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Episode #12
Filling Seats Podcast | June 7, 2022

Law school marketing and what's changing with a law school CMO

In this episode:

You’ll hear from Hillary Kane who is the Chief Communications & Marketing Officer at a private law school in California.

You'll hear her talk about:

  • The most effective channels for different types of programs and audiences
  • What prospective law students are looking for during their search
  • What the future might look like for virtual or hybrid law programs
Hillary Kane

Hillary Kane

Chief Communications & Marketing Officer

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Host: You're listening to filling seats, the state of enrollment, marketing, and higher ed. Hosted by StudentBridge. In this podcast. You'll learn, what's working to grow shape and sustain enrollment. At colleges and universities directly for marketers thought leaders and ed tech innovators, because anyone can design a brochure, but not anyone can fill seats.

[00:00:30] Host: Welcome to episode 12 of filling seats. And this episode you'll hear from Hillary Kane, who is the chief communications and marketing officer at a private law school in California. You'll hear her talk about the most effective channels for different types of programs and audiences, what prospective law students are looking for during their search and what the future might look like for virtual or hybrid law programs. Let's meet Hillary.

[00:00:58] Hillary Kane: So my background, started out in theater, which is not that uncommon in law students. I've found, I went to law school graduated in 93, which was. Recession every time I go to graduate school and graduate, there's a job crisis. I became a civil litigator and then I fell into a general council position and did international licensing and trademark for.

[00:01:26] Hillary Kane: 16 years for body glove, internationals, great experience, great job. And then I actually transitioned back as kind of a special assistant to the Dean, not the current Dean. And then This.

[00:01:41] Hillary Kane: position opened up and I was asked to apply and the rest is kind of history. I've been there since 2018.

[00:01:48] Host: What was it like transitioning from the private sector to.

[00:01:54] definitely different, higher ed has some very unique characteristics as did the action sports worlds. I went from being around bikini models to,Law professors from the finest Ivy league schools. So it was definitely an adjustment, but it was a really welcome change for me at the time, it's you find the right job at the right time And just the pieces all fell into place.

[00:02:21] Host: Tell me a little bit about your current role, what you do and your institution

[00:02:25] I think it's very unique and it is in the sense that it's a standalone law school. So , what that means is we're not connection to a big university.

[00:02:35] Hillary Kane: We don't have. Big university shared resources. We're just all on our own. And we're very small. Our staff is about a hundred that's, I think faculty and staff, maybe two 50 and our student body now is a healthy 950. So we're teeny, teeny, teeny, teeny tiny. And so my current.

[00:02:57] Hillary Kane: role, I started out in a department that was called public affairs.

[00:03:02] Hillary Kane: No one really understands why but, before that it was public information. When I came on board, I. to have it called marcomm marketing and communications and the Dean at the times like, Ooh, marketing, that might be a bad word, which a lot of people think.

[00:03:18] Hillary Kane: So , the compromise was to put communications in front of marketing and Comark was born. So I have an amazing team of really talented people, mostly creative. I'm a, both side of the brain, which I think helps for this role, but I have an amazing cross trained team and we handle everything printed, digital, aspirational, every communication, all the websites, all the admissions emails, all of that for the school.

[00:03:48] Hillary Kane: It's a constant undertaking with lots of tasks. It's really exciting.

[00:03:53] Host: So you're overseeing communications and marketing for the entire institution. So prospective students, current students, alumni, donors, all kinds of stakeholders.

[00:04:05] Hillary Kane: pretty much. We do a share in the responsibility, depending on how the institutional advancement team is staffed. determines how much work we do with them, but we collaborate and we are the main voice of the school. So as you can imagine, Just very,inter departmental and constantly 25 balls in the air and pulling together a lot of information.

[00:04:25] Hillary Kane: I always say like our job is to package the content. We don't really create the content with few exceptions, but we're always gathering content, which means waiting for a chronic. And then we packed it up and make sure that it's on brand, that it's a concise and clear and grammatically perfect. And that it represents the school.

[00:04:46] Host: What's your relationship like with the admissions office or admissions?

[00:04:50] I think we have a great relationships with our admissions team. Things move so fast and they have an amazingly robust admissions cycle. We pretty much have a 12 months cycle, so it's just constant and. We also segment. So for every email that we work with them on, there are at least two versions of it.

[00:05:13] Hillary Kane: Sometimes three, depending on which group of applicants are now, we actually have admitted students. We still have prospects and,, they also have a great team and I think. This better than the school has ever coordinated between marketing and sales, basically between admissions?

[00:05:30] Hillary Kane: and marketing. It's just now where they're changing platforms.

[00:05:35] Hillary Kane: And it's just a little complicated. And I think one of the things I would love to see is just more continuity because it's more of a handoff as well. Like we go, we get the leads, we generate a form and we capture that information and then we have. We don't really know necessarily what happens and it's not tracked on a clear continuum, which I would love to see.


[00:05:59] Host: What channels are most effective? What does your office oversee in terms of prospective student recruitment? What does the admissions office oversee and, I'm curious if there's a firm line in the sand or if there is, some over.

[00:06:13] there's a handoff and a firm line as far as. Collecting data. But as far as, from a practical standpoint, it is a smooth continuum. So we work with admissions very closely. We have a list of all their events, which are many sometimes in a week, they'll be doing two or three virtual events. And now they're back to doing some on-campus events, which is very exciting first time in over two years.

[00:06:36] Hillary Kane: so the collaboration is a very good, steady. Continuum. And it has worked out very well. We have done well, even throughout the pandemic, we have don't know how. Thank you, universe. We've managed to increase our student body steadily. And I think again, we're going to deliver another and it's not just the number.

[00:06:57] Hillary Kane: It's the quality and the diversity. And we have so many things that we want to maintain. We're an opportunity school. We look at the whole, applicant. We look for things that might indicate success that aren't shown in an L sat score or an undergrad GPA. A lot of our students worked three jobs while they're in undergraduate school.

[00:07:18] Hillary Kane: They're not going to be able to maintain a 4.0, but we live for things that show they were capable of achieving that kind of academic success. So I think that. That has been a good relationship. And we worked very closely with them. We have people designated on my team and their team that work together on certain types of communication.

[00:07:39] Hillary Kane: We've recently added a layer of checking of accessibility. Our Dean is very committed to it. Now everything gets checked for all the things we always check.

[00:07:48] Hillary Kane: And then it's very important to us that it is as accessible as possible. And we've had great buy-in from all the departments, particularly, admissions who for years has been saying, are we reaching. Neuro diverse students. Are we reaching students? Do they know that our campuses is ADA accessible.

[00:08:06] Hillary Kane: So we were really trying to include that in our messaging and make sure that we tow the line on what inclusion really means.

[00:08:13] Hillary Kane: And it's not just racial diversity, it's all kinds of diversity, including, ability, diversity or neurodiversity.

[00:08:21] Host: If you had to say, these are the top three channels that are the most effective for us, what would those.

[00:08:28] Hillary Kane: So as a law school, the LSAC is the foundation where everything starts even in order to apply to law school, students have to register with the LSAC through the LSAC they opt-in To receive marketing from schools. I believe they opt-in in general. So you can imagine there are about 200 law schools, they're getting bombarded.

[00:08:52] Hillary Kane: So that is what we do with that is we take that list and Facebook actually has. aprocess a algorithm. And it will go and find on Facebook, all the people that match. So it matches emails. So that's been really effective for us.

[00:09:07] Hillary Kane: So some people will get the, general email that we send out to the different levels or where you are in the admissions process. But also they're going to see our social media marketing and social media. Even paid advertising the bang for the buck for us has been amazing. Our virtual events have been very well attended.

[00:09:29] Hillary Kane: Our physical event that we had was maximum capacity. We,are trying to do high flex and still stream it. We're still trying to get more students from out of town being in Los Angeles. We are one of five ABA law schools, I believe in the area. So it's very saturated and very competitive.

[00:09:48] Hillary Kane: The ABA Z American bar association, and that along with the AALS, which is the American association of law schools, those are the governing bodies for all of the ABA schools

[00:10:00] Hillary Kane: , but the social media marketing has been great linked in, has a high quality and a very good match for our LLM program, our media, our entertainment and media, and also our scale program, which is an accelerated two year program, which, oftentimes aligns with someone's professional aspirations.

[00:10:20] Hillary Kane: Like they're going to take 2300. Work at that laundry and go back and enhance their agency or enhance their CPA practice or add another dimension to whatever it is they're doing. So it's been a very good lead generator

[00:10:35] Host: What are some channels that are not as effective as they once were? Or maybe you feel, I think we're going to, give this one less of a priority.

[00:10:45] Hillary Kane: Everyone wants to like get down on print, so print, but, also for law students, the Cypress media publications where it's prelaunch national jurists and international jurists. They have adapted very well. If it was just the magazine that we'd be relying on for people to pick up a magazine, which they still district.

[00:11:04] Hillary Kane: All of their assets are online. They're whole publication, which makes it easier for us to show it off, screenshot it. And it also, has newsletters are that kind of relate to the different issues. So they're getting more mileage in there. They're just like very good at promoting the issue. And we rank very highly in their best of.

[00:11:29] Hillary Kane: , and I like those lists as opposed to us news and world report, which can be very subjective. These are more objective. They measure the amount of programs, the quality of the programs. We have students that are enrolled in the programs. So we, really value that they have \ transfer to their kind of high flex.

[00:11:48] Hillary Kane: They do digital and they still print. So we have. Stopped doing anything. we are also lucky enough to be able to do some really impressive tribute advertising in billboard and the Hollywood reporter, because we have so many alum practicing in music and entertainment. it's just really, you have to, we have such a diverse reach and we have to reach all these.

[00:12:12] Hillary Kane: Subpopulations where they are. So we are spread out across a lot of channels and we haven't found any that are getting out for us so far. We would stop immediately. If there was not ROI, some stuff it's hard to count. It's a little less intangible. Like when we do our lax advertising or a big billboard somewhere it's less direct, but.

[00:12:37] Hillary Kane: I do think that our school is gaining more national notoriety, which is important for us and some of those bigger stages. It's we have to be there. People are going to notice that we're not there even though they're not, it's just like a trade show. You just have to be in the mix.

[00:12:54] Host: Is there anything that you feel like your team struggles with in terms of marketing or that you wish that, y'all could do better?

[00:13:01] Hillary Kane: I think my team is awesome. Our struggles are mostly internal , it's just the pace and the notification time that we get, like we get the Dean's office, like we need this tomorrow. And it's very hard for us to turn stuff around. We can when we need to. And we know that it's usually just an opportunity that comes up at the last minute, but it's just internal.

[00:13:25] Hillary Kane: It's emergency marketing. I call it, which shouldn't really ever exist. I was assuring somebody like this. Isn't an emergency commencement. We know it's coming. We've been planning the website. It's just not published yet. Like it's the same time every year we got it.

[00:13:41] Host: Thinking about, all law schools and law school recruitment, what are some things that you think other schools do a great job?

[00:13:48] Hillary Kane: I think they do a great job?

[00:13:50] Hillary Kane: with it's really that media. Like the third party, meaning the independent media, exposure, like their professors are the go-to people for certain areas of law. And we do have a couple of those, but particularly a look at Lila and Lori Levinson and just, they have an Chemerinsky who was, oh, I think he's at Berkeley, but he started, Irvine.

[00:14:13] Hillary Kane: He was the first Dean. So it's those kinds of placements that really are like, wow. So love to see us do more of that. But a lot of those, they have iconic personalities and iconic lawyers, so that I think really helps too with the national exposure.

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[00:16:04] Host: Learn

[00:16:08] Host: The flip side with other schools, what do you think are some things that they could be doing better?

[00:16:13] I don't want to tell them what to do. That would just not be smart for me. But I think one thing I've noticed is the stuff that they're putting out is really busy and the messages get so lost. So I think it's, and we're trying not to do this cause

[00:16:29] Hillary Kane: you do that kind of kitchen. Messaging. You're trying to be all things to all people at one time, and it's just, it's craziness. It's just, it gets lost. we are really a fan of segmentation and I think even though it takes longer, takes more, forethought takes more planning, same thing. I think that segmentation and having the right message for the right.

[00:16:54] Hillary Kane: Sub population or sub community is really the way to go. Cause otherwise your eyes roll back in your head. There's so much information on a single webpage or a single, handout, a single. Event even sometimes. So we're really trying to even our catalog this year has a theme that weaves throughout the whole thing is about social justice.

[00:17:15] Hillary Kane: Even as it applies to entertainment practice, even as it applies to the clinics or even family law or the experiential, we're just weaving that common thread through it. So I just think there's just more good marketing, 1 0 1 applied to higher education.

[00:17:34] Host: In doing this podcast, something that I've found is that a lot of people who worked in the private sector and then they come into higher ed, they view. What they are marketing as a consumer product and they, listened to the quote unquote customer and, use that to develop messaging and segmentation.

[00:17:53] Host: And so you're kind of talking that language. So I'm curious, what are some of the ways that you feel that your prior experience influenced you in what you do?

[00:18:03] Hillary Kane: My prior experience was really as a transactional fashion law attorney. Once I was there, I went through the executive program at UCLA, but I did not do?

[00:18:14] Hillary Kane: like straight, pure market. But I think good marketing is good marketing.

[00:18:20] we are very story storytelling, reliant as all good marketing is. If you think back to the commercials that you remember. As a kid, it's always the one that tells a story and I don't, they can make you cry in 30 seconds. Like that's a really good story. and because we have been around, this is our hundred and 10th year, we have so many great stories to tap into.

[00:18:43] Hillary Kane: And then we look at every student as the beginning of a new, amazing story.

[00:18:48] Hillary Kane: So I think that just understanding. Just the uniqueness and it's just the same thing. How do you differentiate yourself? it's just the same marketing one-on-one principles. And I do think it's ironic that you mentioned a consumer product because every time they're trying to sell you something, they being the people that bombard you are the email, the Facebook logarithm, or whatever.

[00:19:09] Hillary Kane: And they're saying, buy this product to sell your product. We're selling $160,000. Product. So on one hand, it's great because we can have a high acquisition costs, but the lower acquisition costs the better off we're very tuition dependent.

[00:19:24] Hillary Kane: We don't want our new students incoming tuition to pay for our marketing. but I always get a little chuckle about that. as if I'm selling a lip gloss or something.

[00:19:34] and I, sometimes I like to sell $160,000 product. With a really high ROI. sometimes a $9 Facebook ad will get 10 applicants. It's crazy. That's not the complete acquisition costs. A lot of other things go into it. A lot of moving parts. And we also track which events they come to, but it was so scary and interesting to find out that during the pandemic, our admissions didn't really suffer.

[00:20:03] Hillary Kane: It was hard. We had to pivot everything was done differently. I think schools that think they can continue to do that. I fantasize about that, but then everyone else would have to do it because then you're competing with people that are seeing the people and touching the people and going to the fairs and doing all that.

[00:20:19] Hillary Kane: So I don't think it'll ever stay purely virtual, but I think that virtual elements of it will remain and sometimes it's easy. To get someone to log in to a zoom then to get them to drive across three counties and come to your school.

[00:20:34] Host: So let's talk a little bit more about that. What changes do you see happening in the future for, law school recruitment law, school enrollment, mark.

[00:20:44] Hillary Kane: Well, a lot of that's going to depend on the law school programming and how that changes because everyone right now was in this kind of catch up with technology. So now most schools, even that never thought we had professors that said, I'm not teaching online. Guess what? Everyone taught online. I'm not teaching on zoom.

[00:21:01] Hillary Kane: Yes you are. and by and large, everyone got on board and it was an amazing, like three-day transformation from in-person to. So I think that there will be more hybrid programs, more, high flex programs, things like that. And I think now it's a technology race because everyone did it.

[00:21:21] Hillary Kane: Everyone did it fine, but now it's going to be who can do it

[00:21:25] Host: The bad.

[00:21:25] Hillary Kane: and the most effectively, and probably the most beautiful. because now we're starting to add animations and now most of the professors can't edit their own videos and caption their own videos and things that we never would have asked professors to do.

[00:21:41] Hillary Kane: And they get asked to do an awful lot. They're probably maxed out right now, but now we're asking them to learn accessibility and how to create accessible syllabis and of course materials. So it's a big burden on the profs props to the props and also the staff to the things that we started doing in the pandemic were still doing, and now we're adding the live stuff back into it.

[00:22:03] Hillary Kane: And everyone I've talked to is like, I forgot how to do stuff in real life. The, in our admissions deems, like I forgot, like we check people in and then you walk them places and it's like, no, wait, we forgot how to do that. So it will be interesting to see the medium or the balance that, that settled. I have no idea.

[00:22:22] Hillary Kane: A lot of it for us is going to depend on what the other schools around us are doing, because it's a really competitive market. But, yeah, I'm as interested as you are. I just, I have no idea.

[00:22:34] Host: . Do y'all offer fully online or you're mainly an in-person.

[00:22:39] our evening program is 50 50. It is a hybrid format, but the ABA doesn't allow us to have a fully online format.

[00:22:47] Hillary Kane: Believe it or not all throughout the pandemic schools had to apply for special variances. even though everyone needed it, you weren't allowed to be open. Yeah. So I don't, again, don't know what's going to happen. The ABA is going to loosen the restrictions more with the success of the, St.

[00:23:05] Hillary Kane: Mary's a hundred percent online course or program is going to be. We now I think have numbers from the first hybrid program was which, was a school that had merged and it's, they still tend to be smaller programs like 35 students.

[00:23:23] Host: . Do you think the reason for the such strict rules on not having online law programs, do you think that is , meant to be exclusionary? Do you think that it's to, protect the quality?

[00:23:37] Hillary Kane: One thing you hear in higher ed a lot is, well, that's how we've always done it. And law schools have historically been the last to do that. Like medical schools were having virtual rounds before law schools were having a hybrid evening class on torts, we're not always the first to jump on these new things.

[00:23:54] Hillary Kane: And the pedagogy is very established the Socratic method, and we've always done it this way, even though. Students might not react the best or learn the best in that environment. So I think part of it was just, it's a traditional law school experience was that large one L class and the Socratic method and standing when you speak and being terrified and attrition and all these things that you think of to just, really having to adapt to.

[00:24:24] Hillary Kane: Overcoming the stereotype that online education is like second rate. It's not high quality, which I think, especially from the bar pass rates from that summer 2020 bar, we had our highest bar pass rate we'd had in a very long time. We're proud 84.7%, which is very high, especially in California and very high for us.

[00:24:44] Hillary Kane: People proved the idea wrong. Even the L set courses. I believe now we're still being delivered virtually as is the L set. So the pandemic force, higher ed and law schools in particular to really reevaluate the quality of a high flex, a hybrid or an online education. So it's just going to be again, interesting to see the balance that the school strike and the balance of school strike is going to be dictated by how the students want to learn. Probably.

[00:25:15] Host: . And as gen Z ages into being the law student population.

[00:25:21] Hillary Kane: So we have some already, we're getting ready for gen Z and I think it's going to be a great ride. it's going to be interesting, but we are committed to delivering the education and the way that's going to benefit, not just our students, but also the profession.

[00:25:34] Hillary Kane: And, we have,groundbreaking summer courses that are all LGBTQ, sexual orientation focused and the legal issues that affect that community Our vast and can be very scary to navigate. So we're educating a whole new generation of lawyers so they can help clients in those communities.

[00:25:52] Hillary Kane: Better address the legal issues like you think of even changing your name or trying to change your gender or get housing or all of these things that affect that, that population. I think we're just going to see schools like try to outdo each other in technology and progressive education and in trying out new things, which is now encouraged instead of discouraged.

[00:26:12] Hillary Kane: So to me, it's very exciting and it's great.

[00:26:15] what is an app or a marketing tool that you could not live without?

[00:26:19] Hillary Kane: , HubSpot. that we get a lot of data from them. And, I'm a little worried about our post cookie world, but the Google analytics is a really great tool in talks with all of our other apps that we use. And then that right now, because we're so focused on accessibility, we, have a big agreement with site improve and we actually hired a company to remediate.

[00:26:44] Hillary Kane: Things on the website and train us. So going forward, we don't create inaccessible content, so those are kind of our go tos and our core, but it all boils down to people, at the end of the day, it's the people that are inspiring, the content, creating the content and everything else is really just a package for it.

[00:27:05] if you could go back five to 10 years and give yourself advice, what would it be?

[00:27:10] Hillary Kane: . I know this is going to sound really weird. A couple of really smart people have said this to me. They said, care less. And the reason they said that is, first of all, you should never be?

[00:27:19] Hillary Kane: in love with anything that you make or that you do because it makes you take things personally.

[00:27:25] Don't take things to heart as much. And that's advice for me, but I think that's good advice in general and professions because you become your job and your job becomes you and it's not healthy.

[00:27:36] also I would've started improv five years sooner cause I started improv 2018. I'm really into it. . So that's it. I wouldn't say care less. Follow the four agreements, all those, and,just develop life balance and have a great hobby that you love.

[00:27:52] Host: Awesome. thank you so much for interviewing with us today and it was great. Happy.

[00:27:57] Hillary Kane: It was great to be here. Thanks so much.


[00:28:01] Host: This is the Filling Seats podcast, hosted by StudentBridge, your one stop shop for easy and engaging enrollment solutions. If you're tired of snory-telling, and ready to start storytelling your way to better visits and better enrollment, visit

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