TFG Exclusive: Q&A with Etsy's Counsel Sarah Feingold
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Sheba Sheikh

The legal side of any creative industry often goes unnoticed. Behind many of the top art exhibits, jewelry lines, book releases, movie productions, hit songs, clothing lines, or even start-ups are attorneys who help tie all the legal strings together and make it happen. While the increasing popularity of Fashion Law has brought more attention to these "artistic" lawyers, there are also music lawyers, museum lawyers, and entertainment lawyers that have bridged the gap between their legal knowledge and the creative world. Among all these specialized lawyers seems to be a running theme- they all have a creative streak of their own (be it a passion for art, movies, etc.) that needed an outlet.  

Oh, to be an aspiring lawyer with a creative streak. If you are one, then you probably used to love to write, or play the piano, or take photographs, or make jewelry, but those were all "hobbies" and you continued to work your way into law school because there was something about the law that called to you and because you wanted a "secure" profession. And then half-way into your semester of Torts you realize, "what the hell did I sign up for?"

At least that was my personal experience. Fashion was always my creative outlet. And while I worked in fashion prior to law school, I continued to pursue my legal education only to eventually feel suffocated by the idea of not having a career that tapped into my creativity. But a light-bulb went off and I found a way to tie my legal expertise into my creative and entrepreneurial streak. Along the way, I had the honor of attending Fordham's Fashion Law Institute and meeting a group of brilliant, like-minded law students and attorneys- one of whom was Sarah Feingold, Counsel for Etsy.com.

Sarah Feingold, Counsel at Etsy.com

During our time at the Fashion Law Institute, Sarah and I bonded over our similar experiences. Except Sarah didn't have an "Institute" to guide her along in pursuing her goals. She tapped into her artistic streak as a lawyer before the industry began to really acknowledge this sub-specialty. Her exceptional career is of her own making. As in-house counsel for a leading e-commerce site, Sarah has had her fair share of experiences in lawyering creative types. From the artist-client that wants to sell his or her handmade goods online, to the entreprenuer who likes to take risks and think outside the box, Sarah's experience has made her a true expert in the cross-section of law, artistry, and technology. She not only authored an ebook entitled Copyright for Artists, but she also has her own jewelry line, Feingold Jewelry, on Etsy. In short, she is a rockstar. Despite her busy schedule, Sarah took the time to answer a few questions for TFG's interview series. We are so excited to share her story with our readers and hope that it will inspire more lawyers out there to do what they love. Check out her interview below! 

Q: How did you come to work for Etsy?

A: Long story short, I studied metalsmithing in high school, in college and in law school. My goal was to be an attorney for artists and so in law school I focused my research on this area of law. While in law school I started writing the ebook Copyright for Artists. In 2006, while working at a Rochester NY law firm, I started selling my jewelry on Etsy.com and completely fell in love with the site. I loved the concept and the design. One day I reached out to Etsy's customer support team and one thing lead to another and I got into contact with Rob Kalin, Etsy's founder. After discussing some legal concepts and Etsy policies with Rob on the phone, I realized that Etsy did not have an in-house attorney. I immediately sent Rob my resume and booked a flight from Rochester, NY to New York City and notified Rob that I was coming to town for an interview. He hired me. 

Q: What led to your decision to publish your ebook Copyright for Artists? What was the writing process like?

A: I completed all intellectual property classes offered by my law school and I knew there was so much left to learn. I approached my intellectual property professor, Laura Lape, and asked if we could work together on an independent study. This independent study turned into my ebook, Copyright for Artists. As for the writing process, I interviewed artists, I looked online for common small business questions, and, of course, I read legal books. Through my research I found that artists like visuals, so I made sure to include lots of graphs and illustrations in my finished product.

Q: What are the most common legal struggles you think those in the creative field have when launching their own business or product line? How can lawyers help communicate better with creative clients?
  
A: Some common legal struggles probably include the legalities of starting a business and then protecting the intellectual property of the business as it grows. When a lawyer understands a client, the client's business, and the client's goals, the relationship will be a more positive one. Creative clients are used to taking certain risks and the lawyers for these creative clients need to understand that there may be an alternative way to accomplish a goal. For example, if a client is concerned with copying, the traditional legal way of handling the situation would likely be to send a Cease and Desist letter and threaten legal action. However, today, the internet is a powerful place and such a letter can go viral and affect the client's fan base. This may not be ideal. There may be another way to accomplish the goal of addressing the issue of copying. It's a lawyer's job to explore all options and suggest the best course to the client.
 

Q: Working at Etsy, a leading e-commerce site for handmade products that has also become an online community of independent business owners, what has it been like to see the company grow from its start-up stage to what it is right now? How significant is the role of an in-house counsel for a start-up's growth?
  
A: Lawyers are traditionally risk adverse. And so going from a law firm to a relatively young start-up was scary for me, but yet very exciting. And helping with Etsy's growth has also been exciting. As a start-up attorney, I knew I had to act as part business person and part lawyer. Businesses need to take appropriate risks in order to succeed. And the role of the in-house lawyer is to work with the business folks to come up with plans to encourage certain risks and to think creatively to ensure that legal goals are accomplished. For example, I saw that Etsy's community was using Etsy's registered trademarks in certain ways and I knew that some of these uses were fine and some were not. It is the duty of the in-house attorney to protect a brand, like its trademarks. So I drafted Etsy's Trademark Guidelines to publicly encourage certain uses of the brand. I think that start ups should consider hiring an in house attorney sooner rather than later. The attorney can assist with day to day business decisions, review contracts, address employment issues, examine legal bills, conduct legal research, and help to affect the direction of the start up.
 

Q: As a designated lawyer for artists, you have also delved into your own creativity by launching a jewelry line that you sell on Etsy. Has launching your own jewelry line helped you become a better attorney to your artist clients?
  
A: Absolutely. I think that an attorney must understand a client and the client's needs. And as an artist myself, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to create a product line, market the product, sell the product, and work with customers. And I continue to design, create and sell my jewelry today. I sold my jewelry on Etsy for around a year before I started working at Etsy. I think this helps me be a better business person and attorney for Etsy.

Q: What personal or professional advice would you give to lawyers either already practicing or interested in practicing fashion law or representing clients that are artists or in a creative field?
 
A: My story might sound like I had a plan and a vision from point A (art school) to point B (lawyer for Etsy). The truth is, if you want to do something a little unusual with your legal career, if you want to practice fashion law or represent artists, your path will be unique. For me, I heard "no" a lot. But of course, I don't write about how many times I've heard the word "no." No one talks about rejected resumes or advice that lead to dead ends. So my advice to lawyers interested in representing those in a creative field is to keep at it. Don't get frustrated. If you have a job and it's not ideal, then learn as much as you can at that job and think outside the box to find a way to move your career in the desired direction. For me, I found that writing and speaking helped to propel my career forward.
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To read more about Sarah, click here. To purchase a copy of her ebook, click here. To shop her beautiful jewelry line on Etsy, click here. To check out her blog posts for Etsy, click here

 

Article originally appeared on The Fashion Grid (http://www.thefashiongrid.com/).
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