I was recently asked the following questions from a high school student. Here are my responses:
What do you wish you would have known prior to pursuing college and a career in this field?
One of my biggest regrets educationally is not pursuing a foreign language. I had an opportunity to stay an extra year at Texas A & M University and receive a minor in Spanish. At the time, I was anxious to move on with the next chapter of my life. I have clients who are Spanish speakers and I was fortunate in New York City to have an assistant who was fluent in this language. I have to hire interpreters in my Illinois office when there is a language barrier.
The world is becoming smaller and smaller. Improved language and communication skills will only help you in the practice of law and the agriculture industry.
Do you feel that your work makes a positive impact, if so, how?
Yes, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Some lawyers are able to practice “happy law” (i.e., helping people when life is great) while lawyers like myself come in to help when life is not-so-good. This can be challenging to be in the middle of everyone’s crisis day in and day out. I practice both agriculture law and family law. There is a saying that “criminal lawyers represent bad people at their best and family lawyers represent good people at their worst.” Somedays, it can feel this way.
But this is what I feel called to do (i.e., help people on their worst days and help people in the middle of a crisis). This is what I’m trained to do and ultimately, like an ER Doctor, it brings me joy to be there for people in those times of need.
What is a typical day or week at work like for you?
I am asked this question a lot but I don’t know if I have ever had a typical week. One of the things that I enjoy about my life and career is that each day and each week is very different.
I start my day very early. I wake-up between 3am and 5am on most mornings. I like to do my “Miracle Morning” if I can with some time for mediation, reflection, journaling, visualizing my day, listening to affirmations on my phone, and getting some exercise in. I also try to get a good hour of work in during this time when I usually work on a passion project or work on a project for a client that needs extra concentration. Then I go do chores in my barn.
During the COVID-19 pandemnic, I have been working from home but I may go back to my office soon. I check-in with staff in the morning or have a weekly staff meeting on Mondays. My workdays right now are pretty back-to-back with meetings, consultations, etc., which makes it hard on some days for me to stay on top of my email. I usually go to court about 1-3 times a week. Due to COVID-19, courts are starting to conduct hearings via Zoom videoconference. Only time will tell on how this will progress. I even have a deposition scheduled via Zoom this summer.
What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to success in your career path?
I oftentimes say that the key to my success is hard work, the kind I learned growing up on my family’s farm spending my summers bailing day, walking beans and washing cattle on the washrack. It’s really that simple. You will never hear me say that I’m the smartest person in the room. In fact, if you are the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room – find a new room with people who are better than you so you can learn from them. My key to success is that I know how to roll up my sleeves and get the work done, farm girl style.
I am also courageous and not afraid to fail. “Fail forward” is what I always say and learn from your mistakes. Furthermore, I have always paved my own path in life and different is good. What works for some people might not work for you so do not be afraid to write your own story.
Do you have any recommendations for other people I should talk to or other resources I should explore?
If you are interested in being an agriculture lawyer, the American Agriculture Law Association has a helpful directory of other agriculture lawyers like myself. I have also posted videos on my YouTube Channel about becoming an agriculture lawyer. Tiffany Dowell Lashmet has a great episode on her Ag Law and the Field podcast on the topic too.