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Career in fashion law? Learn how to be a good negotiator

by Anna Radke
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Manoj Shah is an owner of The Fashion Law Group – an LA-based law firm that provides services to clients who come from the creative industry. He shared with me his recipe how to become a successful attorney.

What inspired you to become a fashion and entertainment lawyer?

I have always been a creative person at heart. A few years ago while working as a litigator, I decided to start a streetwear company as a passion project with a buddy of mine from college. While the brand was not successful, starting it allowed me to learn the fundamentals of the apparel business and to build contacts within the industry. Through my contacts (namely young entrepreneurs who were starting out), I learned the diverse legal issues that impact fashion businesses ranging from intellectual property to business to employment matters. In assisting them, as well as dealing with my own intellectual property issues, I realized that I truly enjoy helping the creative community. The fashion and entertainment industries allow me to continue to learn and think about the unique ways people do business, how to resolve conflict, and to choose which matters I should go to the mat for.

Is there a special path you have to follow in order to specialize in fashion law?

I don’t believe that there are any special paths in life to achieving the goals you set for yourself. Play the cards you are dealt and do you. That being said, if you want to practice law in the fashion industry, I suggest that you do everything you can to learn about the industry inside and out. Be obsessive about your learning. Your natural obsessiveness will sharpen your legal skills and will take you to where you want to go.

How does this type of career differ from being a traditional lawyer?

In my opinion, the practice of fashion law does not differ from the work performed by lawyers in other industries. Like all specialties, fashion law requires nuanced knowledge about the industry, but the work, whether transactional or litigation based is the same.

What challenges did you encounter while establishing The Fashion Law Group?

When TFLG started 3 years ago, most people did not know or understand that “fashion law” was a legal practice area in the United States. At that time, I found myself constantly explaining that our firm had nothing to do with E! Network’s show, Fashion Police. Moreover, lawyers with clients in the apparel business, viewed fashion law as a subspecialty of entertainment law and not viewed as a standalone practice.

Over time, however, fashion law is becoming more and more accepted as a practice area, particularly with many law schools creating curriculum to teach the legal nuances of the industry. I tip my hat to the authors of the fashion law books and programs started to legitimize what we do at TFLG.

What advice would you give to a young lawyer who wants to open his own practice in a fashion law field?

Be a good lawyer first. Learn how to talk to and treat people well. Learn how to be a good negotiator.

What is the most interesting case you worked on?

Every case that I work on is interesting to me because each one is different. No single contract is the same. Every litigation matter requires a different strategy for pushing the case or negotiating a resolution. As lawyers, we are bringing all of our skills to bear from the way we write to the way with speak. Everything we do requires us to think and that is most interesting to me.

What do you consider to be your biggest success?

Knowing that I have done a good job for a client and hearing them say thank you. Hearing those words has a significantly more profound impact than any paycheck could ever deliver.

Your clients are usually designers, artists, and entrepreneurs. Is there a special way you approach them?

As lawyers, we are not allowed to approach clients. That being said, I am a fan of allowing things to happen organically. I am typically introduced to new clients from previous clients, colleagues, friends, or by hanging out in areas that have a high concentration of the types of people that I want to work with.

How do you see the future of the fashion and entertainment law in California?

California is a hot bed for the fashion and entertainment industries not just because of the influence of Hollywood, but because LA is a manufacturing mecca, Silicon Valley is close by (every brand has a tech component), and we have the best weather on the planet.

How do you imagine The Fashion Law Group in five years?

I see the firm growing to about 5-10 attorneys, having a few offices outside of California, and managing the legal aspects of best brands in the world.

photo via flickr.com