Loyola Law School Carves Out a Program for Fashion Law

Law schools in the West have specialties in entertainment law, sports law and biotech law, but it is rare to find a school that has a concentration of classes devoted to fashion law.

That is changing. Next year, Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles is introducing a concentration of fashion law classes that will give attorneys a focused education on the legal matters faced every day by the hundreds of fashion companies located in Southern California.

This makes Loyola Law School the second law school in the country with a fashion law program that is more than just one or two fashion law or trademark classes. Fordham Law School in New York City was the first in the nation, opening its Fashion Law Institute in 2010 with six fashion law classes and a fashion law boot camp.

The Fashion Law Project, as the Loyola program is being called, was created by fashion attorney Staci Riordan, a Loyola Law School alumna and partner and chair of the fashion law practice group at the Los Angeles office of Fox Rothschild LLP. She is now also the executive director of the Fashion Law Project.

Riordan is the fourth generation of her family to be in the fashion business. Her great-grandfather and grandfather were in the textile business in South Carolina. Her mother, Karen Stein, manufactured childrenswear and women’s apparel. Riordan worked with her for many years, handling sales, shipping, fashion market-week visits and even modeling.

Riordan knew that fashion law was a serious subject that needed to be embraced by more law schools. And where else but in Los Angeles, where so many apparel companies are in need of legal help?

Nearly two years ago, Riordan was speaking about that very subject at a law school alumni event in Los Angeles where the law school’s dean, Victor Gold, was in the audience. “After the event, the dean came up and said, ‘You’re hired.’”

Riordan immediately started working with Sean Scott, the law school’s associate dean for faculty, to develop the project. It got off the ground in January this year when Riordan taught her first class, “Fashion Law,” which focuses on brand building, fashion financing, import/export rules and celebrity endorsements. For the fall semester, Deborah Greaves, the former in-house counsel at True Religion, taught a class on “Fashion Law Business Transactions.”

More classes are being offered next year. They include “Fashion Modeling Law” and a “Fashion Law Clinic,” pairing law students with emerging designers for hands-on experience in running a company. A class in “Fashion Mergers and Acquisitions” will also be part of the curriculum.

In late July, the law school will offer a 10-day intensive fashion law seminar to give law students as well as fashion-industry executives and fashion students a crash course in the business and law of fashion.

There will also be annual symposiums on trending topics. The first one will be March 22, 2014, with panels on omni-channel marketing to discuss how technology and social responsibility are affecting the fashion industry.

Is law fashionable?

For years, a number of law firms in Los Angeles and around the country have had fashion law groups dedicated to working with the apparel industry. But the idea of a collection of law classes addressing apparel-industry issues often got shot down by academics.

Susan Scafidi, founder and academic director of the Fashion Law Institute, a separately incorporated nonprofit at Fordham Law School in New York, said she had the idea in 1998 to structure a series of law school classes around the industry, which is such a major presence in New York and New Jersey. “They thought it was too girlie and frivolous,” she said, even though there were disciplines in entertainment law, sports law and art law. “It was a long fight for me to get it.”

Finally, she persuaded the law school dean that a course was needed. In 2006, she taught her first “Fashion Law” class. “I convinced them I should not only teach a class but that it was a real discipline, and it went from there,” said the full-time professor.

Classes at the Fashion Law Institute include “Fashion Retail Law,” “Fashion Law and Finance,” and “Fashion Ethics, Sustainability and Development.”

Serving the large apparel industry in Los Angeles was one of the reasons Loyola Law School felt the Fashion Law Project was needed. “The fashion industry is huge, and we haven’t paid sufficient attention to it,” said Sean Scott, Loyola’s associate dean for faculty. “I think we need to make sure that we are staying current with the market and figuring out where the job opportunities are and taking advantage of the business out there.”

Other law schools in California offer one or two classes in fashion law but nothing as comprehensive as Loyola Law School. Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles will have a four-night intensive fashion law course this January in between academic semesters. It is being taught by adjunct professor Hillary Kane.

Kane said she has 30 students signed up. “Most of them have a business or legal career in mind,” she said.

The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising teaches a class in intellectual property and law as well as business law.

In New York, the Fashion Institute of Technology offers a class in “International Business Practices and Fashion Law” while Brooklyn Law School has a “Fashion Law” class.

Law firms appreciate having attorneys who have some background in the field instead of leaving it to the usual on-the-job training. “The reality is you have had to teach them,” said Greg Weisman, an attorney who works with a number of Southern California apparel companies and is head of the West Coast office of Ritholz Levy Sanders Chidekel & Fields LLP. “It is really an exciting time for fashion law because the discipline, which really named itself, is now getting traction.”