Young people with a background in farming increasingly are attracted to careers that are off the farm but still allow them to stay connected to agriculture. Many are giving agricultural law a look.
Beth Bechdol of the Ice Miller law firm in Indianapolis has seen the evidence. About 100 students attended two workshops presented by Ice Miller attorneys on the subject during the FFA's 2010 national conference in Indianapolis. She wasn't expecting that many. Because of the response, Ice Miller gave the workshops again this past fall.
"They're saying, 'Yes, I grew up on a farm, but I want to go to law school. I want to be the secretary of agriculture some day,'" says Bechdol, who was raised on a corn and soybean farm near Auburn, Ind., and lives there still. "Their passion isn't just in farming and production agriculture, but they want to have an impact somehow tied to agriculture."
Opportunities in agricultural law are not limited to those who are practicing attorneys. Business, industry organizations, government and education have people with an agricultural law background—law degree or not—in many different jobs, including in teaching, consulting, lobbying and regulatory enforcement. Student enrollment in Gerald Harrison's law survey course in Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics recently has tripled. Some of his students have gone on to obtain a law degree.
Bechdol is among those who have succeeded without obtaining a law degree. After receiving a master's degree in agricultural economics from Purdue in 1996, she began her career in a Washington, D.C., agricultural consulting firm and then went on to serve in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and on the Senate Agriculture Committee staff. She later became deputy director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and helped craft the strategic plan for Indiana agriculture.
Today, she is director of Ice Miller's agricultural law initiative, assisting in developing clients and keeping the agribusiness team of 20 lawyers and industry specialists informed of a range of issues that include U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations on farm dust, U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration requirements on grain bin safety and legal issues involving alternative energy such as wind farms.
Those and other issues, including estate and business succession planning, point to more reasons why people might need to hire an attorney to keep the farmhouse in order.