Monday, October 15, 2007

The Law School Name Game: a tournament in academic branding and marketing

Jimmy V
Jimmy Valvano and the N.C. State Wolfpack won the 1983 NCAA men's basketball tournament. MoneyLaw's "Law School Name Game" might not be as prestigious.
In the world of law school marketing (an admittedly microscopic world of immense importance to law school deans), Berkeley Law's announcement that it is abandoning the Boalt name is nothing short of earth-shattering. (Hat tips to Blogonaut and TaxProf Blog.) Henceforth, the law school on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, will be called the "UC Berkeley School of Law."

For most law schools, Dean Christopher Edley's bottom line rings true. Stanford Law School and Harvard Law School, to name just two hyper-prestigious examples, are named for their host universities and enjoy name recognition from everything else that their universities do. Dean Edley wants the name recognition from his law school's association with UC Berkeley to fuel his ongoing $125 million fundraising campaign. No longer will he have to answer questions like this one (which he fielded during a recent trip to Washington, D.C.): "I am sorry, but I am confused. Are there two law schools in Berkeley?"

Berkeley Law reportedly paid $25,000 to Marshall Strategy Inc., a San Francisco-based marketing and branding firm, for this insight: as an academic brand name, Berkeley is less confusing than Boalt. This conclusion resonates with a recent MoneyLaw post, The Harmonious University: "Why would any division of a university, especially one whose 'product' is as esoteric as that of a law school, ever dream of isolating itself from its fellow colleges and departments?"

BasketballWhy indeed. I realize that this is a highly controversial proposition, especially on campuses where the law school has agreed to take on a second identity, independent of that of its host university, in exchange for a multimillion dollar endowment. It is an even more controversial proposition at law schools that adopted a separate branding strategy for no money whatsoever (and thereby foreclosed a potentially lucrative naming opportunity). But I am willing to subject the entire proposition to a thought experiment drawn from a slightly different manifestation of higher education in America: the NCAA basketball tournament.

Berkeley's decision to deemphasize the Boalt name leaves, by my count, 33 American law schools that are named for some person or place besides their host universities. This is just one over the beautifully symmetrical number of 32, the number of teams in a five-round, single-elimination tournament. In real life, the NCAA men's tournament hosts 65 teams. If March Madness can have a play-in game, so can we.

I've assigned these 33 schools to a tournament I call the Law School Name Game. What is the point of this tournament? To see which schools' alternate names are the most obscure, the most confusing, and ultimately the most destructive of a simple marketing strategy that roughly 150 other law schools have no trouble following: [name of university] + Law. The schools in this tournament are not identified by names you might expect to see in the real NCAAs. Rather, they are identified by names known only among lawyers and law professors, if at all. For instance, whereas you might expect to see Cal or Berkeley in a real NCAA bracket, you would see Boalt here. Though Boalt has never won the NCAA men's basketball tournament, Cal (also known as Cal-Berkeley) beat West Virginia for the title in 1959.

To play along, download this Excel file. I've assigned the 33 schools in the tournament to four "regionals," or (somewhat) geographically coherent preliminary rounds. I used the NCAA's four traditional regions: East, Midwest, South, and West. Even with Berkeley's elimination from tournament consideration, the western United States has a disproportionately large number of entrants. In classic NCAA fashion, I arbitrarily reassigned these schools to other regions. I sent the westernmost school to the East regional, simply because I could. I sent the three schools in the Mountain time zone to the otherwise underpopulated Midwest regional.

Kentucky sealKentucky presented a special problem. Since the residents of Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties are likelier to refer to themselves as Midwesterners, as opposed to the prevalence of self-identified Southerners in Jefferson County, I assigned one Kentucky school to the Midwest regional and the other to the South regional.

Here are the resulting regionals:

  • Beasley
  • Cardozo
  • Clarke
  • Columbus
  • Dickinson
  • Marshall-Wythe
  • Richardson
  • Washington
  • Chase
  • Chicago-Kent
  • Clark
  • Cleveland-Marshall
  • Moritz
  • Pettit
  • Quinney
  • Sturm
  • Bowen
  • Brandeis
  • Broad
  • Cumberland
  • Humphreys
  • Levin
  • Marshall
  • Wiggins
  • Play-in game:
    • Boyd
    • Bren
  • Collins
  • Gould
  • McConnell
  • McGeorge
  • Northwestern
  • O'Connor
  • Rogers

Precise seeding is left as an exercise for the reader. Since the tournament field was defined ahead of time, and I have usurped the privilege of defining and populating the four regions, I want you all to have a pleasure reserved in real life for the NCAA selection committee. For the sake of convenience, though, my Excel file has arranged each region's entrants by alphabetical order. Reseed at will. The mathematics of tournaments being what they are, reseeding may yield interesting variations in the ultimate outcome.

Wait! There's more. What would bracketology be without a few bubble teams? Here are four schools that fell just short of the tournament, on account of recent decisions to remove or deemphasize their alternate names:
  1. Boalt
  2. Detroit College of Law
  3. Papito
  4. Williams
Finally, a bonus question. Five of the schools in the Law School Name Game have won the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Name them. Hint: 1960, 1980, 1986, 1990, 1997, 2006, 2007. Indeed, the most recent final matched two of these schools.


Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Jim: This could use a Moneylaw twist. I assume that many of these schools sold their naming rights. Which school sold for the least favorable price?

10/15/2007 9:05 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...


MoneyLaw has indeed discussed the economics of law school naming rights:

I've embedded this link within the post itself.

The "least favorable price" for a law school name is zero. It has happened at least once.


10/15/2007 9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a graduate of Levin. I refuse to identify it as such and proudly identify it only as "University of Florida College of Law" on my resume and biographical information.

My .02

10/15/2007 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are not the only one. It may be a case in which taking the money meant losing money in the long run.

10/16/2007 7:51 AM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Jim: There are probably of cases of selling for $0 as opposed to selling out. Naming a law school for someone well-known and admired could, I suppose, generate "brand loyalty" and extra giving. Selling, just for the money, with no attention to image, may hurt in the long run.

10/16/2007 10:03 AM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

Dear Jeff and angry Gators:

According to Paul Caron's earlier post, the current market price for naming a medium-sized is roughly $25 million.

Florida fell short of that benchmark by $15 million. Elsewhere in MoneyLaw's masthead, there is a school that fell short . . . by $25 million.

There are three questions, each of them distinct from the others:

1. If you are going to sell your school's name, are you fetching (or did you fetch) a sufficient price?

2. Is the source of the alternate name one that the school's graduates, students, and other stakeholders can accept?

3. Are you comfortable sacrificing the advantages of simple, unitary marketing -- "Stanford Law School" versus "Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley"?

Berkeley seemed to have #2 in ample measure, though the value of #1 may have faded over the years. It was clearly uncomfortable with #3. Florida, by your description, might feel discomfort on all three dimensions. You know better than I do; perhaps you can inform the rest of us.

10/16/2007 11:25 AM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Some Gators are angry to be sure and my impression from talking to a number of them is that both 1 and 2 apply.

10/16/2007 12:07 PM  
Blogger Marie T. Reilly said...

Jim: I see you've listed my school in the brackets as Dickinson. In the spirit of your recent and ongoing celebration of Cardinal pride, I feel somewhat justified in this clarification of my loyalty (some liberties taken with the original text):

I teach for Penn State.
There is no name on my jersey.
I teach with heart, with pride, to Win.
For my colleagues, the students.
I teach for those who came before me.
For the glory of Old State.
I teach for Penn State.

10/18/2007 9:54 AM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

Hi Marie,

The whole point of the post is that it makes the most sense to identify your school by the name that ordinary people use, say, in filling out their NCAA brackets. Imagine this Elite Eight:

* East: Beasley versus Dickinson
* Midwest: Moritz versus Quinney
* South: Brandeis versus Levin
* West: Boyd versus Rogers

Huh? Now imagine this:

* East: Temple versus Penn State
* Midwest: Ohio State versus Utah
* South: Louisville versus Florida
* West: UNLV versus Arizona

To pick a market far away from any of these schools, imagine an employer in Seattle or Dallas. That firm's hiring partner has probably never heard of Dickinson, Brandeis, Levin, or Beasley. But Penn State, Louisville, Florida, and Temple, we can only hope, are household names sea to shining sea.

Official names are what they are. Some schools got paid to accept an alternate name; others inherited them through a merger with a formerly independent entity. Still others have neither money nor history on their side. Regardless, the name that makes the most sense is the name of the university. Christopher Edley and Berkeley paid $25,000 for this bit of wisdom. At MoneyLaw, we're dispensing comparable counsel for free.


10/18/2007 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You left out King Hall (the law school of UC Davis).

8/01/2008 5:13 AM  

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