Proto has cultivated a career in fashion, law, and everything in between. In our Speaker Series session on November 17th, 2021, Proto discussed her journey and how combining creative interests and legal studies can yield a worthwhile career. After receiving a Masters in Legal Studies (MLS) from Washington University in St. Louis (Wash U), Proto utilized the skills she developed in relationship building and time management, and put her degree to work.
Learn more about Proto’s journey below, where she uses her own words to discuss MLS takeaways, professional advice, finding your niche, and beyond. For more resources, events, and workshops, visit the Career Engagement Network.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Marketing & Management from the Art Institute of California, Hollywood, an associate’s degree in legal studies, and a paralegal certificate from Los Angeles Mission College, I graduated from Wash U with my masters in 2019.
Fashion Industry Experience
Before law entered the mix, every job that I’ve had in fashion since I was sixteen revolved around the retail floor. If it’s a good brand like Michael Kors or Tillys, they promote from within.
I started at a corporation, Arbonne, in their compliance department. I was really interested in the beauty and apparel industry.
I had a, this is kind of fun, notion while I was there. If I could apply law to beauty. Is there a way to apply law to fashion and retail? Which is really where I wanted to end up at some point in time.
When I worked at Tilly’s, I was exposed to all avenues, from vendor compliance to finance litigation to IP issues surrounding the fashion industry. I really had a chance to sit there and hone in on what I really wanted to do – and then concentrate on that area.
Masters in Legal Studies
For me, the MLS just made more sense to do. To be able to balance a degree with a career and still see my family and friends was important. I have an eight-year-old, and, at the time, he was not eight and highly demanding.
The best thing about the program at Wash U is that you have your few set requirements and can tailor everything else to what you want to do.
Something I have learned with this degree is that you can do a lot with it. Everything from compliance to HR to making law departments more functional. Knowing the avenue I wanted to take, I laid it all out and could apply everything to some way, shape, or form of what I do.
All of this started from a self evaluation process of: I want to get here. How do I get here? And then working backwards from there.
Nothing was a waste. I can tell you that.
On Time Management
There was a lot of reading, so I used all the technology that is out there. I would see if my books could be done on audio, and my drive into the office was at least two hours so I would use that time to listen to a book.
I would find time in the middle of my day to carve things out. Lunch was dedicated to my office door being shut: eating, reading, and studying. And, then, once my son would go to bed in the evening, I would crack open the books and the laptop again, and get on it.
On Building Soft Skills
The soft skills with personal relationships [in the program] provided a good foundation. I learned to have a voice at Wash U, and the program gave me the personal confidence and educational wisdom to bring important topics to the table. I didn’t have to go pay an attorney for the professional skills I had already acquired.
In my work with CEOs, it is really important that I know what I am doing, but also important that they know I am there to protect them. [With the above skills] I was able to prove that to the CEOs. I would say, I’m sitting in this seat for a reason, I’m not sitting in this seat to take anything away from you.
It really is important in your career to find a person that understands the trajectory that you want and knows you personally, whether it’s internally, externally, or both.
Regional networking is a great opportunity if you don’t have a job lead, or if you are thinking about changing careers and want good contacts in your pocket.
On Her Own Mentors
I had a mentor outside of work that was guiding me and showing me the ropes, but I also reported directly to the CFO when I was at Tillys, and he was my mentor as well. He would say, What do you want? Let’s carve out your career. Let’s see what we can do.
He sat me down and put a career path together for me. He said, I don’t want you to leave unless it’s an opportunity I cannot give you here.
And that’s what ultimately happened: I was offered a position that was so massive and changing, really there was no way they could offer me that.
He’s still my mentor. I have questions: he answers them.
I am juggling a full-time job and a full-time business. It’s definitely a shift and a change. It is definitely demanding, but it’s a lot of fun.
I was the first legal hire at AKA Brands [her current job]. I’m serving several different brands and CEOs on how they run their businesses. We give them advice and tell them what we recommend, and then they move forward.
One of the highlights of my career was getting to go to the stock exchange and celebrate AKA Brands going public in September. It was amazing!
This work is basically taking everything from every company that I’ve learned anything from and applying it, learning a bunch of new things that I’ve never done before in the process.
I don’t think I can get any higher than this, other than having my own company and being a CEO, which is what I’m also doing right now.
The sky’s the limit.
I have a friend who graduated in my class at Wash U who reads contracts for the NFL, and helps negotiate player salaries.
I have another girlfriend that’s clerking at the district court right now.
Maybe there’s something that you like in your current job, but you’re not really sure where else you can go with your skill set. Or maybe you have an interest and follow that.
Trends in the Industry
Privacy is growing and it’s growing rapidly. So, if anyone has an interest in technology and law, that is really big right now. Privacy law also revolves around data: consumer data, anonymity, and the return to privacy after social media. All of this is trending right now and I don’t see it going away anytime soon.
A lot of companies are focusing on the well being of people and opening up positions for that. There’s a lot of different opportunities that are popping up that have never been there. Or they have been there, but are broader now. Lots of opportunities to get your hands dirty!
Watch the session below: