How to Become an Art Lawyer: Guest Post by Leila Amineddoleh

Posted on May 1, 2012


Leila and Tom Flynn chat on my terrace in Amelia.

So many law students and lawyers have contacted me in the last few years asking how to break into the field of art law that I knew I had to come up with a good response. The truth is, I’m far more of a cultural property law aficionado than an art lawyer! So I solicited my friend and fellow student from ARCA’s Masters program in International Art Crime Studies, Leila Amineddoleh, to answer the question. She’s a real, live art lawyer in New York City!

So, I asked her, I says, “Leila, how does one become an art lawyer?” Here’s what she had to say:

“Becoming an art lawyer is difficult since the field is small. Whereas areas such as patent, bankruptcy, real estate, divorce, and tax law have a steady stream of clients, art law is a niche practice. So how can students and practitioners break into this narrow field?

“My advice to all lawyers is to be a good lawyer. Do as much “lawyering” as possible. Whereas publishing articles and gathering art degrees may be helpful, the most valuable resume entries involve actual lawyering, whether in litigation or in transactional matters. To gain valuable experience, there are a few areas that are especially helpful for art law. I began my career as an intellectual property attorney as it is the area most closely associated with art law (issues related to trademarks, publicity, and copyrights often appear in art law matters). Experience in that field is helpful.

“In addition, there are other areas that are of great interest to artists, arts institutions, and private art collectors. Major art collectors must protect their assets and their charitable contributions, thus tax issues and estate planning are of particular relevance to these individuals. Many artists consult lawyers to safeguard their work: they need advice on maintaining their intellectual property rights and protecting their physical property. This requires that attorneys draft contracts indemnifying galleries for damages, insuring the value of
the art, and protecting the artist from unequal bargaining partners. All of these considerations require strong negotiating and contract drafting skills. For that, experience drafting contracts is necessary.

“In the realm of litigation, some issues appear more frequently than others. There have been a plethora of recent cases involving art forgeries and fraud. In addition, there is the realm of cultural heritage law that often revolves around criminal actions (such as art theft, customs incongruities, and international law violations) and civil improprieties (dealers providing sellers with incomplete provenance history and inaccurate warranties).

“For individuals looking to gain experience in art law, there are countless volunteer opportunities available. Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, a national non-profit organization with locations in dozens of cities through the US, offers many volunteer and internship opportunities for interested parties. For those without a regional VLA office, I suggest contacting local arts venues (music performance spaces, art galleries, and local museums) and volunteering legal assistance. In addition, students and practitioners should consider contacting art law firms and volunteering their services in order to gain art related law firm experience. In addition, lawyers at larger law firms may inquire as to pro bono opportunities within their own law firms.

“Entering into the field of art law is more challenging than in other areas of the law since it is a very niche field.  However, with determination and creativity, it is possible to find rewarding and substantive work in the exciting realm of art law.”

Much thanks to Leila for her contribution and unique, valuable insight.