Fashion law is an emerging legal practice area, which can mean one of two things for lawyers hoping to break into the field. First, there is a lot of growth potential, and the field is expanding; but second, the demand from lawyers still in many cases outweighs the number of jobs available. There is no sure way to become a fashion lawyer, but choosing the right education, making industry connections, and getting work experience in the fashion industry will certainly help.
It goes without saying that a fashion lawyer must have a legal education before embarking on a career in fashion law. Obtaining a legal education requires attending law school, traditionally a three year post-graduate program culminating in the passage of a bar or legal licensing exam. For many traditional legal practice areas, where you went to school does not usually matter as much as the grades you received, the classes you took, and your overall ranking. The same is not necessarily true for fashion law.
As an emerging practice area, the field of fashion law is nuanced and specific. It involves several broad areas of law, but is focused entirely on a small sector of society. A very few number of law schools offer specifically fashion law classes and electives, and most fashion attorneys are busy building their practices, not teaching classes. If you know that you want to become a fashion lawyer before entering law school, it would be a good idea to look for schools that offer fashion law classes or support fashion law centers in order to get experience in the field while in school.
While fashion may be flash bulbs and runways on the outside, on the inside it is a complex web of rights protections, proprietary interests, and image ownership. To become a fashion attorney, you must be conversant in the many areas of law touching clothing designers and couture firms in order to be successful. In addition to any fashion law classes that are offered, up-and-coming fashion lawyers should take plenty of classes on intellectual property, including copyright and trademark rights. Students should also strive to understand business law, particularly import and export laws and rules of incorporation.
Classes alone will not always enable one to become a fashion lawyer, however. One of the best ways to become a fashion lawyer is through experience and connections. During law school, look for opportunities to meet practicing fashion attorneys. Shadowing someone who does what you want to do can be a very valuable way to gain insight into the practice area, as well as to make a contact who may keep an eye out for open positions or internships.
Where possible, look for work in the fashion design industry. Experience working in fashion, even if it is not strictly legal, may strengthen an application to become a fashion lawyer later on. Fashion experience will also likely lend insights into the many dimensions of the fashion world, which can help make a fashion-centered legal career all the more robust.
Of course, jobs in the fashion industry are not available everywhere. Fashion meccas like New York, Milan, and Los Angeles have a lot of opportunities for lawyers and law students to evaluate the intersection of law and fashion, but those experiences can be hard to emulate elsewhere. Looking for work, contacts, or internships in fashion-rich environments is usually easier to come by — and often better-respected by employers — than experience gained only in the classroom, on paper, or in smaller markets.