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Role Call | Douglas Hand, Fashion Lawyer

Douglas Hand, fashion lawyer and founding partner at HBA, says "Understanding the industry helps you contextualise legal issues and reach the best result for your client."
Douglas Hand | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Kati Chitrakorn

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

NEW YORK, United States — Douglas Hand is a fashion lawyer and founding member of the law firm Hand Baldachin Amburgey LLP (HBA) which represents fashion and lifestyle companies such as Rag & Bone, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Rodarte, Anna Sui, Public School and Mansur Gavriel. A Southern Californian native, Hand attained his JD from NYU School of Law and his MBA from NYU Stern School of Business Administration. In 1997, He began his legal career in the New York and Paris offices of multi-national firm Shearman & Sterling, representing clients in public transactions. In 2004, Hand and his two partners, Alan Baldachin and David Amburgey, launched HBA. He sits on the business advisory committee of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the advisory board of the Fashion Law Institute of Fordham Law School and the Fashion Institute of Technology's Couture Council.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

We are a boutique firm that specialises in the legal representation of fashion and lifestyle companies. We cover all areas of law related to fashion and lifestyle companies, which include traditional corporate law areas , such as finance and M&A, as well as intellectual property, employee benefits, information technology and retail leases.

BoF: What attracted you to the role?

I started my career at a multi-national "big law" firm, practicing M&A in New York and Paris, working primarily for global businesses that were public companies. While there, I met my other two name partners and learned the art of M&A from some real "masters of the universe." Although I worked on some corporate finance for DKNY and a M&A sale of Club Monaco to Polo Ralph Lauren in the 1990s, I was not able to dictate that the work I did was in the fashion industry or really in any of the creative industries that I wanted to work with. There was really no top firm dedicated to this type of legal work, so I started HBA, which focuses on private companies in the fashion and lifestyle industries, as well as technology and media businesses.

BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?

Each transaction we negotiate with a client is exciting. The passion of founders at the early stage of a business is infectious — particularly when they are creatives. The initial financing and partnership between Rag & Bone and Andrew Rosen comes to mind, as do several of the sophisticated licensing and brand collaborations I've negotiated, including several of the first Target GO International collaborations and Todd Snyder's license with Champion. When you are working directly with a creative founder, you end up offering so much more than just legal advice.

Recently, some of the more personally rewarding projects I’ve worked on relate to the industry as a whole. I worked very closely with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in developing and implementing New York Fashion Week: Men’s. Moreover, I am working with law schools like my alma mater NYU to develop potential course work in Fashion Law.

When you are working directly with a creative founder, you end up offering so much more than just legal advice.

BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?

As an attorney my role is fairly well defined. That said, as the industry has evolved from the traditional wholesale model into new ways of interacting with customers, my firm’s expertise has broadened significantly into information technology, e-commerce and social media platforms. The legal distinctions in these areas are quite sophisticated and we pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge of developments.

BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.

I think early in HBA’s formation, I cast the net for potential clients as wide as I could. I did a fair amount of media and sports work during those first few years. It was quite difficult to turn that work away — it is a lucrative area. But as HBA grew, I learned that focusing on fashion and lifestyle not only fit my interests and temperament, it also allowed me, my associates and supporting partners at the firm to develop a deep reservoir of knowledge and connections within the industry, which makes HBA competitive at the highest levels. We routinely go up against the same firms I negotiated opposite when I was practicing at a big law firm, but from a much more focused perspective which gives us great authority.

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

Become a highly trained professional. Learn the law and the practice of it from the best lawyers you can join at a top firm. Embrace the intellectual rigour and precision. The fashion industry is an extremely competitive industry and clients expect to engage top talent with a high level experience.

Know the industry. Read WWD, The Business of Fashion, and scour the WSJ and New York Times for fashion and retail-related articles. Go to industry events (not just fashion shows!) but panel discussions and new product launches. Understanding the industry helps you contextualise legal issues and reach the best result for your client.

Plant seeds for prospective clients early. A lot of my relationships — from college through law school and business school — were with creative people, many of whom are now in the fashion industry. During those early years, well before I started my own firm, I was very comfortable presenting myself to those people as a lawyer (or a soon-to-be-lawyer). When many of those people were starting their own businesses or found themselves within businesses where they had decision-making authority, I was the first lawyer that came to mind to help them — one that they knew not only appreciated the nuances of the industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

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State of Fashion 2023
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State of Fashion 2023