For those of you who know me, you know I went to law school determined to be a fashion lawyer. I also hoped that Fashion Law would eventually become taught in law schools coast to coast. I never imagined that I would be one of those professors, and the field would become so well regarded so quickly! I am grateful for all your support and am encouraged that so many of you want to join the Fashion Law movement.
Even though I am honored to be invited to coffee across the United States (and I love caffeine), I can’t counsel all of my clients, run the Fashion Law Project, write this blog and provide career advice to all of you without alienating my family. In hope of not leaving you without some insight, here are ten things you can do be like me, “when you grow up.”
Law School 101
If your school offers it, take Fashion Law. If not, and you can’t make it to our Fashion Law Summer Intensive, study contracts, intellectual property, international trade (if you want to go global), securities (if you want to buy and sell companies) tax and employment. If you are an attorney, take CLE in these areas and stay awake – the actual practice of Fashion Law is a marriage of lots of different skill sets. You will regularly be called upon to fulfill a “general counsel” role, so you need to know all the areas of law your clients will have questions about .
Learn Accounting and Basic Financial Models
OK, I know lawyers and fashionista alike generally don’t like math. But math is an important component in running a successful business. Your clients can only pay your bills when they are making money, which means they shipped goods and gotten paid for them (usually by using a Factor). You have to be good at math and understand Fashion math (i.e. profit margins, chargebacks, dilution and the difference between gross and net), to provide practical advice to Fashion companies.
Learn the Business of Fashion, Not the Fashion Business
I was raised in the fashion business, so this one was easy for me to understand; it was in my DNA. The business of fashion means what goes on behind the scenes, and not in the tents or what you see on the cover of magazines. You must learn about each step in the process, from idea generation to the sale of a global brand, and be prepared to counsel your clients about the speed bumps they may encounter along the way.
Manufacturing and Supply Chains Drive Revenue
The best design ever won’t hit a shelf if it can’t get made at the right price, right quality and just in time to be delivered to the boutique. Understand how garments are put together, and the supply chain that gets them made and delivered, so you can deliver the goods to your clients. So much time, money and do-over’s occur in this process because new clients do not understand what is involved in bringing their designs to market. Solve problems proactively with your knowledge.
Left Brain, Right Brain
Designers = Right Brain
Bridge the gap!
Lawyers = Left Brain
Write clearly – Speak even more clearly
This is SO important. Don’t write and speak like an old-school attorney (Latin is so OUT), unless you are dealing with another lawyer (then only maybe). Your clients cannot take your advice, unless they understand the words coming out of your mouth or on the papers you give them (otherwise, you will be like the teacher on Charlie Brown). The art of communication is taking complicated ideas and presenting them to your audience in an understandable manner.
Be the Billboard
If you dress like a slob, are you marketable? How do you expect to get a job, land a client or succeed in the fashion world, where appearances and first impression matter, if you look like an out-of date, thrift store reject, a “Glamour don’t” or a stuffed shirt? You are your own marketing, business development and advertising agency all day, every day. Your appearance matters and I have to tell you, dressing the part is one of the best parts of being a Fashion Lawyer. (Having a fashionable office is pretty cool too).
Create Value – Personally and Professionally
My clients and I work out best case / worse case scenarios, deal with the reality of executing in the marketplace and plan for the financial implications of any transaction. I also encourage my clients to call me with any questions (yes, I know you have heard me say it, call your lawyer early and often!) – at no charge. I sit in on board meetings and important calls, just so I can understand my clients’ business better. Becoming a proactive “partner” saves clients’ money, and headaches, in the long run.
I characterize my approach with clients as a ‘trusted advisor’ not merely an attorney. The difference between the two approaches? I try to add value in every representation, by doing much more than documenting deals. I always think like a business person first, then layer in the legal requirements.
Intern, Volunteer, Get Involved – Doing Nothing is NOT an Option
Network, network network. Ask lots of questions. Do not be afraid of putting yourself out there. Sitting on the sidelines makes you an observer, not a player. Get in the game.
If you want to be a fashion lawyer, you must get into action. Offer to intern or volunteer in the industry, with persons or companies that one-day may be your clients. The more you learn about the business now, the better you can serve clients in the future.
Your clients are creative; demonstrate your creativity by thinking out of the box. Creativity is a conscious act that requires time and effort. Write, run, meditate, take long showers — whatever stirs your creativity up so you can provide advice that is both legally solid and innovative when appropriate. Fashion is an ever-evolving industry; don’t get stuck in ruts or old school mentality. Don’t forget to read (and watch) what your clients are so you can spot issues and recognized trends.
So on that note, I encourage each of you to follow your dreams. Remember, though, the fashion business is tough, and fashion law is probably harder than any other type of law, because the field is so new. This is especially at true in Big Law where you have large (and strict) billable requirements.
But, nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it; and if it doesn’t exist, create it. Don’t forget, people used to laugh at me when I introduced myself as a Fashion Lawyer.