This week, I continue my written interview with Nikki Breeland of Breeland Law, regarding her path to making her mark on the legal profession post-law school and clerkship. Please see below for Nikki’s answers to my second and third questions, focused on the mission of her new law firm and her advice to law students looking to gain a foothold in the face of the current challenges.
As usual, I have added some brief commentary to Nikki’s answers but have otherwise presented her answers as provided.
GK: 2) Why was it important for Breeland Law to have a clear mission statement in terms of the work you want to do for clients?
NB: From the first “personal statement” I wrote to apply to law school five years ago, I have maintained that my dream job, and the reason I became an attorney, is to protect the creators and artists that intricately weave a culture around us. When asked about my career path, I usually jokingly mention my time in the performance arts, and how I knew that while I loved dance, music, and the theater, my talent did not necessarily measure up, so I had to come up with something that allowed me into this space that I love. While mostly true, it doesn’t quite capture the passion I have for creators. When I grew up, I watched my dad come up with a new invention every week. I watched my mother excel at graphic design and painting, selling her work at flea markets. As an adult, I’ve seen my parents start their own publishing company. My uncle, my late grandmother, my sister, my mother, my dad, and my husband are published authors. I’m amazed at my family’s creativity and passion for creating, for making the world a more beautiful place. So, naturally, I became the attorney. Influenced by the small business owners in my life (my father-in-law owns a law firm, my mother-in-law owns a property management business, and my dad owns a retirement planning company), I became the one who desperately wants to make sure that creatives like artists, designers, musicians, authors, and entrepreneurs have a safe place and competent legal advice, so they can worry more about their art than their legal obligations and concerns. I aim to be a one-stop-shop — I want clients to be able to come to me with any problem they may have arising out of their position as creatives, and trust that I will do my very best to serve them.
Having a clear mission statement that serves as a beacon to the creative community was extremely important to me. I want anyone who visits my website to know I have a passion to serve the creative community. It acts as an anchor, and also as a promise to myself that this crazy venture will stay true to my dreams: to practice in entertainment and intellectual property in New York City representing the individuals who make our days a little brighter.
GK: As a lifelong NYCer, I can say without reservation that the creative community contributes tremendously to New York City’s standing as an irreplaceable place to live and visit. At the same time, the creative community — along with many of New York City’s small businesses — has been hit very hard in the current pandemic. If there was ever a time that members of that community could benefit from an advocate like Nikki, that time is now. For their sake, and for the sake of keeping New York City as vibrant as it can be, Nikki’s efforts are sorely needed. As such, it is great she has such a clear picture of the client base she wishes to serve. Moreover, it is always important for lawyers, no matter their career stage, to evaluate whether they find fulfillment in their practices. If the answer is no, but financial or other considerations mandate that a career pivot won’t work, it is worth considering whether pro bono can help fill the happiness gap. I suspect it can, especially if the pro bono efforts are undertaken in an area of law that is of personal interest, or in the service of a community whose needs are important to the lawyer offering the help.
GK: 3) What advice would you offer ambitious law students facing the daunting prospect of finding work in this pandemic?
NB: My biggest piece of advice for law students has always been to find a way to write every paper assigned by tying it into their desired area of practice and publish it. For example, in law school I took an Internet Law course, for which we were supposed to write a paper. So, I wrote my paper on Internet radio, and how the Music Modernization Act would change the way we listened to streaming music. This was just a run-of-the-mill paper I already had to write for class, and it is one of the publications I have now. Always, always, always, submit your class papers for publishing. Publications are often underutilized ways for law students to stake their claim as thought leaders in the professional world. By submitting articles for publication, you are going up against other law students, law professors, and law practitioners. To receive an offer of publication is personally gratifying, but it also has professional repercussions. In every interview I have had since law school, my publications have been brought to the forefront of the conversation. It is something that sets you apart, and it is something that requires almost no extra work.
My second piece of advice is to learn as soon as you can in law school what type of law you want to practice. I don’t necessarily mean the specific subject matter (like personal injury or intellectual property, although that will help a lot), but the people who are the most prepared for the job market are the ones that know whether they want to be litigators or transactional attorneys, and have stacked the experience needed to land a job doing what they want upon graduation.
Jumping off that, law students should make connections with attorneys who work in the type of law they want to work in. I’m not talking about the awkward “networking” that career services offices tend to suggest. I’m talking about starting and maintaining actual relationships with practitioners. This might look like keeping in touch with an attorney you grew up knowing, or even an internship/externship supervisor. It could also look like cold calling for coffee, but one-off meetings like that rarely do anything for you. I want to be clear that this is NOT a way to ensure you have a job. I feel like professional networking has a rap of being the answer to students’ job search problems. It’s not. What this does is it gives you resources for mentorship, people to bounce ideas off of, attorneys you can ask questions, and yes, maybe they can connect you with opportunities. But I feel like career services offices these days are throwing law students at practitioners like we can invent jobs for everyone with whom we speak. Use attorney networks correctly, and you can get so much more than a job.
Lastly, get rid of imposter syndrome. Everyone has it, which means no one needs to. Know that once you have a license to practice law, no one can stand in your way of doing just that. If job offers don’t come pouring in, entertain the idea of going on your own for a while and gaining experience. One way to feel more stable in this area is to take as many “practical” courses as you can: clinics, externships, drafting courses for aspiring transactional attorneys, trial advocacy for aspiring litigators, and stints in customer service and client intake will also help you prepare to be a successful attorney.
The legal practice has enough mercenaries. Be attorneys who employ empathy, critical listening skills, thoroughness, passion, honesty, and forthrightness, and you will find much more success with your interpersonal relationships with clients and opposing counsel. Be brave. Be caring. Be you.
GK: If you are a law student or considering law school — read the thoughtful, helpful, inspiring answer above. Take it to heart, act on it, and create the opportunities you need to have the career you want.
My thanks to Nikki for the insights and cooperation, and I wish her unbridled and lasting success with her new firm. It is always a privilege to hear from someone who represents both the present and future of IP practice, and I thank Nikki for agreeing to this interview. I am always open to conducting interviews of this type with other IP thought leaders, so feel free to reach out if you have a compelling perspective to offer.
Please feel free to send comments or questions to me at [email protected] or via Twitter: @gkroub. Any topic suggestions or thoughts are most welcome.
Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique, and Markman Advisors LLC, a leading consultancy on patent issues for the investment community. Gaston’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @gkroub.