I consider myself to be pretty fashionable. Indeed, I (like so many others) pray to the patron saint of fashion, the Duchess of Cambridge. I am well versed in the laws of fashion. For example:
1. Thou shalt not wear a romper after age 22.
2. Thou shalt wear white any season.
3. Khakis are sad.
And I have learned the hard way about the fashion of law (i.e., what to wear at a law firm). It probably involves a khaki sack-turned-skirt but certainly does not involve hoop earrings. (Sorry Jay, but I think dress codes are still alive and well in small firms, at least if you are a woman.)
Yet I did not know what fashion law was. So I got a crash course from an expert, Charles “Chuck” Colman of Charles Colman Law PLLC.
What did I learn from Chuck?
Chuck Colman, a graduate of Yale College and Columbia Law School, was a litigation associate at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP. In January 2011, he left the firm and founded Charles Colman Law PLLC.
As a former musician and overall creative guy, representing clients in the fields of fashion, music, art and theater was a natural niche for Colman. While fashion law is not the sole focus of his firm, he has quickly established himself as an expert in this growing area of law.
Among his most newsworthy fashion law matters, Colman represented fashion blogger Rachel Kane, founder of the Forever 21 parody blog, WTForever21.com. In April, 2011, Forever 21 served Kane with a cease-and-desist letter claiming that Kane’s website was guilty of trademark infringement, copyright infringement, unfair competition and dilution of the Forever 21 brand. The matter appears to be resolved.
In addition to his representation of fashion clients, Colman has also been instrumental in establishing fashion law as a distinct area of law. To that end, Colman successfully sponsored the creation of a Fashion Law Committee at the New York City Bar Association. He also serves as the Co-Chair of the Fashion Design Legislation Subcommittee at the American Bar Association.
So how does this expert define fashion law?
Fashion law is a catchall term for a complex industry, Colman explained. Fashion law involves many different intersecting legal issues, including intellectual property, employment, real estate, customs and trade, tax, compliance and others. In order to adequately represent fashion clients in these various ways, it is important to have a deep knowledge and understanding of the industry and its many nuances.
What are the hot issues in fashion law right now?
Counterfeiting and knock-offs are a major problem in the fashion industry, according to Colman. This has led to the introduction of legislation aimed at providing copyright-like protections for fashion companies. One of the laws with the most momentum is Senator Schumer’s 2010 “Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act.”
Is there room for other lawyers in the fashion law space?
Fashion law is a growing industry — but it cannot be the sole focus of one’s practice, said Colman. That is why he focuses on a variety of creative industries in addition to fashion. For instance, right now he is working on a trademark registration for a fashion client, helping a client launch a vegan clothing store, representing a film developer with copyright issues, assisting a theatrical production company expand its production nationally, and negotiating a lease on behalf of an art gallery.
“The variety is one of the parts of my practice that I enjoy most,” he said.
Colman has several useful suggestions for others looking to go solo (not necessarily as fashion lawyers):
- Before making the jump to go solo, make sure you enjoy the business aspects of running your own company. While there are many perks to being your own boss, it is a major undertaking and will be most rewarding to those with the entrepreneurial spirit.
- Get in a suite with a senior attorney. Colman shares space with other lawyers, including a transactional lawyer who has been a great resource to him. Also, sharing space is a great way to reduce costs by splitting overhead.
- Make sure that all of your social contacts, business contacts, family and friends know that are you launching your own firm. They are great referral sources.
- Do good work (obviously). Although the notion is something of a cliché, it is the single best way to expand your client base. Happy clients refer other matters and other clients.
- Consider blogging. Colman’s blog, Law of Fashion, discusses the major legal developments occurring in fashion law. It was so successful that it led West Publishing to approach Colman to contribute a chapter on intellectual property to its forthcoming “Navigating Fashion Law” title, slated to be published this fall.
- If you do decide to blog, do not be afraid to include your own views in your writing. Also, make sure the writing is accessible to non-lawyers.
After my thorough lesson in all things fashion law, I had only one more question for Colman. I channeled my inner-Joan Rivers and asked: “What are you wearing?” Given that it was a phone interview, things got a little awkward. . .
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at Valerie.L.Katz@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.