March 11, 2010

C.U. Law School Uses “The Office” Character to Advertise Web Brand

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The Cornell Law School boasts on its website that they are “Lawyers in the Best Sense.” Among the alumni they feature on their website to illustrate this motto are Debra A. James law ’78, a justice on the New York State Supreme Court, Joseph J. Iarocci law ’84 the Senior VP of Strategic Support of CARE USA, Kittipong Kittayarak, LL.M. law ’83 the Deputy Pernament Secretary for Justice in the Ministry of Justice in Thailand and — earlier this week — Andrew Bernard Jr. ’95.

Three of these alumni represent some of Cornell Law’s greatest products; one represents a fictional character on The Office who has nothing to do with the law school. Andrew Bernard — or Andy Bernard as he is more commonly known — is a fictional character and a pompous graduate of Cornell who relentlessly refers to his Ivy League education to his co-workers at the fictional company Dunder Mifflin on his NBC show. The fact that Andy Bernard is neither the most highly regarded character on the show nor a graduate of Cornell Law has some questioning the Law School’s choice to use his image to promote the school and their motto “Lawyers in the Best Sense.” Amid the controversy, the Law School appears to have removed Bernard’s image from the site.

Earlier this week, visitors to the website were given the option to read more about Bernard, which led to a a list of Bernard’s most infamous lines about Cornell from The Office.

Numerous blogs and media outlets took notice including TMZ and Above the Law.

Richard Geiger, associate dean for enrollment and admissions spoke to Insider Higher Ed about Bernard.

“So we decided — let’s have a little fun with this,” Geiger explained. “About half the people love it and half the people say ‘What is this about?’”

Some current students and alumni were outraged at the use of Bernard’s image. Ari Melber ’09, a law student who is also a political pundit, took to his Twitter to express disappointment. Melber tweeted, “And they wonder about our toolish reputation. My law school alma matter is using Andy FROM THE OFFICE as promotion.”

Others looked at Bernard’s image as more comical — especially in light of recent news about the Law School.

“I’m not offended by it because it’s not as if it is a desperate plea by the admissions office to attract applicants. Cornell Law had a 52 percent increase in applicants this year so we’re doing well,” said Brendan Burns law ’12.

Geiger echoed this sentiment to Inside Higher Ed.

“Here’s a law school that’s not taking itself too seriously,” he explained.

John Piersall law ’11 thought it was funny and a bit odd.

“One thing I’m wondering,” Piersall stated in an e-mail, “is did NBC have any prior agreements with Cornell about NBC’s use of Cornell’s name in The Office or Cornell’s use of Andy Bernard. I’m hoping that we aren’t left open to a right of publicity action.”

Piersall also noted that misappropriating a person’s image is a misdemeanor in New York as per N.Y. Civ. Rights law section 50.

Original Author: Cara Sprunk