When I started the Fashion Law Blog, I never imagined having so many of you ask me for career advice that I would need to create a FAQ for aspiring Fashion Lawyers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being invited to coffee across the United States (and I love caffeine) but I can’t counsel all of my clients, run FGI LA, write this blog and provide career advice to all of you without alienating my family. So, I offer the following 10 Steps to be like me, "when you grow up." :)
1. Law School 101
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 so get up to speed on the areas of law your clients will question you upon.
2. Learn Accounting and Basic Financial Models
OK, this one hurts, but math matters. 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 (ie profit margins, chargebacks, dilution and the difference between gross and net), to provide practical advice to Fashion companies.
3. 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.
4. 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 get 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.
5. Left Brain, Right Brain
Lawyers = Left Brain
Designers = Right Brain
Bridge the gap!
6. Write clearly – Speak even more clearly
This is SO important. Don’t write and speak like an attorney, unless you are dealing with another lawyer. 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 teracher on Charlie Brown). The art of communication is taking complicated ideas and presenting them to your audience in an understandable manner.
7. 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.
8. Create Value – Personally and Professionally
I characterize my approach with clients as a ‘counselor’ not merely an attorney. The difference between the two approaches is simple: I try to add value in every representation, by doing much more than documenting deals.
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 - at no charge; proactive counseling saves clients money, and headaches, in the long run.
9. Intern, Volunteer, Get Involved – Doing Nothing is NOT an Option
If you want to be a fashion law attorney, 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.
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.
10. Stay Creative
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.
ps - please understand that I cannot respond to each of you individually. I do try, so don't stop writing, but I cannot always handle the volume of inquires, informational interview requests, and invitations for lunch or coffee. Also, if you think I overlooked something on the above list, please email me or comment so I can update it.