CATWALK JUSTICE: WWD’s Legal Eagle On Getting Into The Business

Catwalk Justice is our weekly column on fashion law, courtesy of Charles Colman of Charles Colman Law, PLLC and LAW OF FASHION. This week, a chat with Women’s Wear Daily’s legal reporter Alexandra Steigrad. At a party.

As regular readers might have noticed, there was no CATWALK JUSTICE column last Friday.  On Twitter, I chalked this up to #NYFW.  But it turned out that every waking hour of my week was actually spent filing and preparing to defend against fashion- and entertainment-related lawsuits that I can’t talk about quite yet.

So it came as a nice break to stop by the Fordham Fashion Law Institute‘s one-year anniversary party in “The Box” at Lincoln Center last night.  The timeframe was tight — the doors opened at 5:30 P.M. and we were ushered out at 7 P.M. sharp — so there wasn’t time for anyone to get trashed and make a fool of him or herself, or even get tipsy enough to spill Page Six-worthy gossip.  Still, there was enough time to mingle with the boldface fashion law crowd, which included Louis Vuitton General Counsel Louise Firestone, Stuart Weitzman GC (and undisputed fashion law matriarch) Barbara Kolsun, and, of course, the party’s gracious host, Professor Susan Scafidi, founder of the Fashion Law Institute.  I chatted up regulars on the fashion law circuit like Kandis Koustenis (most recently of Kenneth Cole‘s legal department), David Faux (master juggler of legal responsibilities at the Dramatists’ Guild, a private practice, and the fashion law curriculum at Parsons — where yours truly will have undergraduates entranced with the basics of corporate formation starting this fall), and Alexandra Steigrad (whom I’ve previously described in this column as “the Anna Wintour of fashion law reporting.”)

Not one to pass up an opportunity to pick the brain of the woman who writes the legal coverage of record for the fashion industry, I selfishly monopolized Alex’s time until they turned up the lights and kicked us out to make room for the next party.  Although her legal coverage is among the best in the industry, Alex isn’t a lawyer by training, but rather a journalist (with a Master’s from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.)  She recounted that her first experience in the law was a stint as a paralegal — her first job after graduating from Wellesley with a double major in philosophy and French.  It just so happened that this stint took place at one Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, which, as I’ve explained on my blog, is not-so-affectionately nicknamed “The Death Star.”  After being introduced to the law in such a a notoriously brutal environment (my words, not hers), it’s no surprise that Alex wasn’t thrilled when she got put on the legal beat at Women’s Wear Daily a few years, a few jobs, and a couple degrees later.  As it turned out, though, law was a lot more interesting than it had appeared from Alex’s vantage point as a paralegal, sometimes raising “the sorts of questions [she] had studied in philosophy class.”  She cited one example: the recent Louboutin v. YSL preliminary injunction dispute, which raised thought-provoking questions about the nature of fashion and art (and in which, I should point out, Alex got a shoutout by YSL’s attorney during the court hearing — I was impressed.)

Having spent more than a few workdays at the courthouse, Alex reflected on what makes for good lawyering (keeping one’s cool in front of the judge, having an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, being articulate but succinct, and thinking a few steps ahead of everyone else) and bad lawyering (excessive repetition, arrogance, and disrespect… in fact, Alex once worked with a lawyer who made his paralegals dig through the firm’s dumpsters to find misplaced documents.  No wonder she decided law school wasn’t for her.)  When I asked her about her views on the controversial “copyright-for-fashion” bill, though, Alex politely opted to remain “on her perch of objectivity.”

As I learned, the legal beat, even at WWD, doesn’t involve going to runway shows — so any attorneys reading this and dreaming of a glamorous career change would be wise to pursue another strategy to get into The Tents.  But Alex was recently appointed to the additional post of Accessories News Editor at WWD (don’t worry, she’s still on the legal beat), which does involve going to shows and deciding who or what is worthy of coverage.  Now, that’s power.  Also, WWD is also somewhat unconventional in allowing its staff to cover pretty much whatever interests them, so when Alex has downtime, she reports on parties, food, media, arts, and other delicious and delightful things, all while we lawyers are stuck in front of our computers writing briefs.  Don’t get me wrong: that’s fun, too… in a different way.  A very different way.

[This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship among any individuals or entities. Any views expressed herein are those of the writer on the particular date of this post, and should not necessarily be attributed to his law firm or its clients.]

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