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Combining a legal career with creative interests

Lawyers who are passionate about more creative pursuits can combine their legal careers with their passions, according to the founder of this art law and advisory firm.

user iconLauren Croft 18 November 2021 SME Law
Alana Kushnir
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Guest Work Agency is the first dedicated art law practice in Australia, working with artists, collectors, galleries, arts organisations, art fairs and tech start-ups. Director and founder Alana Kushnir spoke recently on the Boutique Lawyer Show about setting up such a niche practice and the effects of COVID-19 on the arts sector.

Having always had an interest in artistic pursuits, Ms Kushnir graduated with an art history degree and a bachelor of laws and worked at KWM, but after a few years, the art world was still pulling her in. She then joined the board of an artist-run not-for-profit space before travelling overseas to obtain her master’s of fine art in curating from Goldsmiths in London.

“I really like picking things apart, understanding why things work in the way they do and being able to communicate issues around the law to others. So really, I always had the art side, I very much had the law side, and I really always wanted to combine them,” she said.


“In Australia, though, art law is not really a very developed area of specialist practice, and that’s because the industry here, the art industry, is a smaller industry.”

Ms Kushnir was working for the Melbourne Festival and ended up working as both a curator and an in-house counsel, combining the worlds of art and law.

“I started off as curating their arts program to a general counsel role. So, I had this kind of hybrid role. And I think that was a very beneficial way in which that in-house role functioned because I really understood the nature of the business, and I understood the creatives that were involved in those businesses,” she added.  

“All of those experiences, from working at a corporate law firm to working with brands with an advertising and marketing background, to working in these creative industries, it’s all shaped how Guest Work Agency has evolved.”

The firm does proactive work with artists and galleries, as well as a lot of advisory work and occasionally runs exhibitions in conjunction with artists. Ms Kushnir said that having those other, less traditional arms, Guest Work was a way to ensure the viability and success of the firm.

“If you think of the traditional sole practitioner, the way in which they build their business, they need to diversify. They need to have knowledge of multiple areas of law in order to build the business and to maintain the business,” she said.

“But I really wanted to provide a service specifically for this industry. It does have its own social codes and inner workings to how it works. And I think it’s really one of those industries where the more you know your client, the more you understand how your client thinks, what your client’s concerns are, what their needs are, what their interests are, the better legal advice you can give.”

The arts industry was hit particularly badly by COVID-19, with a number of exhibitions cancelled and replanned before being cancelled again.

“The pandemic and the lockdowns have had a huge, huge impact on artists and arts workers and arts organisations, and I think we’ll really only see that impact over the next few years as well. When it comes to artists, a really important aspect of being an artist is that you get to show your work, you get to show your work in public to audiences,” Ms Kushnir added.

“During this time, we did really grow our practice in terms of the number of clients we had coming to us from the art industry, whether it be artists, or galleries, or curators and so on. And I think that during this lockdown time, as exhibitions were cancelling and so on, practitioners really had the opportunity to think about, ’OK, well, how can I do things better for myself in the future?’ And I’m hoping that’s not just a temporary sort of a mind shift.”

However, Ms Kushnir said that there are a number of opportunities within the art sector as we move into a post-pandemic world – and added that she’s always known there was the potential to combine her love of art and legal career.

“Art is an interesting space in that it’s always evolving, and the technology that’s being used is always evolving. So that’s what makes it really interesting, because the kinds of legal issues that we deal with, they evolve over time. And tech is something that’s playing a bigger and bigger role in our practice.

“Definitely in a post-COVID world, I do think that overlap between art and tech is really going to grow closer and closer together. And so not only do we have to have a strong understanding of what art is, we also have to have a really good understanding of what tech is,” she added.

“I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew there was potential. So, I think if you have that, go with it. Have something on the side, grow it slowly. But, yeah, there’s absolutely potential out there for everybody to be a lawyer and to be passionate about something and to bring those passions and your interest in law together.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Alana Kushnir, click below: