Art and Cultural Heritage Lawyers: Advice For The Next Generation

At CHP, we are fortunate to work with great clients and in a fascinating legal field. As a result, we get many inquiries from law school students and recent grads asking how they too can practice cultural heritage law.

In this blog post, we hope to answer some of the most common questions we hear and provide guidance to the next generation of lawyers who want to practice in art, museum, cultural heritage, historic preservation and related fields.

What classes should I take in law school?

We usually recommend the following courses to students interested in art and cultural heritage law (we didn’t take some of these and often wish we had!):

Nonprofit Taxation and/or Governance. Many entities in the art and cultural heritage field are nonprofits; learning about the rules under which they operate is critical.

Alternative Dispute Resolution. The skills taught in this course are applicable in almost any situation. Also, art and cultural heritage entities generally prefer to resolve disputes through ADR rather than litigation, when possible.

Wills, Trusts & Estates, Family Law and Bankruptcy. Disputes over artworks often arise because of the 3 Ds: death, divorce and debt.

Land Use or Zoning Law.  Many historic preservation goals are achieved through use of local ordinances—understanding how they work is important.

And of course, any classes your law school offers in art, historic preservation, or cultural heritage law. The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP) tries to maintain a list of relevant courses offered at law schools around the country.

This is only a handful of suggestions (other possibilities: Copyright, First Amendment, Federal Taxation). You should take courses that appeal to you, and availability differs from school to school.

Do I need a Master’s Degree, and do I need to speak another language?

Yes and no… that is, many applicants for legal positions in the art and cultural heritage field have a Master’s Degree in art history or archaeology, and speak another language (or multiple other languages). On the other hand, these are not strict requirements for a successful career. Just bear in mind who your competition may be in the job market.

With which activities should I get involved?

The LCCHP is a great resource for students interested in a legal career in this field. It offers a reduced rate for student members and annual writing and moot court competitions, and lists career opportunities on its website.

Join your law school’s art law society. If there isn’t one, start one; it looks great on your resume and you can find other students with similar interests who may be good contacts in the future.

Attend topical conferences to expand your network.  As they say, who you know is often more helpful than what you know.  You can learn more about the field while also expanding your professional network at conferences held throughout the year on art and cultural heritage law topics.  We list many on our calendar.

Is there really a future in the practice of art and cultural heritage law?

Yes, yes, yes! Even a quick look at CHP’s Facebook page, on any given day, will show just how important this field is. Art, cultural heritage, historical preservation and similar entities need and deserve reliable legal advice from well-prepared and experienced practitioners.

If you are looking to jump into the field right out of law school, however, a word of advice: getting in “through the backdoor,” so to speak, is easier and wiser. For example, Marion began her career practicing corporate, regulatory and international trade law, and also became a seasoned lobbyist before combining that experience with her first loves – cultural heritage and archaeology – and founding CHP. Eden started out as a civil litigator, then gained broad experience in museum, art and auction house disputes.

Art and cultural heritage law encompass a broad range of topics: tax, insurance, litigation, bankruptcy, intellectual property, wills, trusts, estates, contracts, nonprofit governance… the list goes on. Building your expertise in one of these areas, then looking for art and cultural heritage clients who need advice in that area is often the best way to enter the art and cultural heritage field.

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CHP is thrilled to know that there is a next generation of lawyers excited about art and cultural heritage law. It bodes well for our clients and for the world’s art and cultural heritage.

If you are interested in an internship, summer clerkship or other position with CHP, please check our website and Facebook page for announcements when positions are available, and thanks for your interest!

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