NEW YORK — From intellectual property to mergers and acquisitions, fashion designers and brands often face their own unique set of issues that require legal aid. But until now, law schools haven’t really treated fashion as a dedicated field.

This story first appeared in the April 27, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

This fall, Fordham Law School will change that with the Fashion Law Institute, which university officials claim is the first of its kind in the world. The institute, being created with the support of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, aims to serve as a resource for law students interested in fashion as well as design students and designers by offering them information and counsel on specific fashion industry issues.

Fordham Law School professor Susan Scafidi, who has spearheaded the creation of the first U.S. law school course in fashion law at Fordham and who is considered a specialist in issues such as copyright infringement, will direct the new institute.

“There are so many issues the industry has questions and needs advice on, and we need legal professionals who are prepared to answer the questions,” Scafidi said. “This institute will fill that gap in terms of training lawyers and hopefully also reaching out to emerging designers and students, because the best way to stay out of legal trouble is to know as much about the law as you can.”

Industry executives, from CFDA members to independent and young designers and students, can reach out to the institute for legal information, which she said was free of charge. The institute is slated to launch in late August with the beginning of the fall semester at Fordham.

With the help of the CFDA, Fordham is putting together an advisory board of executives from the fashion industry and the legal profession.

“We need lawyers, and it’s very nice to have people who want to specialize in law for the fashion business,” said CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg, who has vowed to help the institute financially and will help raise money for it.

CFDA executive director Steven Kolb added that as fashion continues to evolve, designers face more complex issues.

“[Now] there will be lawyers who are interested in fashion graduating with a better set of skills,” Kolb said. “As these lawyers are trained, we will be able to directly connect our membership to the Fashion Law Institute for counseling and advice.”

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