ASK Blog: “There Are No Major Mistakes: How an English Major Ended up in Legal Marketing”

When I was a student of literature at Stony Brook back in the late 80s, the standard question was always, “What are you going to do with an English degree?” I’m sure that’s still being asked today. The same could be asked of a degree in anthropology or sociology or history. Unless your major is accounting or engineering or computer science, chances are that you are going to be questioned not only why you chose your major but, more practically, how are you going to apply it in the real world. Welcome to the plight of the student of the liberal arts.

Many people don’t value the liberal arts degree because many are still not able to make the connection between the skills you learn through your major and the job that you will be able to do. It’s your responsibility to make that connection for them.

For example, English majors bring excellent communication, interpersonal, and organizational skills to the table. They also bring an understanding of the human condition. English majors are empathetic and good listeners which could position them as a journalist, counselor, or career advisor.

Most employers require the same set of skills: communication, interpersonal, and organizational. They’ll want you to be well-versed in technology. The internet and now, social media, has set us all in a tailspin, creating opportunities that we never could have imagined decades ago. In ads, you’ll also hear terms like self-starter, or team player, or highly motivated. These are skills that can’t be taught.

The economy plays a major role in helping you to determine where you will land your first job. Depending on economic trends, some fields you began studying for may be closed off, and others you never dreamed of may show much promise. That’s why you need to be flexible. You also need a good, solid education. Translation: you need to make sure you’ve learned how to learn.

When I was in college, I never heard of my career. I never took a course in legal marketing. It didn’t exist.

So what is legal marketing? In 1977, a ruling in an Arizona court established that lawyers would be able to advertise their services. As a result, a new field of in-house marketing professionals at law firms began to flourish. I was hired as the first full-time in-house legal marketer on Long Island, and I have since worked at three of Long Island’s largest law firms. I have been at my current position as Director of Marketing at Certilman Balin for the past 15 years.

Over the course of my 25 year career, I have seen the growth in this field. Approximately 30 Long Island law firms now have in-house marketers. With its national and international membership, the Legal Marketing Association is a testament to the growth of this profession.

A legal marketer is responsible for a myriad of functions including: internal and external communications, community relations, website development and maintenance, seminars, special events, public relations, advertising, media relations, newsletters, database management and social media. It’s our job to position our firm in the marketplace and to spread the word about our areas of legal expertise. No two days are ever the same. I credit my ability to keep up with the many requirements to my solid education and the work experience I gained along the way, beginning with part-time jobs and internships.

There is a difference between selling services and selling products. It’s much harder to brand an invisible service (accounting, law, insurance) than it is to brand a tangible product such as a camera, television, or car. When people can’t see what you provide, they can question the process, or the bill, or why they should use you in the first place. A marketer of professional services must build an awareness of the service and what the client can count on. We market the promise, using a variety of tools (as mentioned above) from the marketing toolbox.

Let’s get back to my English degree. My writing skills have been invaluable throughout my career. The ability to read legal documents and cases and translate them into common language for the general public is like reading Shakespeare, and then writing a legible paper which shows a thorough understanding of the playwright’s masterpieces. To give you an idea, I write press releases, columns, articles, newsletters, biographies (even obituaries), memos, letters, and speeches, as well as copy for the web, brochures, and social media.

Don’t worry so much about picking the right major for the right job. Focus on the major right for you. Your reason to study what you love is also for personal enrichment. I love that I majored in literature, as reading and writing for pleasure is such a huge part of my life. I write and publish poems – not for pay, but for personal satisfaction.

If you feel happier and more alive, you will have confidence, and that confidence will carry you throughout the many decisions you will make in your career. The only “major” mistake you make is listening to people who question your major. If you get swayed from what you love, you will regret it.

Always “follow your bliss,” as Joseph Campbell said. If you don’t know who Joseph Campbell is, then take a course in mythology or go to the library or Google him. Keep learning.

— Debra Scala Giokas ’87

Debra Scala Giokas '87Debra Scala Giokas has been in the field of Legal Marketing for 25 years. For the last 16, she has been working as Marketing Director of Long Island’s second largest law firm, Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman, LLP. Debra shares her love of English as a board advisor for Literacy Nassau which promotes adult literacy in the community. Debra was also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Dowling College, where she taught an undergraduate course in services marketing for six years. She has been published in a variety of business and legal trades, which includes a quarterly column in the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island’s (PRPLI) newsletter “For Immediate Release.” Debra’s poems have appeared in magazines and literary journals, most recently in the 2014 Nassau County Poet Laureate Review. Debra was recognized by PRPLI with its Mentor Award in 2012. You can follow Debra on Twitter @debrascalag.

ASK Blog
The views expressed by ASK guest bloggers are those of the authors and do no reflect those of Stony Brook University or the Stony Brook Alumni Association.

Making educated career decisions can be difficult at any stage of career development. The ASK (Alumni Sharing Knowledge) Blog is intended for Stony Brook University students and alumni to learn career knowledge and get advice from experienced alumni, working in various career fields, about lessons learned from their career experiences.


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