I came across a website the other day – for the Fashion Law Institute. Really? There’s a niche in the law for someone to practice only fashion law? Cool, I thought, for those with sartorial inclinations (I bet they look awesome in court!). It made me wonder: how does someone end up with a practice in fashion law – or in some other unique and unusual area of law practice? I had to investigate further and in the process found a neat little column from the New York City Bar Association that profiles attorneys who have made interesting and unusual transitions in the workforce.
What’s interesting is that most of these attorneys didn’t jump immediately into the area that has now become either a percentage or full-time part of their law business. They had (or developed) a personal interest in the area they ended up in, but for most of them their career start in the law gave no indication that this is where they might end up one day. In other words, they didn’t know where their law degree was going to take them. Read on for a recap of three lawyers profiled in the NYC Bar’s “Spotlight” series.
Staci Jennifer Riordan spent a number of years running production and fashion companies, so it was a natural fit to use her law degree to start a fashion law practice. She doesn’t glamorize her job, however, and says that a love for fashion isn’t enough – the work can be taxing and workdays long. Riordan emphasizes that it’s critical to learn as much as possible about the inner workings of the fashion industry and to connect with clients and understand their needs. The challenge – and what Riordan enjoys and is good at – is explaining legal concepts to creative people in a manner they understand. She loves client counseling. To gain some insight into fashion law take a look at Riordan’s blog where she writes about the business of fashion and the website of the Fashion Law Institute, “the word’s first center dedicated to law and the business of fashion,” located at Fordham Law School.
John Fabiani owned several horses and had a personal interest in the racing industry. When a partner in the insurance defense firm he worked at left, he persuaded the powers that be to let him take over the departed partner’s equine cases. Fabiani is quick to note that not only understanding the law is necessary, but understanding the industry is a major key as well. He immersed himself in the trade publications and learned about practical issues by talking to farm managers, breeders, and vets. He also found a mentor who helped with important introductions and networking. Although most of Fabiani’s practice continues to be insurance defense, he gains a lot of satisfaction from the small percentage of equine law that comes his way, which includes insurance issues, partnership issues, misrepresentation, and syndication of interests in valuable racehorses. To learn about cases and statutes related to equine law, take a look at the Animal Legal & Historical Center (search for both horses and equine law). Also consider checking out the University of Vermont website on equine law and horsemanship which serves as a resource for horsemen, lawyers, and law students.
Abram Bohrer actually didn’t have an interest one way or the other regarding aviation law when by coincidence he happened to share office space with another lawyer whose family owned a freight forwarding business. His interest was piqued. Then he received a case from someone who had been injured in an airplane restroom. At the settlement stage he was faced with a “pithy” settlement by the insurance adjuster. He couldn’t have predicted that a leader in aviation law would be visiting his mentor at the same time, which led to a conversation about the settlement. Bohrer learned that the case could be litigated under the Warsaw Convention, which governs international commercial air travel. He did his homework and delved into all the information he could find, ultimately settling for an amount many times the initial offer. Like Fabiani and Riordan, Bohrer has acquired a deep knowledge of the industry, including an understanding of mechanics, weather, and accident reconstruction using scientific formula. Aviation law has become a full-time business for Bohrer who on a typical day deals with issues involving jurisdiction, products liability, federal pre-emption, and conflict of laws. To learn more about aviation law there are a couple of association websites (Lawyer Pilots Bar Association and National Aviation Trial Lawyers Association) and the Aviation Law Profs Blog to get you on your way.
To read about other lawyers who have made interesting and unusual career transitions within and out of the legal field, visit the NYC Bar’s “Spotlight on Careers.”