Return to “Frequently Asked Questions.”

Q. How do I find an attorney who will understand my farming business?
If you don’t already use an attorney for your farm business you should consider locating one who you can ask for advice on important legal issues.  Sound legal advice can be a very important factor in making good business decisions – whether it is in deciding how to structure your business, planning your estate, or purchasing property.  But remember – legal advice is like any other input or service you obtain for your farm – you get what you pay for.   Since you are paying the bill you should be satisfied with what you get – this doesn’t mean the answer will always be what you want to hear but you should feel like you were well served.  The way to make this happen is to be an informed consumer and to have a good idea of your legal needs.  One purpose of this book is to help you recognize when you might need legal advice so you will know when to contact your attorney.

Even if your local lawyer has never handled your exact problem before doesn’t mean the lawyer can’t provide you with excellent representation.  All lawyers are required to be competent in the fundamental areas of legal practice.  Most of the legal topics discussed in this book are not overly complex – perhaps with the exception of insurance and food safety issues.  Most attorneys, especially those who are familiar with agricultural law will be able to deal with your legal needs on issues such as contracts, property, land use, labor and administrative law.  However, if for some reason your local attorney is unable to help you there are sources of information you can contact for advice on finding an attorney who is familiar with your area of law.

As to finding an attorney, the best place to start is close to home with the law firms in your community.  One benefit of using local attorneys is they will be familiar with your area and the economy plus you may already know them socially.  Using a local attorney also means the attorney will be convenient when you need to visit.  One problem with using local attorneys is that if you are in a smaller town, the lawyers are probably general practitioners – meaning they handle all types of legal matters.   This doesn’t mean they aren’t good attorneys, it may mean they might not have prior experience with the unique legal issues you bring to them.  But one of your tasks as the client is to help them understand your business.  You might suggest your attorneys obtain a copy of this book or even buy them a copy.

Q. Where can I obtain information about attorneys who might have experience with agricultural law?
There are several places you can turn for information about attorneys who have experience with the laws relating to farming and the direct marketing of food.  First, the legal profession in each state operates what is known as the state bar association, usually headquartered in the state capitol.  State bar associations maintain directories of all the attorneys licensed to practice in a state.  Some states allow attorneys to advertise themselves as being specialists in certain areas of law, if the attorneys can meet the strict requirements for such listings.  In many farm states the state bar associations have organized sections or committees of lawyers who work primarily with agricultural law.  If you contact your state bar association ask if they have an agricultural law section or if they have a list of specialists in the area of law in which you need advice.

A second important source of information about attorneys who concentrate on agricultural law is the American Agricultural Law Association (AALA). This organization was formed over 30 years ago to give attorneys, extension personnel, and others working on agricultural law the opportunity to improve their understanding of this unique area of law. For information on how to find agricultural lawyers in your state see the sidebar.

In addition to the AALA, there are several law schools which offer educational programs focusing on agricultural law. These include:

Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa, has had an Agricultural Law Center since 1983.  The Center sponsors a number of educational efforts, such as publishing legal guides for farmers – like this book, and offers an annual Summer Agricultural Law Institute of specialized one-week courses on agricultural law.  For more information about the Center contact: Drake University Agricultural Law Center, 2507 University Ave., Des Moines, Iowa 50311 or call 515-271-4956.

University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, Arkansas, has had a masters of law program in agricultural law since 1981.  Each year 8 – 10 attorneys from around the U.S. and the world spend a year in Fayetteville, learning about the unique role of law in agriculture.

As agriculture has become more complex and more legalized there has been a need for lawyers and other professionals working in the area to obtain the education and other information needed to stay current with legal developments. For more than thirty years many of the lawyers across America who work with agricultural law have been members of the AALA. The organization publishes a monthly newsletter, hosts an annual educational conference, and provides other benefits to members. It also has a directory of members, with information about the areas of law in which they work. For more information about the AALA visit their website here or contact: AALA, 127 Young Road, Kelso, WA 98626 or call 360-200-5699.
The University of Arkansas is also home to the USDA funded National Center for Agricultural Law Research and Information (NCALRI), which was created in 1986. The Center has a staff of full-time research attorneys who work on various issues involving agricultural law.  The Center staff includes attorneys with experience in direct farm marketing.  To contact either program, write to the University of Arkansas, School of Law, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701 or call 501-575-7646.

Penn State – Dickinson School of Law is located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. As part of the 1997 merger of the two institutions, state officials funded the creation of an Agricultural Law Research and Reference Center to research important issues facing farmers and the agricultural business sector.  The school is developing courses and other research and educational programs for lawyers and farmers.  The Center is a good source for information about agricultural law affecting direct farm marketing in the east.  To contact the Center, write: Agricultural Law Research and Reference Center, 329 Innovation Blvd., Suite 118, University Park, PA 16803, or phone 814-865-3723.

The Ohio State University, Agricultural and Resource Law Program, supported by Ohio State University Extension, provides access to a variety of legal resources as well as outreach programs and conferences. For further information contact: 345 Agricultural Admin Building, 2120 Fyffe Road, Columbus, OH 43210, or phone 614-247-7898.

The University of Florida, located in Gainesville, Florida, also maintains an Agricultural Law Center, which develops, implements, and maintains education and extension services on a variety of law topics important to Florida agriculture. The center can be contacted at: Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, or phone 352-392-1881 Ext. 327.

Of course, there are other sources of information about attorneys who might be able to handle your legal needs.  You can always ask your friends or other producers who they use.  You might also ask the local extension personnel for recommendations.  Regardless of how you choose to locate an attorney, please recognize how important sound legal advice can be, especially before you decide to take any action which might trigger serious consequences.