In 2014, AALS created the Director of Communications position to lead outreach efforts and to oversee content for the association’s website, publications and social media platforms. Last September, Jim Greif joined the organization in this role with 16 years of communications experience at non-profit and higher education related institutions.
He shared his thoughts on the role and plans for the future of communications at AALS.
AALS is not the first time you’ve worked for an association. You worked at the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) and have studied association management. What about association work appeals to you?
There is a certain energy around associations. The membership voluntarily organizes around a particular issue or occupation because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. People get involved in associations like AALS or AAPS to make their profession better. Together, associations are able to make substantive changes that would be difficult or impossible to accomplish as individual members.
My previous association positions gave me the opportunity to work with a variety of higher education institutions, and that experience has helped tremendously at AALS. I’ve also worked with association sections, such as the AAPS Regulatory Affairs Section which had representatives from industry, academia, and government. This experience helps in understanding AALS sections and how a communications department can effectively work with them.
You’ve previously worked at Equal Justice Works, a public interest organization that seeks to encourage the involvement of law students and lawyers in public service. How has your work there informed your understanding of legal education and law schools?
At Equal Justice Works, I learned about the role that law schools play in teaching the next generation of lawyers the value of serving the public interest. I also learned about the programs available for student loan repayment as well as the many successful legal aid projects with recent graduates—at public service organizations and at law firms.
My time at Equal Justice Works exposed me to a variety of approaches to legal education and some of the challenges in terms of student debt and access to justice for underserved populations.
Prior to starting at AALS, you worked at George Mason University. What has been your experience changing from representing one school to 180 AALS member law schools?
At George Mason University, I was a media relations officer for several colleges and departments at the school, including Mason Law. What I enjoyed about Mason and what I enjoy about AALS is the variety of programs and faculty that are doing interesting things and working with people that are willing to help meet the communications goals of their institutions. The main difference to me is that the role at AALS is quite broad and encompasses writing, editing, research, content gathering, web communications, and public and media relations.
You’ve been at AALS for a year now. What has been the biggest surprise so far?
The biggest surprise to me is that it has only been a year. My colleagues are so warm and collaborative that I forget that we’ve only been working together for 12 months. As the communications function at the association is fairly new, I’m pleased with the programs we’ve been able to start and I’m excited for the projects we have coming up.
What aspect of your work at AALS most excites you?
I’m most excited for the opportunity to highlight the innovative programs and faculty at AALS member schools and to help change perceptions of legal education in the media and public. Working with fantastic colleagues at AALS and a talented team in Kathryn Fanlund [publications] and Melinda Price [communications] are also exciting aspects of the job. With their efforts, we have been able to add new online resources such as the YouTube channel, and enhance the content on the website and in this newsletter.
One of the most visible changes to the AALS communications strategy has been the launch of the new website. Can you talk about some of these changes?
The new website is designed to highlight important issues in legal education and showcase the outstanding work of our law schools and faculty to the public. This is a difference from the previous site which focused entirely on AALS meetings and member resources. The new platform also allows the association to provide better member services, so one area of improvement isn’t traded for another.
We have several sections of the website that are updated frequently, including a round-up of news stories related to legal education and another dedicated to thoughtful analysis of issues in legal education.
How is AALS engaging with audiences outside of law faculty, such as the public and media?
Over the last two years, AALS has hosted a press conference at both Annual Meetings to discuss the latest issues facing the academy and how law schools are responding. We have also sat down with several legal and education reporters outside of the Annual Meeting and responded to incoming reporter requests.
We also reach out to media outside of the legal and education beats to cover programming at our Annual Meeting. For example, we had national healthcare reporters at the Ebola panel and C-SPAN covered several sessions related to government and public affairs.
What are the biggest challenges facing AALS in getting its message out?
Many stories related to legal education focus solely on the decline in enrollment, applications, and the legal job market. Graduate enrollment as a whole is down across the country, but we don’t hear about it as much. Very little is said about the value of legal education over a career and the skills you learn that are applicable in a variety of settings. We’re hoping to change that.
AALS has also expanded into social media recently. Why was that an important step to take?
In the last year, AALS has added social accounts for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Flickr.
Social media is an effective way to share great stories about AALS member schools. Reporters may not follow 180 individual law schools, but if they follow AALS, they will get news and information about the latest innovations, programs, and success stories from our members. Social media allows our followers to share the things we highlight with their networks as well.
Many law professors are active social media users. In fact, the hashtag #AALS2015 was trending nationally on Twitter during the AALS Annual Meeting. We want our faculty to be aware of the different programs and ideas at other schools, so communicating via social media and traditional media is critical to reaching law teachers as well as the public.
What are your goals for the AALS communications strategy going forward?
We want prospective students and the public to have a more balanced understanding of the role and value of legal education in training the next generation of lawyers, lawmakers, judges, business leaders, and problem solvers.
To achieve a more accurate public perception, we need to communicate the great things that are happening at our member schools and how AALS is bringing legal educators together to advance the academy and the profession. We’ll need to use several outlets to communicate these successes, including social media, the AALS website, AALS publications like this newsletter, and conversations with the media.
Are there ways that individual law schools and faculty can contribute?
Law school staff and faculty can send us news and examples of innovative and outstanding programs, research, and teaching that we can put up on our website and feature on social media. We also want to highlight and collaborate with law school faculty and staff who have thoughtful and interesting ideas about advancing legal education.
What can members look forward to happening in the next year?
Members can look forward to additional materials related to value of a law degree and the variety of approaches to legal education. We are creating additional resources for new law teachers and continue to expand the content on our website, in this newsletter, and on platforms like YouTube, where you can find select videos from the Annual Meeting and from member schools and other organizations. We’ll also continue to keep the content on our website fresh with news stories related to legal education and examples of innovative and outstanding programs and faculty.