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Fashioning a Law Practice

By Kari Santos | Nov. 2, 2014

News

Law Office Management

Nov. 2, 2014

Fashioning a Law Practice

An attorney blends her love of fashion with her love of advocacy.

I was raised in Lagos, Nigeria, in the 1980s. As a child, I was acutely aware that I did not fit in because I was raised by my mother in a single-parent home. Back then, Nigerian society resembled the United States of the 1940s: The overwhelming majority of families stayed in a nuclear formation led by men.

In hindsight, I might have been OK with us being "different," except that our society ostracized families without a male "head of the house." For example, when disputes occurred between landlords and tenants, if a man were present in the home issues were typically resolved amicably. In my mother's case, when she couldn't make rent she was not afforded tenant-rights protections: Our landlords would cut off the lights or water, and my mother had no recourse.

This circumstance of my upbringing made me realize early that it was in my nature to speak up for myself, my family, and others who needed my help. I became an advocate for anyone I could: In grade school I formed my own debate team, and categorically defended the misfits I knew against bullies.

Meanwhile, I developed another passion. At the time, it was trendy for Nigerian women to have their own tailors, and when I was six years old my mother designated me as her style messenger: I conveyed to her tailors what she wanted, and carted the clothes back and forth. I quickly realized I wanted to learn all things fashion: to sew, to sketch, to design. I dreamed in colors. The smell and touch of beautiful fabrics, gorgeous design aesthetics, strong silhouettes, and vibrant colors always teased my senses and sparked my imagination. I kept a scrapbook where I sketched "cute outfits" (at least, I thought so) that I hoped one day to design.

This passion was a surprise - already I had come to reject delineated roles for women. I was tomboyish, and tended to rebel against any and all things that attempted to define my gender identity and its supposed limitations. I had no interest in learning how to cook, for example, despite the general insistence that I would never marry if I did not learn. But when it came to fashion, I was powerless - it had an innate draw.

Over the years, I've worked as a model and in clothing retail. But I've always had a keen interest in the intellectual side of fashion. How does fashion intersect with society at large? What are its historical underpinnings? In Nigeria, no one ever discussed costume design or fashion as a way of exploring culture. After I moved to California, I finally enrolled at Delta School of Fashion in Stockton to take fashion courses and explore these questions.

In 1998, I resumed my other early love, advocacy, and enrolled at UC Hastings College of the Law, knowing that I would practice fashion law. I even organized the first fashion runway show at Hastings, and another for the National Black Law Students Association conference.

Since I earned my law degree, I've never strayed from my path. A decade before most lawyers had even heard of the practice area, I organized California's first fashion law seminar for San Francisco Fashion Week. I have also created similar seminars for Hastings and California Lawyers for the Arts. Now, I've cofounded a firm where fashion law is one of our main areas of practice.

The society in which I grew up was hard on women like my mother, and on girls like me. But amid the discrimination I experienced, fashion gave me freedom of expression. Now, I am happy to be in a place that allows me to celebrate my heritage, and to combine in work my twin passions of fashion and the law.

Uduak Oduok is a partner and cofounder of Ebitu Law Group, PC. She is based in Sacramento.

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Kari Santos

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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