Last month, I spoke to a group of Texas 4-H kids at a Texas A & M University via Skype about my work as an agriculture lawyer in New York City. I was asked to share a bit about my path and how I become an agriculture lawyer in the Big Apple. Here was my response:
I grew up on a small Simmental beef cattle operation in Central Illinois where I grew up showing cattle through 4-H and FFA. I decided to attend Lake Land College in Mattoon, Illinois, a community college, where I received my Associate in Science in Agriculture. I was also on the livestock judging team at Lake Land College. I then transferred to Texas A & M University (“TAMU”) and received my Bachelors in Animal Science. I was on the livestock judging team and live meat animal evaluation (“Askarben”) team at TAMU.
The turning point for me was completing the Agriculture & Natural Resource Policy Congressional Internship program through Texas A & M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences after my graduation. I interned for Congressman Kevin Brady, whose district is from the North Houston-Woodlands area. This was my first exposure to agriculture law and policy — it’s here that I developed a true passion for those issue.
At the time, I had already committed to obtain my masters of science from the University of Illinois in Ruminant Nutrition concentrating on genetic DNA markers in beef feedlot cattle. I took these two years to think about whether I wanted to go to law school or pursue the animal science route – perhaps even obtain my PhD. I ultimately decided to attend law school but at the time I was unsure whether I ever wanted to practice law.
There are two law schools with per se agriculture law programs – Drake University and University of Arkansas. However, I decided to attend an environmental law school – Pace University in White Plains, New York – because I wanted exposure to different viewpoints and I wanted to live near New York City. I also completed certificates in environmental law and international law.
There are days that I regret not taking advantage of the opportunity to take so many agriculture law courses but one does not need to take those types of courses to be an agriculture lawyer. In a sense, an agriculture lawyer is a generalist. It overlaps with virtually every single area of law. To illustrate, agriculture law is:
- Estate planning/ succession planning;
- Business formations;
- Corporate law, Partnership law;
- Food safety and food labeling;
- Slaughter laws, federal and state level;
- Criminal law (e.g., livestock animal cruelty, criminal trespass tickets);
- Environmental law (e.g., Clean Water Act);
- International business transactions;
- Landlord-Tenant Law (e.g., farm leases);
- Nuisance suits and Right to Farm;
- Employment, Labor law;
- Immigration (I-9 applications);
- Animal law (Laws regulating animal space, Veterinary malpractice);
- Family/Divorce law (e.g, prenuptial agreements); and,
- Intellectual property (e.g, trademarks).
After graduating from law school, I was unclear on my next step. Here I was in New York City and just finished the New Jersey and New York Bar Exams. I went to law school because I wanted to be an agriculture lawyer and there certainly weren’t any in Manhattan. So I began applying to “agriculture law firms” all over the country and that is how I landed my first job working for Budd-Falen Law Offices in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was my first time living in the Wild Wild West. At Budd-Falen, I gained invaluable exposure to federal lands issues and property rights litigation. Many ranchers in the western states obtain grazing permits from the Bureau of Land Management and/or U.S. Forest Service. The firm handled many disputes with the government relating to those permits.
However, after spending some time in Wyoming, I deeply missed New York City and began brainstorming how I could possible move back to NYC while practicing food and agriculture law. That is when I decided to start my own law practice here 3 years ago. It hasn’t been without challenges but ultimately I love being a business owner and wouldn’t do anything else.
I am oftentimes asked how I can have an agriculture law practice in New York City and the answer is very simple: It’s 2012—we have technology. My clients are not necessarily in New York City. If needed, they can come meet me in person or I drive/fly to them but for the most part we can communicate via phone, email, video technology like Skype. Now, I do not do as much work with litigation with my agriculture clients due to distance from the courthouse but I have consulted attorneys helping agriculture clients in a litigation matters.
I’m very proud to be a food and agriculture attorney living in New York City- the best city on the planet. If you make it to NYC, please stop by my office as I would love to meet you in person and show you my stomping grounds. Thank you for the continued support from the agriculture community and my readers.