Law students and young attorneys with an interest in fashion are clamoring for more information about the emerging legal discipline known as Fashion Law. Above all, the junior jurists want to know: What exactly is Fashion Law? And most importantly: how do I get a job in Fashion Law? The other resources on this blog provide an excellent and detailed overview of Fashion Law (see the tab Intro to Fashion Law), but here we will focus on the issue of careers. What types of careers are available in Fashion Law?
These are the key career objectives:
General Counsel for a Fashion Company — One of the most desirable positions in the legal profession, the General Counsel (often referred to as the “GC”) is a corporation’s chief lawyer. The GC oversees all legal issues, negotiations, disputes, etc. in which the company gets involved. Since the GC position is such a senior, desirable position, it usually requires many years of experience in a subordinate role as an Assistant or Associate GC. Many GCs for fashion companies have backgrounds in intellectual property law, which is not surprising given the central importance of IP matters for fashion firms. However, GCs must also be excellent legal generalists, as they must handle all corporate, commercial, employment, tax, real estate and litigation matters for the company. Since this often requires time and expertise the GC does not have, GCs commonly employ outside counsel to handle routine or time-consuming matters. One of the founders of Fashion Law, Barbara Kolsun, provides an excellent example of the GC career path. After stints as an Assistant GC at Westpoint Stevens and Warnaco, Kolsun became the first General Counsel for Kate Spade shortly after the company achieved market prominence. Later, Kolsun also served as GC for Seven For All Mankind and is currently GC and Executive Vice President for Stuart Weitzman. In Kolsun’s opinion, a fashion firm should begin to consider creating an internal GC position once the company reaches approximately $200 million in sales. Prior to that, outside counsel can provide most of the firm’s legal needs.
Outside Counsel for Fashion Companies — Whether or not they have a GC, fashion companies must normally retain the services of outside counsel. A general “business lawyer” or commercial lawyer is often the first attorney retained by a small or growing fashion company. For young attorneys considering this path, there are a few options. One is to work primarily as the main business lawyer for the company. Law firms specializing in corporate law and/or business litigation may be a good place to build this type of career. As an example of a general business lawyer who built a career as a fashion specialist, consider Steven Gursky, a New York attorney who has handled general business matters and litigation for clients like Tommy Hilfiger, FUBU and Tory Burch.
Intellectual Property Practice — Intellectual property or IP is so important to the fashion sector that many attorneys have been able to develop a fashion practice based on IP. Fashion companies not only need to carefully register and police their trademarks, copyrights and patents, they often have to license them to or from specialized manufacturers. Examples of IP attorneys who have developed a practice specialization in fashion would include George Gottlieb of Gottlieb, Rackman and Reisman, and Ted Max of Sheppard Mullin.
Anti-Counterfeiting Specialty — As counterfeiting has become a global crime scourge, costing industry hundreds of billions of dollars annually, all famous apparel brands have had to build legal teams to combat counterfeiting and design piracy. Attorneys specializing in this field learn to build industry coalitions to battle counterfeiters. Working with law enforcement and customs officials, anti-counterfeiting specialists strive to keep counterfeit goods off the market. An example of a prominent anti-counterfeiting expert with a substantial fashion clientele is Heather McDonald, partner at Baker Hostetler. Ever since her days as a junior attorney supervising counterfeit busts on Canal Street in New York in the 1980s (where one of her cruising partners was future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, also an anti-counterfeiting expert), McDonald has served her fashion clients by keeping tens of millions of dollars of counterfeit merchandise off the streets.
Licensing Attorney or Executive — The fashion industry, traditionally highly-fragmented and non-vertically integrated, relies very heavily on licensing, especially in trademark licensing. For an overview of licensing, see the other resources on this website. Essentially, once a fashion or apparel trademark becomes famous, the trademark owner will be approached by potential licensees, manufacturers with experience manufacturing and distributing specific products like eyewear, shoes and fragrances. In a licensing arrangement, the trademark owner grants the licensee the right to exploit the trademark on a given class of products in exchange for royalties and other payments. While many attorneys have specialized in licensing, it is a field where one does not necessarily have to be an attorney in order to obtain a position with fashion company. Many fashion companies hire individuals with licensing experience to manage their license agreements, regardless of whether these parties are attorneys. Clearly, non-attorneys may not render general legal advice, but they may supervise or negotiate a firm’s contracts.
Law Teaching — As Fashion Law grows, law schools around the country will make courses in Fashion Law a standard part of the curriculum. Much of the teaching infrastructure for fashion law has not yet been written, which means that there will be opportunities for young legal scholars who wish to turn their attention to the fashion sector.
Fashion business — Some attorneys become so fascinated by fashion that they realize they want to work directly in the fashion business and not as attorneys. An example in this regard would be Colombian attorney Margarita Serrano, who after developing a legal expertise in Fashion Law, decided to move in the fashion business and is now a senior executive for the luxury lingerie firm Touche. Attorney Susan Posen, formerly a partner at a large firm, moved her practice completely over to Fashion Law when she was hired by her son, Zac Posen, to be the firm’s CEO. Domenico de Sole, a law partner at the Washington firm of Patton Boggs and Blow, moved over to the GC position at his client Gucci, and then eventually rose to become CEO of Gucci.
Where to learn more:
Law Schools. Several law schools are now offering programs or courses in Fashion Law:
Cardozo Law School
Fordham Law School
New York Law School
Prepared by Prof Guillermo C. Jimenez, F.I.T. Professor of Fashion Law