Heather Celeste Mitchell

Law by Design: Interview with Ashlee Froese

 (Photo: JR Bernstein)                                                      
This month, Law by Design interviews Ashlee Froese, a branding and fashion lawyer at Gilbert's LLP.  

First, the Law by Design survey:  

Favorite Designer(s): Michael Kors, Jason Wu, Aqua di Lara and an honorable mention to Zara (I can’t help myself).

Favorite Weekend Activity: Give me a dance floor with some old school hip hop and I’m all smiles. 

And now, for the interview!

L by D:  Thanks for taking the time to share your story!  Can you tell us about your law practice?

Thanks for including me – it’s an honor!  I am a branding and fashion lawyer at Gilbert’s LLP, which is based out of Toronto, Canada.  My scope of practice includes trade-marks, copyright, domain name and social media laws.  I work with a wide variety of clients from entrepreneurs through to multinational corporations to create and enforce brand protection strategies.  I counsel clients in Canada and also manage international brand portfolios.  I’m also fairly involved in the intellectual property community and am an executive member of the Toronto Intellectual Property Group, a member of several committees with the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada and also the International Trademarks Association. 

I run a website, Canada Fashion Law, along with a Twitter account @brandfashionlaw, which looks at laws and business affecting the fashion industry from a Canadian perspective.  I am also a board member of Fashion Group International and speak and write frequently on branding and fashion law. 

L by D:  How would you describe your path from law student to where you are today?

To be honest, the path to my legal career started young.  I knew I wanted to be a lawyer since I was about 8 years old.  Throughout my undergraduate degree (International Politics at the University of Toronto), I worked at a boutique law firm in Toronto, Canada that focused on anti-counterfeiting enforcement.  My interest in intellectual property laws was piqued early on.  During law school, I took a break from intellectual property law and interned with the United Nations in the Middle East during the summer.  Post law school, I was once again charmed by intellectual property law and worked at a prominent intellectual property boutique law firm.  I have since landed at Gilbert’s LLP, which is a fantastic and stealthy full-service boutique law firm that has a lot of personality.  I’m surrounded by entrepreneurial and fun professionals, which makes going to work a pleasure.  (I actually look forward to Monday mornings.) 

Although I apply my practice areas (trade-marks, copyright, domain name and social media laws) to a wide variety of industries, I have a particular affinity to the fashion industry and have become recognized as one of Canada’s very few “fashion lawyers.” 

L by D:  Your website, CanadaFashionLaw, covers fashion industry events and offers readers in-depth analysis of the latest business and legal developments affecting the industry.  What are some of the unique issues facing the design law community in Canada?

One of the greatest challenges that my fashion clients face is battling against “fashion design piracy.”  This is different than traditional trade-mark infringement/counterfeiting.  The fashion design itself is being ripped off – not just the trade-mark.  It is frustrating for designers, especially up and coming designers.  However, by understanding how intellectual property laws can be applied in a non-traditional/outside the box way, in addition to understanding the business nuances of the fashion industry, it is possible to architect an intellectual property portfolio that better protects the designer against fashion design piracy.  

L by D:  In addition to your website, you’re also active on Twitter, @brandfashionlaw, and you frequently speak on issues related to fashion law.  What advice would you give design-minded law students and attorneys on how to make the best use of social media and other opportunities to connect with likeminded professionals?

First, decide how you wish to use social media platforms.  You can actively or passively participate on Twitter.  You can use Twitter as an information gathering/entertainment tool.  Or you can use Twitter as an integral part of your business development plan.  I’m an active participant on Twitter and have found it to be a delightful and fun business development tool.  Twitter has allowed me to connect on a more personal level with like-minded professionals on a global scale.  It’s a surprisingly intimate platform, especially if you practice in a niche/emerging area, such as fashion law.  My best advice is to not shy away from it because you don’t understand it.  You can ease your way into it, create an account and simply monitor other people’s activities until your feet are wet.  Once you have a better feel for how Twitter is used, you can determine how you want to use it.

L by D:  Can you share with us a career challenge you’ve faced, and how you worked to overcome it?

This may be a sickeningly optimistic response, but I don’t think I’ve ever viewed an experience as a career challenge.  Every encounter has simply allowed me to develop into who, what and where I should be.  

When starting off my legal career, I’ve always had a view that it’s important to determine the type of life you want to lead and how your career fits into that vision.  Not the other way around.  I’ve never had a desire to be a clone lawyer.  So for me, I knew that practicing at a boutique law firm for clients in the creative field would likely be a good fit and that’s exactly where I find myself today.  As long as you’re diligent in servicing your clients, continue to be current on legal developments and work in a truly open-door policy where you can rely on your colleagues, nothing is insurmountable. 

L by D:  What are some of your professional goals for the next year?

So far, 2013 has been a fantastic year!  I have been very fortunate in that my career is in an upward trajectory.  I’ve had speaking engagements across North America on fashion law, been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines and continue to meet interesting and dynamic clients.  It’s busy but I absolutely love what I do.  If I can continue this good fortune into 2014, I’d be delighted! 


Many thanks to Ashlee Froese for taking time out of her very busy schedule to share her insights with Ms. JD!  See below for details on some of Ashlee’s recent writing and speaking engagements.  And stay tuned to CanadaFashionLaw and @brandfashionlaw for updates!

-      WritingCanadian Intellectual Property Review: Academic publication entitled “Fashioning Intellectual Property Protection for Canada’s Most Fabulous Industry”; Lawyer’s Weekly:  Article on intellectual property issues relating to 3D printing (view the article here); University College Alumni Magazine: Article on the effects of counterfeiting (view the article here); The Genteel: Article on Louboutin v. YSL (view the article here).

-      Speaking Engagements: Hosted a roundtable at the May 2013 meeting of the International Trademark Association in Dallas on protecting fashion designs through intellectual property law; Guest presenter at the University of Toronto to educate public relations students on intellectual property laws; Panelist at April’s Fashion Law Symposium at the John Marshall Law School; Panelist at Fashion Crimes: The BIG Debate at the Royal Ontario Museum.


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