Published on May 14, 2015 | by LawNews
Experiencing an In-House Legal Environment
A Civil Law Externship With Indoor Cycling Chain SoulCycle
by Trina Mannino
Walking into the studio of the indoor cycling behemoth SoulCycle, legal counsel isn’t the first thing that comes to mind amid colorful leggings and the iconic skull-and-crossbones branded gear. The boutique fitness chain, which is making strides to expand worldwide in 2015, indeed has a legal team. As SoulCycle’s in-house director of legal affairs, Hofstra Law alumna Melissa Schoffer Farber ’05 handles intellectual property matters along with any other legal issues that come her way.
While Schoffer Farber was previously working at the 92nd Street Y, she realized that there weren’t many opportunities for students in the realm of in-house lawyering. “I thought if I could partner with Hofstra, it would be a great experience [for externs],” she says, “and when I came [to SoulCycle] I wanted to continue that.”
Third-year Hofstra Law students Christopher Motyl and Jerika Morris joined Schoffer Farber this past summer as externs and continued through the fall semester. Both the mentor and the students share an enthusiasm for intellectual property law.
Schoffer Farber had her “aha moment” while taking a class with Professor Leon Friedman in her third year. “This is the area for me. It’s law connected to arts, culture and media,” she says. “I knew at that moment that it was a good fit for me.”
In contrast, Motyl, who has an undergraduate degree in accounting and previous experience in criminal justice internships, was drawn to learning more about copyright and trademark specifically, because he enjoys seeing where “business and law intersect.”
Morris, who also has a business background, remembers that after taking a property class at Hofstra Law she immediately knew she wanted a firsthand experience. “[Intellectual property] gives you a way to connect with the business,” she says, adding that it offers a thorough understanding of a company’s mission and structure.
Each extern met one-on-one with Schoffer Farber every week, and on Fridays they attended a team meeting, which included the company’s paralegal and law clerk. “I think you get the most experience when you see a project all the way through,” Schoffer Farber says, pointing out that the small size of the department allowed them to work collaboratively. “Most externs work on a piece and they don’t know what it means in the context of the larger goal. I really try to walk everyone through the big picture.”
In addition to learning more about intellectual property law, the students were exposed to working for an in-house legal team. “For me, I’ve always been a people person,” says Schoffer Farber about why she gravitated toward in-house lawyering. “I love the face time and interacting with people and being involved in a business.”
IN AN IN-HOUSE CONTEXT, YOU WORK WITH A LOT OF DIFFERENT ISSUES AND PEOPLE. IT’S PRACTICAL LAWYERING, SOLVING A PROBLEM AND EXPLAINING IT TO A NON-LAWYER IN A SUCCINCT WAY.
Morris says she found it interesting to observe the differences between the in-house and outside legal teams and how they work together. She admits that there were challenges, explaining that she couldn’t write a 10-page standard legal memo. Instead, Morris and the in-house legal team needed to write their research concisely and in a way that could be easily understood by everyone in the company.
“In an in-house context, you work with a lot of different issues and people,” Motyl says. “It’s practical lawyering, solving a problem and explaining it to a non-lawyer in a succinct way.”
Schoffer Farber takes her role as a mentor seriously and finds that, in addition to sharing her own experiences in the field, she learns from each of her externs. “If you know you have this interest in being in an in-house world,” she says, “it’s important to make yourself available to young law students who share that interest.”
If Morris and Motyl were to remember one lesson from their externship experience, Schoffer Farber wished to imbue “the importance of loving what you do.”