Sheet 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.
“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 [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.