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September 11, 2008 11:58 AM

Are Law Firms in Fashion?

Posted by Vivia Chen

Fashion Week in New York, and the hotels and restaurants are overflowing with thin, busy people. We're betting our last pair of Manolos that the city's big law firms have been totally oblivious to the whole hullabaloo. So imagine our surprise when we got an invitation to "How Not to Trip on the Catwalk" from Sheppard Mullin's New York office.

Law and fashion sounded like an intriguing mix. We were also enticed by the location: directly across the street from Bryant Park, the site of all those fab fashion shows--almost breathing distance from Naomi, Isaac, and Nicky. So off we went.

When we arrived at the Fashion Group International Headquarters building Tuesday, we spied name badges waiting for guests from some tony fashion houses: Roberto Cavalli, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, and The Limited (owners of Bendel and Victoria's Secret). But any hope that this was going to be a swanky affair was dashed when we checked out the food offerings: cubed cheese, fruit on skewers, and suspiciously uniform squares of pate.

Things didn't improve much from there. Despite the proximity to the bona fide fashionistas across the street, the evening was, well, a bit short on style. It amounted to a CLE course--but with duller graphics (lots of two-tone power points). Lawyers from Sheppard's New York and Los Angeles offices regaled the 40 or so attendees (mostly in-house counsel and marketing and advertising types, with a spattering of newbie designers) about trademark and copyright protection, tax, advertising rules, and the rule on gift cards.

Some of the presentations were passably amusing (a legal analysis of the fake commercials shown on Saturday Night Live), others alarmingly dull. (Do you really want to know what creates the nexus for New York sales tax liability?) Suffice to say, a lot of the nonlawyers in the audience, especially the young marketing types, made an early exit.

But Sheppard partner Ted Max, who organized this year's event (the firm's third annual Fashion Week happening), says the evening fulfilled its purpose: "It's generating business and awareness about the firm." Moreover, Max adds, "it forces our lawyers to stay current [about fashion-related law] and lets the industry know that we have a broad range of knowledge about related practices such as corporate and employment law."

Luckily, Sheppard Mullin had no competition during Fashion Week. Max says that he knows of no other law firm that's tried to host a similar event. That may be one reason the firm didn't feel any pressure to stage something flashier. "We try to take [the event] seriously," says Max, who's developed an expertise in fashion law. And does Max, wearing a nondescript dark suit and red tie, personally feel pressure to dress more stylishly? Not at all, he says: "I sort of wear the same suit for all client meetings...but I try to look nice."

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what can I say, indeed we are nerds.

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