appeal of the rankings), but it seems to me this is indicative of an internal focus - our competition for status - rather than an external focus - how do we make the education we offer distinctive?  Perhaps the mega-elite law schools need not worry about it - the brand is established - but the rest of us might want to take a lesson from the premier business schools.

*We here at LPB are indebted to Stuffucrave.com, where you can order all the Fearless Leader collectibles you want.  My own Fearless Leader stuffie is sitting on my shelf, right next to the Dancing Hasid, my stuffed Sigmund Freud, and my great philosopher (Kant, Plato, Nietzsche, and Hegel) finger puppets, all of whom served as participants in my recently concluded Secured Transaction class.

**I also want to acknowledge Vic Fleischer's (Colorado) work on branding in the IPO context.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2006/12/law_school_bran.html

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