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How to Start and Grow a Food and Agriculture Law Practice


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How to Start and Grow a Food and Agriculture Law Practice

  1. 1. How To Start and Grow a Food and Agriculture Law Practice Lawline September 26, 2013 By Cari B. Rincker, Esq.
  2. 2. Overview • What is Food and Agriculture Law? • Starting a Food & Agriculture Law Practice: – My Story • Getting clients – Branding – Networking – Marketing • Survey Says: What do farmers, agri-businesses and food entrepreneurs want from an attorney? • What are some primary legal needs of the food and agriculture industry?
  3. 3. My Background • Grew up on a beef cattle farm in Central Illinois • Education – A.S. in Agriculture from Lake Land College – B.S. in Animal Science from Texas A & M – M.S. in Ruminant (Beef Cattle) Nutrition from University of Illinois
  4. 4. My Background • J.D. from Pace Law School (2007) – Certificates in Environmental Law & International Law • Associate at Budd-Falen Law Offices in Cheyenne, Wyoming (2008-2009) – Environmental Law, Property Law, Land Use & Federal Lands – Worked with “cowboys” Cattle branding in Casper, Wyoming
  5. 5. My Background Moved back to NYC in 2009 to start my own law practice – Wanted to do food, agriculture & environmental law & live in NYC – Appreciate the autonomy & freedom of having my own practice – Licensed in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut & Washington D.C.
  6. 6. My Background • Chair of the American Bar Association, General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division’s Agriculture Law Committee • My food and agriculture client base – Farmers to ranchers – Small to mid-size agri- business – Food entrepreneurs
  7. 7. What is Food and Agriculture Law? • Food and agriculture law is an industry-based practice area vs. subject-based practice area • Touches upon nearly every area of law – Geared toward the food and agriculture industry – This is why it is very difficult to practice food and agriculture law – This is why it is even harder to market!
  8. 8. What is Food and Agriculture Law? Agriculture law is the “the study of the network of laws and policies that apply to the production, marketing, and sale of agriculture products, i.e., the food we eat, the natural fibers we wear, and increasingly, the bio-fuels that run our vehicles." See Susan Schneider, “What Is Agriculture Law?”, Agriculture Law Update, Vol. 26, No. 1, Whole No. 302 (January 2009) at 1.
  9. 9. Subject-Based Practice Areas • Contract law – Farming is a business too! – Think of all the types of contracts that a business might need- food and agriculture clients need those too • Buy-sell agreements • Partnership agreements • Purchase agreements • Non-disclosure agreements • Real estate contracts • Non-compete agreement • Employment contracts • Wind energy leases
  10. 10. Contract Law • But it can also be very specialized according to the unique needs of the clients – Agriculture production contracts – Custom Feeding arrangements – Bull/stallion leases – Purchase agreements for food products – Embryo Transfer Contracts – Farm Machinery Contracts – Farm/ ranch leases
  11. 11. Business Formations • Food and agriculture businesses can be high risk – it is even more important for food and agriculture businesses to think about liability protection – However, food and agriculture lawyers should consider federal farm program planning and succession planning
  12. 12. Estate Planning • The average American farmer is around 65 years old – Most have no succession or estate plan – Problem now with heirs getting off-farm job • Management/ training becomes an issue – Estate tax concerns • Federal $5.25 mil • New York $1 mil – Federal farm programs can be stalled while estate is in probate
  13. 13. Insurance Law • Farms and food businesses have special insurance concerns – Home Owners/Renters Insurance won’t cover commercial activity from home – Commercial insurance – Products liability insurance – Crop insurance – Livestock/equine insurance – Environmental insurance – Cyber Insurance
  14. 14. Animal Law • Livestock animal cruelty law • Livestock transportation laws • Aquaculture • Apiaries • Farm dog law • Horse trusts
  15. 15. Intellectual Property Law • Remember that food and farm businesses have intellectual property concerns like any other business – Copyrights – Trademarks • Design and word marks – Patents
  16. 16. Environmental Regulations • Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – Clean Water Act – Clean Air Act • Wildlife protection • Natural Resource Conservation Programs
  17. 17. Land Use & Zoning Law • Divisibility Restrictions • Density Restrictions • Residential vs. Commercial • Urban & Suburban agriculture – Backyard Chickens – Apiaries – Rooftop farming • Agriculture Districts – Right-to-Farm Law
  18. 18. Getting Paid! • Liens – Lien on Calf or Foal from Service of a Bull or Stallion – Stablemen’s Lien – Landlord’s Lien on Crops • Pre & Post-Judgment Debt Collection
  19. 19. Employment, Labor & Immigration Law • Volunteer labor – Internships – Apprenticeships – Community volunteers • Employment/ Independent Contractor Agreements • Employment handbooks • Migrant farm workers • I9 Compliance • H2A Applications
  20. 20. Miscellaneous Food Law Issues • Food labeling (menu labeling) • Food safety • Farm transportation law • Agriculture finance and sales • Farm Bankruptcy
  21. 21. Miscellaneous Food Law Issues • Direct Farm Marketing • Cottage Food Operations • On-Farm Poultry Slaughter • Criminal law • Personal injury law
  22. 22. … And the list goes on and on.. • Food truck permits • Beverage law • Federal nutrition programs • Federal farm programs • Renewable energy law • Water law • Tax law • Family and divorce law – Farmers get divorced too!
  23. 23. You Cannot Be an Expert in Everything • I consider myself a general practitioner for the food and agriculture industry – I get asked questions that I don’t know the answer to and that’s okay – I either figure it out, or bring in someone with more experience in that area • There are some areas that I know better than others – For example, I’m trying to get more education right now on farm estate planning and agriculture tax
  24. 24. Suggestion to Food and Agriculture Lawyers • Know a little about most areas of areas of law • Know a lot about a few areas of law – Farm estate planning – Food and agriculture business planning – International food trade • Know professionals to bring in when appropriate – Referral relationships?
  25. 25. Starting a Food & Agriculture Law Practice: My Story
  26. 26. This is My Story • Initially, I used my home address at my apartment on the Upper East Side but within my first year I obtained a virtual law office downtown by Wall Street – Professionalism – Meeting with Clients – Safety – Consistency (moving residences)
  27. 27. This is My Story • One of the first things I did was get a website and other basic marketing tools – Name of practice – Domain name – Email – Business cards – Letterhead
  28. 28. This is My Story • If you are using a Virtual Law Office, are there any special ethical concerns? – For example, New Jersey used to have a requirement that letterhead and business cards state “By Appointment Only” – New Jersey also used to require that clients know where my “bona fide office” was located – New Jersey has since changed these rules
  29. 29. This is My Story • I formed a Professional Limited Liability Company immediately – In hindsight, I would have waited to do this this but I’m glad I have it done – New York has a publication requirement (cost me $1400 to comply in New York County in addition to filing fees) – When I started my practice, I didn’t have a lot of personal assets to protect – Corporate formalities / additional administrative overhead – What choice of entity is right for you?
  30. 30. This is My Story • After forming my Professional Limited Liability Company, the next thing I did was go to the bank – Federal Employer Identification Number – Operating Account – IOLTA Account • Take information about what your state requires- not all business bankers understand IOLTA/IOLA – Business Credit Card
  31. 31. This is My Story • After my bank and business entity was in order, I needed malpractice insurance – Took recommendation from New York State Bar Association – Best guestimate on practice area percentages – be conservative on higher risk areas • Environmental law • Oil & Gas • Mineral Rights • Hazardous Materials • Intellectual Property • Real Estate – Needed a “back-up lawyer” – Some malpractice insurance companies will allow financing – pay over 9 mos.
  32. 32. This is My Story Started my practice with: – PC Laptop – File Cabinet – Ground Line – Cell Phone – Printer – Microsoft Office Suite – Westlaw – In hindsight, I should have invested in an accounting program immediately
  33. 33. This is My Story • I now have a brick and mortar office in Midtown at 44th and Fifth Avenue • Use contract lawyers and secretaries – No full time employees • Have also developed a mediation niche
  34. 34. Getting Clients
  35. 35. Getting Clients • Branding • Networking • Advertising v. Marketing
  36. 36. What is a “Brand?” • 2 Kinds of Brands – Business Brand – Personal Brand • According to, a brand: – tells your customers “what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’.” – Is “derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”
  37. 37. What Is a “Brand?”
  38. 38. Your Brand • Everything you do should highlight your brand – Your website – Your business cards – Your letterhead – How you present yourself publically – Articles you write – Speeches you give – Emails you write – How you act in professional/networking organizations that you belong to – Your presence in social media – Your volunteer efforts – Your court pleadings – How you dress
  39. 39. Your Brand • You are your brand 24/7, in everything that you do – Your employees are your brand, in everything that they do
  40. 40. My Brand • At the end of the day, I want others around me to trust my work as a food and agriculture lawyer – Attention to detail – Background growing up in production agriculture – Legal education in food and agriculture law – My morals and values – My understanding of the legal issues that affect the food and agriculture industry – My professional reputation – My work ethic
  41. 41. My Brand • People also do business with who they know and like – Takes time for people to get to know you – Good ol’ fashioned networking – Attending food and agriculture conferences – Showing up at the county/state fair – Let me know my personality through social media
  42. 42. Networking • Networking is a long-term investment in your food and agriculture law practice – No instantaneous results – But overtime, you will build a solid foundation for your business • Network smart – It’s about quality vs. quantity – Who are the people that can help build your business – Look at it as part of your business, even when you’re busy
  43. 43. This Is My Story • I joined email listserves for lawyers – Solosez – New York State Bar Association • I joined professional organizations – Bar associations – Trade associations • I got “out there”.
  44. 44. Food and Agriculture Law Organizations • American Agriculture Law Association • American Bar Association – General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Agriculture Law Committee – Section on the Environment, Energy & Natural Resource’s Agriculture Management Committee – Section of Business Law Agriculture Finance Committee – Section of Real Property, Trust & Estate Law • New York State Bar Association – Agriculture & Rural Issues Committee
  45. 45. Networking • Relationships should always be mutual • What can you give? What do you bring to the table? It’s not just about how that person can help you. – “Giver’s Gain” mentality • Social capital – I don’t have enough business to refer out to every financial advisor or accountant that I meet; however, I can make them a great introduction – Don’t overuse your capital – it can be unwisely spent
  46. 46. Advertising vs. Marketing • Advertising: The paid, public, announcement of an identified sponsor; the non- personal presentation or promotion of products or services – Magazine ads – Radio ads – Direct mail – Internet
  47. 47. Advertising • Get a website – It’s your online brochure • Think about social media – Blogs (video vs. text) – Facebook – Twitter • Should you pay for advertising with selected food and agriculture organizations? – Becoming a business sponsor
  48. 48. Advertising • Update online attorney directories – – • Helps with backlinks and SEO
  49. 49. Advertising v. Marketing • Marketing: The systemic planning, implementation and control of a mix of business activities intended to bring together buyers and sellers for mutually advantageous exchange or transfer of products – Put simply, marketing is about “who you want your next client to be”
  50. 50. Marketing Advertising Market Research Public Relations Pricing Community Development Customer Service Marketing is a mixture of a lot of things- Find the mix that works for your food & Agriculture law practice
  51. 51. Marketing • Writing articles in food and agriculture publications – Become a thought leader • Speaking engagements • Email marketing • Leadership positions in food and agriculture organizations – Legal and non-legal orgs • Press/ interviews • Attended food and agriculture law conferences
  52. 52. Oh, P.S. – I Just Wrote a Book Cari B. Rincker & Patrick B. Dillon, “Field Manual: Legal Guide for New York Farmers & Food Entrepreneurs” (2013) Available at eld-Manual-Legal-Farmers- Entrepreneurs/dp/1484965 191 …and that’s marketing.
  53. 53. Survey Says • I did a survey with food and agriculture people in preparation of a speaking engagement in Ohio in June 2013
  54. 54. Survey: Use of Lawyers for Agriculture Producers and Agri-Businesses • June 8, 2013 - Survey posted on Facebook, Twitter & Blog. Survey emailed to select New York agriculture producers and young cattle producers. – Data collected over 3 day period over a long weekend – 70 people completed the survey
  55. 55. Which of the Following Best Describes Your Business? Survey Participants Agriculture Production Agri-Business Food and Beverage Industry Other
  56. 56. How Many Lawyers Have You Worked With Over the Last 2 Years? zero 1 2 to 3 4 or more 0 5 10 15 20 25
  57. 57. Comments “Of the 5 *lawyers I used+ only 2 knew the law better than myself.” “Family owned farm that had no succession planning done. What a mess.” “I have only needed legal services about 3 times. I was represented only once.”
  58. 58. If You Needed a Lawyer, Which of the Following Search Mechanisms Would You Most Likely Utilize? 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 Use an attorney that I already know Ask someone I trust for a referral Ask a food or agriculture organization Search Google Use an attorney search website Find someone via social media platform Other
  59. 59. Comments “I met one of the lawyers I have worked with this year because he made his passion for food evident to me while shopping in my farm stand store and the other because he and I share the same graphic designer who is also passionate about good, clean food.”
  60. 60. Comments • “Use a firm I have personally met or have heard speak.” • “Combination. i.e., ask someone I trust, ask a food or ag organization for a referral and search Google.”
  61. 61. Comments • “Ask a professional business person who has [a] reason to refer their clients to legal advisors.” • “Find a lawyer that’s a specialist in the matter in question.”
  62. 62. What is the Most Important Factor When Deciding on a Lawyer? 0 10 20 30 40 50 That it is somebody I trust to properly deal with my legal issues. That it is somebody that understands my food and agriculture business. That it is someone near where I live. That it is someone who is affordable That it is someone who is available to help me after business hours Other
  63. 63. Comments • “Trust would include a least a basic understanding of animal agriculture.” • “Reputation.” • “Ability and competence are critical [along with a] knowledge of the applicable statutes.”
  64. 64. Comments • “Combination. i.e., 1) trust, 2) someone who understands ag, and 3) someone who is affordable (overarching concern).” • “We must be able to communicate our thoughts to each other with efficiency.”
  65. 65. Comments “All of these are very important factors. 5 years ago I would have said "someone I trust" as the most important factor. But, how would I know if [I] really would "trust" someone when initially selecting my lawyer? After working with 2 different lawyers pretty frequently over the past few years, I feel like someone you like AND trust is the most important factor.”
  66. 66. What is Your Primary Legal Need? 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
  67. 67. Comments “Nearly all options listed here. I prefer working with someone that is familiar with all my legal needs or at least has an associate in house that is more focused on particular areas.”
  68. 68. Comments • “The next generation has taken over the farming operation.” • “1031 exchanges, fence problems with neighbors. Making them aware of the ‘right hand’ rule.”
  69. 69. Comments • “Labor and immigration” • “Family matters.” • “Water issues.” • “Could be all of the above.”
  70. 70. Comments • “Legislation.” • “Pipeline right-of-way issues” • “Not-profit management advice”
  71. 71. Which of the Following Payment Methods Would You Prefer to Use With Your Ag Lawyer? Billable Hour Flat Fee Subscription Service Other 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45
  72. 72. Comments • “In my particular circumstance, contingency has been utilized.” • “When you have been ripped off by other members of the business and just left with the bills and no money it’s impossible to hire a lawyer to try and get back what’s yours.”
  73. 73. Comments “In my husband’s estate, they bill by the hour and extensions of tax filing are killing me. It’s been two years and I am still getting $500 bills every month for one thing or another.”
  74. 74. What Is Your Biggest Concern With Using an Attorney? That my attorney won't fully understand my food and agriculture business. That my attorney won't be worth the legal fees. That an attorney won't add value- he/she will overcomplicate things. That a good lawyer will be too busy to give my business the time and attention… That a lawyer will just try to sell me more legal products tha tmy business doesn't… Other 0 5 10 15 20
  75. 75. Comments “I seem to never be 100% sure we go the issue at hand resolved properly, so it won’t be challenged in the future. It seems very difficult to get a straight answer from a lawyer. Many times after asking a question, I am more confused than before I asked the question.”
  76. 76. Comments • The estate planner and our lawyers make decisions based on what they think my husband wants. “My lawyer doesn’t consult me as to what I would want.” • “That my case will not be properly managed and/or the services provided will be inadequate.”
  77. 77. Comments “It takes a special type of attorney to truly understand what a farmer deals with on a daily basis. It is too easy to forget to overlook the fact that the farm oftentimes is the farmer’s home. This is a bit of an issue sometimes. They also need to realize that most farmers can’t always just adjust their price to recover the cost of a good attorney.”
  78. 78. Comments “Lawyers are untrustworthy – which is the typical view of most farmers and ranchers.” “No concerns really.”
  79. 79. How Can the Legal Community Better Serve You? • “Be more familiar with the agriculture business.” • “Be available when I need a lawyer.” • “Keep up to date on agriculture/food issues.” • “Get out in the field and get their hands dirty.”
  80. 80. • “Keep it simple” • “Listen and understand; if you don’t, then ask questions.” • “Unwarranted motion practice should be eliminated.” • “Realize that a lot of farmers find the fees too high.” How Can the Legal Community Better Serve You?
  81. 81. How Can the Legal Community Better Serve You? • “Have attorneys that specialize in specific aspects.” • “Give value and knowledge.” • “Stay current/reasonable pricing.” • “Try to keep it cooperative.”
  82. 82. How Can the Legal Community Better Serve You? • “General assistance to help me do it myself.” • “Quit filing frivolous law suits just to get rich.” • “To better understand issues in agriculture.”
  83. 83. How Can the Legal Community Better Serve You? • “Help me learn local and state law.” • “Have more reasonable fee structures for farmers.” • “Be more open to answering my questions.” • “Learn and understand; if you don’t, ask questions.”
  84. 84. Pivotal Questions • How you become a lawyer that is known or referred by someone who is trusted? • How do we get farmers and agri- businesses to trust us with their legal issues?
  85. 85. Pivotal Questions • How do we convince farmers and ranchers that hiring an attorney is cost-effective? – We add value. – We are worth the expense. • How do we implement more flat fee billing structures?
  86. 86. Pivotal Questions • How can food and agriculture lawyers have a more concerted voice among agriculture producers and agri- business owners? – “California Wine” example • How can food and agriculture lawyers, especially those in solo or small firms, better work with one another?
  87. 87. What are the Primary Legal Needs of Food and Agriculture Clients
  88. 88. According to the Survey… • … and in my experience – Business Law • Business formations • Contracts • Leases • Trademarks • Buy-Sell Agreements • Partnership Agreements • Business/ succession planning – Cultural roadblock • Handshake culture
  89. 89. Primary Legal Needs of the Food & Agriculture Industry • After that, the food and agriculture community comes across a myriad of legal issues – Circling back to the first part of our presentation today: It is unrealistic that you will have a deep understanding in all of these issues – find your niche(s) – Know a little bit about a lot – Build relationships with those people who have that deep understanding • Employment lawyers • Real estate lawyers • Immigration lawyers • Crop insurance disputes • Trusts and estates • Bankruptcy lawyers • Criminal lawyers • Food labeling attorneys • Transportation lawyers
  90. 90. More Questions • Fridays with Cari Skype Calls – First Friday of the month at 2pm ET – RSVP to – No charge
  91. 91. Please Stay in Touch • Send Me Snail Mail: 535 Fifth Avenue, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10017 • Call Me: (212) 427-2049 (office) • Email Me: • Visit My Website: • Read My Food & Ag Law Blog: • Tweet Me: @CariRincker @RinckerLaw • Facebook Me: • Link to Me: • Skype Me: Cari.Rincker