* More law schools adding specialty fashion courses
* Work available both in-house and at established firms
* Fashion-minded young lawyers drawn to field
* Fashion law combines many legal modes
By Erin Geiger Smith
NEW YORK, Sept 11 One of the hottest new trends
in fashion is emerging from an unlikely venue: law school.
Fashion law is a burgeoning niche practice in New York and
Los Angeles, both hubs of the approximately $200 billion U.S.
apparel market, with both legal firms and design houses hiring
Their charge is to negotiate real estate deals, advise on
mergers and acquisitions, deal with employment disputes and, in
some of the most high-profile work, litigate copyright claims.
Those claims can be crucial to fashion labels. Witness
French footwear designer Christian Louboutin, which won a major
legal victory ahead of New York Fashion Week when an appeals
court granted trademark protection to the bright red soles on
its high-heeled shoes.
Fashion got its law school start six years ago when New York
City's Fordham Law School began offering courses, with the
warning that the effort would be canceled if at least three
students didn't enroll.
Since then such classes have become part of the curriculum
elsewhere, including New York University School of Law and
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Loyola Law School in Los
Angeles plans to launch its first fashion law course in January.
"I'VE CREATED A MONSTER"
"A colleague recently told me that I've created a monster!"
said law professor Susan Scafidi, academic director at Fordham's
Fashion Law Institute.
"Fashion law is a real career choice," said Lois Herzeca, a
partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP and co-chair of its
80-attorney fashion, retail and consumer products practice
Industry groups don't keep numbers on how many lawyers work
in fashion, so it's difficult to confirm whether more are
focusing on fashion law or if a practice that's long existed is
just now getting a name.
At the moment, Gibson Dunn is one of the few major law firms
to have a dedicated fashion practice, and many fashion houses
operate without in-house counsel.
Still, Barbara Kolsun, general counsel at Stuart Weitzman
and former general counsel at Kate Spade and 7 For All Mankind,
said many fashion houses have built or expanded in-house legal
groups in the last five years.
Loyola law dean Victor Gold said he was skeptical about
starting a fashion law program but changed his mind after
looking at student demand, the size of the retail market and the
fashion industry's increasingly global reach.
"It's a place law schools need to be," he said.
Kolsun, who wrote the first textbook on fashion law in 2010,
cited the industry's world-wide trillion dollar impact as a
reason for increased specialization. She hires law students who
want to work in fashion law to intern at Stuart Weitzman and
many have gone on to work in-house at places like Coach and
Burberry, she said.
One former intern, Julie Zerbo, a student at Columbus School
of Law in Washington, D.C., authors The Fashion Law blog which
focuses on knock-offs, emerging brands and analysis of
industry-related litigation such as the recent cas e in volving
Another former intern, Rakiat Gbadamosi, graduated from
Fordham and serves as liaison between prom and evening dress
brand Jovani Fashion Ltd's business team and its outside
counsel. Once she is licensed to practice law in New York,
she'll serve as its one-woman legal team.
Gbadamosi also has a degree from Parsons The New School of
Design, took fashion l aw courses at Fordham and interned at four
"For me, this is what I wanted to do. I had a passion for
the industry," she said.
Fashion law attorneys cite a desire to work in a creative
industry, even if their work is on the paper-pushing side. Ali
Grace Marquart, in-house counsel at Wilhelmina Models, noted
fashion is an industry forced to reinvent itself with each
season, and attorneys in the industry must change with it.
Herzeca, the Gibson Dunn attorney, echoed that sentiment,
saying one lure is the novel legal issues the industry presents
but that it has its brick-and-mortar appeal too. "It's nice to
be able to go to a store and say I did this deal to get this
product on the shelf," she said.