How Law Students Build Legal Careers: Part 3
I want to introduce you to Julia Feldman, Vice President of Legal Affairs for St. John Knits, Inc.
Prior to joining St. John, Ms. Feldman held several in-house positions in technology and new media companies, including serving as Associate General Counsel of Freedom Communications, leading all transactional matters for their newly formed Interactive Division.
Ms. Feldman joined St. John in January 2008 as the legal point person for all of the Company’s commercial contracts. Her experience at St. John includes negotiating and drafting multi-million dollar international sales agency, distribution and license agreements in Europe, Russia, Middle East, China, Korea, Taiwan and Philippines. Ms. Feldman also helped lead large-scale marketing initiatives, including an endorsement agreement with Kate Winslet and a book sponsorship agreement with former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Ms. Feldman also supported the negotiations and drafting of the Company’s enterprise-wide technology agreements and policies for the Company’s website. Ms. Feldman was recently promoted to the position of Vice President of Legal Affairs, overseeing the Company’s legal department.
Ms. Feldman received her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University and her Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, from George Washington University. Ms. Feldman was recently nominated for the “Rising Star” award at the Orange County Business Journal 2011 General Counsel Awards.
Ms. Feldman was born in the Ukraine and speaks native Russian. She enjoys spending time with her husband, Ryan and daughter, Sofia.
Tell us about your career path – was fashion-related law always of interest, or more general corporate law led you into fashion?
My career path wasn’t completely linear and I think sometimes that is an uncomfortable concept for law students/Type A personalities (like mine). I graduated from Georgetown Law Center. After graduation, I started at a law firm, focusing on corporate law for the first year and a half of my career. Then the economy tanked and corporate work dried up. I got my first “in-house” position, working for a Pioneer Electronics division doing patent licensing. I worked in patent licensing for the next 3-4 years. I then decided to return to more general corporate law and spent the next several years working in a more traditional corporate capacity in a few legal departments, including working for Atari and Freedom Communications, a media conglomerate. Needless to say, there was no fashion background there but many of the skills you learn in a general corporate legal department are easily transferable amongst industries.
About seven years ago, I learned of a great opportunity to work for my current employer, St. John Knits, Inc. I was able to join the small legal department, working closely with the General Counsel (GC). I originally worked on a part-time basis, which was ideal for me as I was having my first child. I subsequently took on additional responsibility and upon departure of the former GC about three years ago, I was promoted to GC.
What are the main things you deal with every day? Trademark? Licensing? Copyrights? Agreements with retailers? Employment issues?
In a small, generalist office, you deal with pretty much every issue under the sun on a daily basis. As a fashion company, we have some intellectual property issues. I have an attorney that specializes in IP law focused on these issues. Much of the day-to-day activity involves transactional matters of all kinds, including international license and sales agency agreements, various marketing agreements, technology agreements, etc. As a company with retail locations, we also deal quite a bit with store leasing arrangements. I also manage all the corporate governance matters, including preparing for and responding to Board and shareholder matters. There are a host of other matters, including employment matters and compliance issues of all sorts that we deal with on a daily basis. You really need to be comfortable getting yourself acquainted with any matter that may come up–you won’t be an expert in everything of course, but it is your job to figure it out for the company.
What advice would you give to someone choosing a law school who wants to follow your path?
I would tell someone embarking upon law school not to be afraid to take a non-linear path and try different things. Follow opportunities that you feel can teach you some unique skill set. I am personally partial to smaller law firms/legal departments, in which you have the ability to work closely with and learn from your superiors and really get your hands dirty. Take on everything you can and learn as much as possible as early in your career as possible–it will make you more valuable to any potential employer. And don’t be afraid to really work to seek out opportunities you are interested in–that includes networking, joining local organizations, etc. It is very hard to create options for yourself if you just sit and wait to see a job opening and send out resumes to job postings.
Any fun perks to the job?
Every industry probably has its own fun perks. Working at a fashion company, it always amazes me to see the inspiration and beautiful designs turn into actual tangible clothing. I’m proud to be a part of the process when I go by our stores and see the final products and when I see them worn by elegant, powerful women all around the world. In the fashion industry, you also obviously get access to the clothing and at times I’ve attended some of our fashion events, which is really fun.