Debrief from Skype Conversation About Being an Ag Lawyer

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I had the opportunity to speak to a great crew via Skype last Friday about being an agriculture lawyer.  It’s casual “open mic” style so we talked about whatever the participants wanted to talk about.  I have been getting a lot of these types of inquiries lately from folks in many different stages of life/career.  I want to note a few points from our conversation that might be useful to many of you:

1.  Life is About Relationships. It’s never too early to start cultivating those relationships. Do so with a sincere heart and giving attitude.

2.  Nothing Replaces Face-To-Face Networking. I think it’s great that various job fairs and agriculture conferences offer an opportunity to submit a resume that gets distributed to participants; however, nothing beats personal relationships.  In 2012, Internet/social media makes it easy to network online.  Don’t forget to take those relationship offline if you can IRL (“in real life”).  See #1.  Life is about relationships.

3. Get Involved in Agriculture Organizations. I recommend the American Agriculture Law Association (“AALA”) and the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division’s Agriculture Law Committee (which I chair).

4.  Find the Location That Is Best For You, Wherever It Is, and Plant Seeds For Career Growth. Find the place geographically that is right for you… at least at this juncture in your life (life will inevitably change).  For me, that is New York City.  For you, that might be in the middle-of-nowhere Texas, close to family in Indiana, or within the Beltway in Washington D.C.  As one of the participants pointed out, I have moved a lot.  But that isn’t necessarily the best thing to do.  Every time I have moved I have learned something about myself so I don’t regret any of the moves.  To illustrate, I think I needed to move away from New York City after law school to realize that (as strange as it is for an agriculture lawyer) this is my home.

5.  If You Want To Start a Business, Make Sure You Have Ample Cash Flow. Starting a business is hard – whether it is a law practice, a bakery or a photography business.  If you are a business start-up, have a plan for cash flow from the beginning.  Perhaps you will work on a contract basis full or part-time, or perhaps you can live off of a spouse’s salary.  Or perhaps you are one of the lucky few who can start a business with plenty of cash in savings.

6.  If You Are Interested in International Agriculture Law, Check Out FAO. I completed a consultancy with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (“FAO”) researching the legal framework of livestock biodiversity.  I worked in Rome, Italy but there are small regional offices scattered throughout the world including a small liaison office here in New York City.

7.  Even If You Think You Know What You Want To Do, Don’t Be Afraid To Try Something Different. Do you think I planned on being a matrimonial attorney when I graduated from law school?  Heck no- but I am.. and I really enjoy helping people through hard chapters in their life.  It’s sharpened my litigation skills.  Perhaps you have your heart set on working at Farm Bureau or another agriculture commodity group.  You might be a better attorney for them later if you work for a law firm first to get some practical skills.  Alternatively, you might have your heart set on being a transactional agriculture lawyer.  I think some litigation experience helps transactional lawyers understand the issues that become litigated and how a court handles them.

8.  If I Could Do It Again, What Class Do I Wish I Had Taken During Law School? I am thankful to have obtained certificates in environmental law and international law at Pace; however, in hindsight I wish I would have spent more time learning different practice areas.  Afterall, agriculture law is really every kind of law geared to a specific industry.  More specifically, I would have would have taken more business law courses.

And there ya have it.  As a reminder, I’m setting aside the first Friday of every month from 2-3pm ET to have a live video chat.  Some folks have already RSVPed on Facebook.  If you are interested in participating, please email me at and give me your Skype username.  Skype group calls are limited to 10 people.  I am going to go ahead and limit participation to that number to ensure a quality conversation for those participating.

But I would like to ask you some questions privately – why do I have to participate in a group conference call?”  A few points.  First, I have a busy law practice and am a solo practitioner.  It’s very difficult for me to set aside an hour for every person who wants advice on building an agriculture law career.  Second, after speaking with many people individually I realized that many people have the same types of questions.  It is more efficient to address those same questions to a small group.  When I have time, I hope to write more in this area.  Third, I think there is a lot to gain from one another.  Folks on the call might think of questions that you might not have thought about or perhaps you can glean something from my answer to another person’s question. Fourth, it helps build the agriculture law community that we all need.

On a final note, if you have questions that you do not feel comfortable asking in front of others, feel free to email me afterwards.  If appropriate (and time permitting) we can set-up a time to speak.

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