What law school is teaching me about strategy

As seen in Campaign Brief

Currently, I am finishing off my Masters in International Law.  For the past few weeks, I spent almost every second evening after work cosying up to my textbooks. On an initial glance, learning about things like ‘UNCITRAL’ or even ‘Incoterms’ (global trade terms!), appears to have very little relevance to things like ‘digital transformation’ or ‘customer personas’. However, my degree does have more of a correlation to marketing strategy than you would think. Here are two lessons I am learning to apply as a strategist.

Lesson One: The art of story telling 

The content you examine in law school is often dry and far disconnected from the conflict that brought the cases about in the first place. Most of the content is written from this omniscient authoritarian perspective where there is little to no emotional connection to the subject matter.  Yet, some of the most prolific cases are centered around a story. Take the following for example:

One Sunday evening on the 26th August 1928, May Donoghue, a shop assistant, met a friend at the Wellmeadow cafe in Paisley, near Glasgow. Ms Donoghue ordered a glass of ginger beer but when the beer was poured out, out came the decomposed remains of a snail. Shocked at this outcome, she fell quite sick and was diagnosed with a case of gastro. At that time, as the law stood, Ms Donoghue could not take legal action over finding a snail in her drink. However, appeal after appeal she took David Stevenson, the manufacturer of the ginger beer, to the House of Lords and successfully won. The case Donoghue vs Stevenson set the precedent for modern consumer protection. 

Without the story, all you are left with is a series of facts.  So the above becomes – the case of Donoghue v. Stevenson established the precedent of duty of care, negligence within civil law and the neighbour principle. As humans, we are wired to recall stories much more than data, facts, and figures. Stories can be moulded and adapted, and generally carry more personal, subjective qualities. Thus, according to this OneSpot infographic, 92% of consumers prefer messages that sound like a story. onespotscience

Much has been said regarding the role of story telling in the branding equation, and one of my favourite brands who have nailed this is Dollar Shave Club. This is that disruptive brand who launched that video proclaiming their blades are f** great (they are). Check it out here

Lesson Two: Cutting through the bullshit and isolating the problem  

A predominant part of my degree involves writing case notes. This is basically a summary and analysis of a court’s judgment. Every judgment, every discretion statement or even an off the wall comment is recorded so going through pages of content trying to search for that insight is time consuming.  These case notes involve asking a set of questions; 
•    What is the core issue dealt with(?) in this instance? 
•    What are the facts relevant to this case? 
•    What are the legal rules that apply to this problem? 
•    What are the facts that are considered as ‘by comments’ to the case? 
•    What is the impact of this issue on future matters?  
•    How have others tackled this issue? 

I find myself applying some of these questions as a starting point for some of my client briefs. For example, 
•    ‘What are the facts relevant to this case’ translates to what analytics are available? 
•    ‘What are the legal rules’ becomes defining the business objectives 
•    The ‘how have others tackled this issue’, involves conducting landscape and competitor research. 

So far, the client problems I encounter are deeply rooted across an array of business silos, thus trying to isolate that one core issue becomes quite challenging. Thus, when trying to understand the issue, you’re trained to consider elements such as- 
•    What brings these parties/clients to us- what are they trying to accomplish?
•    What are their underlying needs & interests? 
•    What are the legal, social and financial benefits and risks associated with this problem?  
•    How might the process chosen to resolve the issue affect the parties? 

These are just some of the frameworks I find myself adopting when working here at Zuni. At the end of the day, I find that my role as a law student and as a strategist is quite similar as I’m simply providing a solution to my clients’ problems. While the output is vastly different, the approach you learn in law school is one that is applicable to strategy.


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