By: NALC Senior Staff Attorney Elizabeth Rumley

As a lawyer at the National Agricultural Law Center, I don’t represent clients.  While I- and my colleagues- give presentations about legal issues across the country, we’re prohibited from giving legal advice specific to one person’s situation.  But there are many cases where that’s exactly what people ask for- an attorney who can represent their legal interests for the issues they’re facing.  When I get that question, here are some suggestions I give:

  • The legal issue you’re facing is going to influence the lawyer you’re looking for. For many things, such as real estate, contract work, zoning changes, or basic business planning, a local attorney who may not always work with farmers may still be the best person for the job.  They’ll be convenient and knowledgeable about the administrative and court systems in your area.  However, for some issues, like crop insurance claim denials, NRCS determinations or ag bankruptcy, it might be better to work with an attorney who is more familiar with the tiny details and pitfalls that make up that area of practice.
  • In order to practice law, attorneys have to be a member of either their state bar or bar association. Many of these have a function on their website allowing people to search for members.  Some search only by geography, so you can find lawyers close to you.  Others also allow searching by practice areas, where lawyers have self-identified their practice areas.  That will help you narrow it down to firms that work with real estate or contracts law, for example.  Further, some state bars have a referral service that can connect you with an attorney who practices in your area of need, while also requiring the attorney to charge a lower-cost initial consultation fee. The NALC has created a resource with links to these websites for each state- it’s available at the bottom of this page.
  • You can also search for professional organizations in the relevant area of law. Many state bar associations have “sections,” joined by attorneys with similar practice interests. You can search the main bar association website to identify active sections and sometimes even membership lists.  Additionally, there are nationwide organizations that have similar goals, some with a searchable membership directory.  For example, I’m a member of the American Agricultural Law Association, which focuses on areas of law that intersect with agriculture, and a membership list is available here.
  • If finances are a significant concern, there are a few options available. It’s important to note, however, that these organizations are frequently overwhelmed with requests and sometimes limit their acceptance to certain legal issues, financial status or other criteria.  With that being said, many areas have Legal Aid offices that provide legal services to low-income families.  Search for your county or city name and “Legal Aid” to find one near you.  Additionally, some law schools have clinics where students work with licensed attorneys to help a limited number of individuals in certain situations, such as bankruptcy, immigration, or business formation and development.  Search for the name of the law school nearest you plus the word “clinics” to find out if that might be an option.  Finally, the American Bar Association has a service called Free Legal Answers where pro bono attorneys provide legal advice in certain subject areas.
  • For food and farm organizations in New England, another option might be the Legal Food Hub, which operates in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island & Vermont.  They connect income-eligible farm and food businesses and organization with members of their pro bono legal assistance network to provide legal assistance on transactional legal matters such as contracts, real estate transactions and entity formation.

Finally, don’t discount the benefits of asking your friends and neighbors if they have an attorney they work with.  If that doesn’t work, every town in the country (at least that I’ve been to!) has a small restaurant where farmers meet in the mornings, visit and exchange local “news.” Stop by, have a cup of coffee and talk with them for a bit about who they recommend.  Be sure to try the pie!

 

Attorney Search Resources:

State Licensed Attorney Search  Bar Referral Program Section Membership   (Issue Specific) Other Options
Alabama Location Referral & $50 consultation fee Section List
Alaska Location & Practice Area
Arizona Location & Practice Area
Arkansas Location & Practice Area Section List
California Location & Practice Area Referral  Section List
Colorado Location & Practice Area
Connecticut Location & Practice Area Legal Food Hub
Delaware Location Referral & $35 consultation fee Section List
Florida Location Referral Section & Membership List
Georgia Location & Practice Area
Hawaii Name Referral Section List
Idaho Name Referral & $35 consultation fee Section List
Illinois Location & Practice Area Referral & $25 consultation fee Section List
Indiana Location & Practice Area Section & Membership List
Iowa Location & Practice Area
Kansas Referral
Kentucky Location & Practice Area Referral Section List
Louisiana Location Section List
Maine Location Referral (Close through Dec. 2023) Section List Legal Food Hub
Maryland Location & Practice Area Referral Section List
Massachusetts Location Referral Section List Legal Food Hub
Michigan Location & Practice Area Referral & $25 consultation fee
Minnesota Location & Practice Area Section List
Mississipi Location Section List
Missouri Location & Practice Area Section List
Montana Location & Practice Area
Nebraska Location & Practice Area
Nevada Location Referral & $45 consultation fee
New Hampshire Referral & $25 consultation fee Legal Food Hub
New Jersey Location Referral
New Mexico Location & Practice Area
New York Referral & $35 consultation fee Section List
North Carolina Location
North Dakota Location Referral & $30 consultation fee Section List
Ohio Location Referral Section List
Oklahoma Location & Practice Area Referral
Oregon Location Referral & $35 consultation fee Section & Membership List
Pennsylvania Location Referral & $30 consultation fee Section List
Rhode Island Name Referral Legal Food Hub
South Carolina Location & Practice Area Referral & $50 consultation fee Section & Membership List
South Dakota Referral
Tennessee Practice Area Section List
Texas Location & Practice Area Section List
Utah Location & Practice Area Section List
Vermont Location & Practice Area Legal Food Hub
Virginia Name Referral & $30 consultation fee Section List
Washington Practice Area Section List
West Virginia Location Referral & $25 consultation fee
Wisconsin Location Referral & $30 consultation fee
Wyoming Location Referral
District of Columbia Name Referral

 

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