A big milestone in the melding of fashion and law took place in New York on Monday. Susan Scafidi, the director of Fordham University's Fashion Law Institute and a pioneer in establishing this field of study, along with Diane von Furstenberg and Fordham Provost Stephen Freedman, announced the launch of two academic degree programs in fashion law — the first not only at Fordham, but in the world.
Those who already have a general law degree can apply now for the Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Fashion Law program, which starts in the fall. It will include courses on topics like fashion financing, fashion modeling law, fashion licensing and sustainability.
Perhaps even more significantly, Fordham is also offering a degree program for non-lawyers, called a Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.), designed for industry professionals who want to learn more about laws pertaining to fashion and retail. "We've all heard that ignorance of the law is no defense, but law schools have done everything they can to make sure that everyone but lawyers are ignorant of the law," Scafidi said at a press conference Monday morning. "It’s time in a new era of transparency to open that up and to allow people to have the legal knowledge they need to make important business decisions." Both programs are available on a part-time or full-time basis. Students can matriculate in the fall or spring and if taken full-time, the programs take two semesters to complete.
Establishing the field of fashion law has been a bit of an uphill battle (readers of our sister site Above the Law have doubted its existence altogether), and one that Scafidi says she couldn't have won without help from the CFDA and its president, Diane von Furstenberg, whom she called the "patron saint" of fashion law. At the press conference, von Furstenberg stressed the importance of understanding intellectual property law, particularly for designers. (In fact, the CFDA, with help from Scafidi, tried, and failed, to pass a design protection bill back in 2010.) This may seem obvious to people in the industry, but for members of the legal profession, fashion has not always been taken seriously.
"The challenges were bureaucratic," said Scafidi, who has been trying to establish degree programs in fashion law for more than five years. "Trying to convince the American Bar Association and the State of New York to give the green light to degrees in a field they’d never heard of was a challenge."
Fordham probably won't have a hard time getting people to enroll — Scafidi says that 25 percent of people who inquire about Fordham inquire specifically about fashion law. However, the cost could be prohibitive for some: Tuition for the 2015/2016 academic year is $53,440 for the LL.M. The M.S.L. program will be 25 percent cheaper — about $40,000. That said, the school is looking into raising scholarship funds.
As for what kinds of careers a lawyer might have with such a degree, Scafidi says she's seeing more big law firms in New York with specific departments for fashion, luxury and retail. "Why would they hire someone other than people who know the field, as opposed to having to learn it on the job?"