By Heather Celeste Mitchell • April 24, 2013•Writers in Residence
This month, Law by Design interviews Sarah Feingold, Counsel at Etsy, Inc.
First, the Law by Design survey:
Favorite Designer(s): Etsy designers, of course! I really like Xsilk, a shop that sells gorgeous silk tops and ombre tights. I own a top from Xsilk, and I receive many compliments when I wear it! I also have my eyes on a couple of pieces from The Knit Kid, a shop that sells some really cool, bright knit dresses. And I’m a fan of my own jewelry designs, which I sell in my Etsy shop, Feingold Jewelry. (L by D note: Sarah’s jewelry is fantastic.)
Favorite Weekend Activity: Brunch. In Brooklyn. There are so many great brunch spots in Brooklyn. Some of my favorites are Café LULUc, Jack the Horse Tavern and Rose Water. I really love brunch (the only challenge is deciding between savory and sweet).
And now, for the interview!
L by D: Thank you for participating in the interview series! You have what many design-minded law students and attorneys would consider a dream job. Can you describe a typical day at Etsy?
Today marks my 6th anniversary at Etsy, and not one day has been typical! I work with a group of highly creative and entrepreneurial geniuses. On any given day, I could be reviewing policies, drafting and negotiating contracts, or coordinating with our products and communications teams. And of course, I deal with a lot of intellectual property issues.
The work environment at Etsy is very interactive and collaborative – I often say that I speak many different languages there. I could be meeting with a finance team to discuss ROI (return on investment) one minute and with an engineering team to discuss technical aspects of the Etsy site the next.
L by D: In addition to your work as an attorney at Etsy, you also design jewelry. What are some of the similarities between your legal work and design work?
I think that one of the reasons why I’ve done well as an attorney at Etsy is because as an independent designer myself, I understand our Etsy sellers, and I understand how small businesses operate. My job requires me to be a businessperson first, and a lawyer second. This is very important – you can’t let your lawyer “alarm” prevent you from listening to – and actually hearing – the business justifications for choosing a course of action, even if there’s some risk involved. As attorneys, we tend to be very risk averse, but businesses thrive on taking risks.
Another similarity between my legal work and design work is that both require attention to detail and a sharp final product. When designing jewelry, I focus on the project until everything looks pristine, just as I do with my legal work. And whether doing metalwork for a piece of jewelry or considering a critical legal issue, it’s important not to burn yourself!
L by D: Could you describe a career challenge you’ve faced, and what you did to overcome it?
A challenge that I faced at the beginning of my legal career is that it was hard to find direction. I always knew that I was not going to follow a “cookie cutter” path after law school. I did not see myself working at a firm exclusively, moving from junior associate to senior associate to junior partner to senior partner. (I did work at a firm before moving to Etsy, and I enjoyed my time there – I learned a lot and I still rely on things I learned at the firm today.) But I knew that I was business-minded, and that I wanted to do something a bit quirky. I was able to find direction in my career by listening to myself and getting out and trying new things. It’s important to explore opportunities and not to feel like you’re stuck in a box – you never know what could happen!
L by D: From high-profile cases like Louboutin v. YSL to the development of fashion law programs at law schools around the country, design has been at the center of several recent (and exciting) legal developments. What do you see as some of the most critical issues facing the design law community?
I think that one of the most critical issues facing the design law community today is that the barrier to entry to the design industry is very low. It used to be much more difficult to break into the industry. But today, with a couple of bucks and an iPhone (and of course a brain and some lovely designs), you can start a shop and experiment with different marketing and business strategies. With new industry participants come new technology and new legal issues – and while the technology moves fast, the law moves slowly. The legal community has to work to keep pace with the technological changes.
Another critical issue facing the design law community is the tension between protecting intellectual property rights and encouraging cooperation and collaboration. The protection of intellectual property rights is important, but there is also a benefit to a design community that values sharing and inspiration. I think it’s great to see artists build upon each other’s work.
L by D: What are some of your professional goals for the upcoming year?
One of my main professional goals is to continue to be influential at Etsy. As a company, we have set the bar high, and I want to continue to help Etsy grow.
Additionally, last month I participated in the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, where I spoke on a panel about legal issues facing tech companies. I want to continue to speak and write about issues related to design law. I am particularly interested in issues related to entrepreneurialism, and the unique issues faced by small businesses and independent designers. I see a lot of cease and desist letters sent to small businesses by large, well-known companies who have seen their brands’ images depicted in the work of smaller, independent designers. What often gets lost in the back-and-forth is that these independent designers are real fans of the well-known brands, and are really upset when they receive these letters. And today, the “little guy” has a big voice. Cease and desist letters find their way to Instagram, and designers find other ways to publicly express their disappointment and frustration. I think that there are better ways for large companies to protect their brands without isolating fans, and that it’s important for all of us to come together to consider a more thoughtful approach.
Many thanks to Sarah Feingold, who took time out of a busy Tuesday to speak with me and share her insights with the Ms. JD community! To see some of the fabulous products available on Etsy, click here (and be sure to check out Sarah’s shop). You can also read more about Sarah on her website.