Kivvit’s Kent Holland On Five Ways Law Schools Unintentionally Sabotage Student Recruiting

By Kent Holland

In the past twelve months I have been asked to moderate two law school industry conferences and have been honored to work with a variety of law schools. I’ve been impressed by the intelligence and willingness of some law schools to change and experiment with new classes and programs as this industry faces the worst contraction in its history. Law schools today are buffeted by a series of overlapping, complex problems ranging from Bar exam required coursework that handcuffs new pedagogy, a shrinking customer base, and an indifferent “Big Law” that hires less graduates while simultaneously shoving the responsibility of professional training back onto schools. 

All industry sectors go through transformation and change over – it is the essence of business itself. Part of what the law school industry is facing is wrought by the same wrenching technological change that has wreaked havoc on the music industry, auto industry, book publishing industry and travel industry, to name just a few. Some industries have fared better than others in embracing the pressure exerted by technology that shifts the pricing of goods constantly downwards — and some industries have not (an aside: my experience in book publishing suggests its inability to evolve has made it a sinking ship doomed never to resurface to its former “glory”).

Insulated from market pressures for decades, schools now face the same pressures and demands all other businesses face. Some schools are changing with the times, some aren’t, and it remains to be seen who survives, and what schools might merge, or even go belly up.

One gap in law schools’ ability to weather the storm and possibly prosper from a rapidly changing business model is their continuing reliance on 20th century marketing in a 21st century world. It is mission critical for law schools to reach potential students (or customers) where they want to be met – online, with honest information about a school’s differentiators that ring true and are targeted to their specific interests.

Law schools are vastly different and have a different mission and goals than for profit enterprises. But with the good old days long gone (and never to return), now is the time to adopt the same marketing techniques that have been tested and honed in ultra-competitive corporate America. The combination of structural change in the “Big Law” business model and the high debt load of law school remains likely to discourage prospects for years to come, and a candid assessment of the market would assume that the applicant pool is poised to remain in the low to mid-40,000 range for the next few years.

Deans of law school admissions need to get out in front of this new paradigm and realize that they can either fish deeper in a smaller pool or make the pool wider. How? By adopting the same online digital and social media advertising used by Hollywood studios, Disney, Proctor & Gamble and consumer brands audience identification and market segmentation.

Launching a new program? Seeking to increase applications to the three year JD? Looking to persuade applicants that gravitate to other schools? Here are a few simple techniques to improve both the number of applicants and the yield:

1)    Does your school do frequent—or any—focus groups to help inform decisions on programming for potential students (customers)? Do alumni and donors ever participate in those focus groups? How about before launching new programs?

Yes? Great! No? How can your school make any decisions on curriculum with no input from current and potential customers?

2)    Does your school spend 100 percent or even 80 percent of your marketing dollars on traditional advertising such as billboards, radio, and print?

If so, you might as well take all that money in a pile and burn it. Transfer all of your marketing dollars and spend it online. That’s where your 20 to 28-year old prospects live. And if they ignore traditional marketing, how do you think Generation Z, coming up right behind them, is going to interact with print publications and off-line advertising?

3)    How digital are your digital ads?

Are they just reworked creative from a prior traditional marketing campaign, stuffed full of boasts about how great your school is? If so you might be disappointed in their performance. To generate the click-through rate you want from your digital advertising—between 1 and 2 percent—you’ll need an authentic, clearly and cleverly crafted message that is authentic and provides value to the prospect.

4)    Is the bulk of your marketing is being spent on digital advertising and on social media platforms? Great!

With a robust digital advertising campaign in place, your prospects are clicking through your digital ads to receive more information on a specific program or differentiator about your school that interest them. But what about your landing page – where prospects go once they click? Is the page simple to use, with one-click access to the information the prospect wants, an easy way to capture their email address and zip code and a pixel loaded on the site to remarket to them? No? Then you’re hamstringing yourself before you begin the race.  

5)    Are you using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (young people increasingly use LinkedIn to build contacts during and after their undergraduate experience and after internships) to geo-target your prospects by geography, age, job title/undergrad institution? Are you paying to boost your Facebook posts?

If not, your content won’t reach your intended audiences. Non-boosted posts on Facebook and Twitter generally reach only about 10-20 percent of your desired audience. The process of boosting posts is so cheap and simple that if you’re not doing it, you’re missing out the most straightforward opportunity to extend your school’s reach and influence and engage potential prospects the way THEY want to engage.

To be clear, marketing doesn’t solve structural problems facing an industry or particular company attempting to survive in turbulent times. But if you don’t sell, people won’t buy. And if you sell incorrectly, the waste of those resources combined with disinterested prospects shrugging off your appeal could spell big trouble for the future of your school. 

To continue the conversation with Kent, contact us.