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Terms of Art: Musical background helps attorney connect with clients

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ArtSheet music often includes a subheading prescribing the manner in which the score should be performed. If the life of intellectual property litigator and Indiana native Trezanay Atkins was “reduced” to a musical score, it would be captioned allegrezza (“with cheerfulness or joyfulness”) or vivacissimo (“very lively”). With her larger-than-life personality, Atkins is the proverbial breath of fresh air; and, ladies and gentlemen, there’s a song in the air … .

Atkins adores music. “[It] is the universal language, because with music, without understanding the words, you can feel the emotion connected to that – it allows you to convey more than what was said. Music gets beyond the cerebral and down to the soul and spirit,” she explains.

In reflecting on her childhood, Atkins associates key stages of her life with the corresponding phase in her musical training. Her father served in the military, and she spent her formative years in various states and even overseas. She was 4 years old and living in Kansas when she performed her first church solo. Then, her family was off to Fort Bragg, N.C., where she took piano lessons and sang in the church choir. From fifth to eighth grade, they were stationed in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, where she “picked up the saxophone.” In eighth grade, the family returned to Indianapolis, where she was selected to sing with the elite Chamber Singers ensemble at Arlington High School, played saxophone in the band, and continued to sing with the church choir. Atkins even toured with and recorded two studio albums before and during college with a touring gospel choir.

Atkins knew as a youngster that she would become an attorney. It began innocently enough when someone commented that she “looked like an attorney” in a childhood pantsuit (complete, she laughs, with snazzy black suspenders). It was in high school, however, that Atkins “discovered that I had a knack for persuasive public speaking.” Atkins’ mother was the business administrator of the touring gospel choir that Atkins performed with in high school. Because of her mother’s role, Atkins was often present when the gospel choir’s business affairs were conducted, and often, to her consternation, sealed with a handshake.

atkins Atkins

“I remember thinking, ‘Where are the attorneys?’” When disputes inevitably arose, the issues were complicated by the fact that “nothing was in writing.” Atkins resolved to pursue a career in advocacy in the area of entertainment law, which encompassed “the things that made me happy in life – music and playing sports.”

Atkins is a classically trained musician, having expanded upon her music theory and sight-reading background when she studied music theory and public communication/rhetorical studies at Purdue University. A member of the prestigious University Choir, she recalls the rigorous daily rehearsal schedule in the run-up to the holiday concert schedule with incredulity.

She later studied law at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, during which time she worked at CMG Worldwide. CMG represents, markets and protects against infringement of the brands of various famous personalities and corporate clients, living and deceased, including the incomparable (and ever-lucrative) Marilyn Monroe brand. Atkins’ exposure to rights of publicity law at CMG “triggered my interest in IP litigation – the notion that people had built monetary value in their face or name!” Atkins credits CMG Worldwide with giving her “a solid foundation in intellectual property” and the various sub-areas that comprise the field.

Atkins graduated from law school in 2006 and jetted off to Los Angeles to work in the litigation group at a large law firm. She again credits her experience at the firm with giving her “great training in litigation,” via myriad opportunities to see matters through from their inception to their various conclusions. The experience, she recalls, “helped me to realize I really loved litigation.” Her work at the Los Angeles firm was primarily in the area of film industry litigation, but it served Atkins well by providing her with all the transferrable litigation skills necessary to become a successful trial lawyer in her chosen practice niche.

After two years in California, Atkins returned to Indianapolis and launched her own firm, tma| the brand infringement firm™, an intellectual property litigation law firm. In a nod to her time at CMG, Atkins’ favorite area remains rights of publicity law. The firm’s success is driven by Atkins’ passion for protecting her clients’ personal and business brands from infringement.

A major proponent of music education in schools, Atkins says, “There is a direct correlation between musical training and academic success.” Atkins also believes that being a musician has made her a better trial lawyer. “It’s important for every professional to recognize that we have gifts, and we need to find outlets to do those things, even if it’s not professionally.” Atkins feels a kinship with and can better serve her clients because of their shared experience as artists. For instance, she understood a client’s desire to sever a contractual relationship with her management where the manager’s decisions stood to pigeonhole the client into an outmoded genre that would limit the client’s career potential.

In the world of music theory, “sight-reading” is the ability of a musician to perform an unfamiliar musical work the first time she encounters the sheet music. The musician is able to so deliver because she can call upon a solid musical foundation.  Similarly, in the practice of law, attorneys must apply our legal training in various doctrinal disciplines to unique factual scenarios in order to assist our clients in obtaining their desired outcomes. The best attorneys among us strive to become expert performers – virtuosos, if you will – intent on striking a harmonious balance between the various factors at play.•

__________

Wandini Riggins is an associate in the Indianapolis firm of Lewis Wagner LLP. She concentrates her practice in the areas of insurance coverage and immigration. She can be reached at wriggins@lewiswagner.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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