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A New Legal Resource for Small New York Farms: Pace Law School’s Food and Beverage Law Clinic

By Jonathan Brown, Director, Food and Beverage Law Clinic & Member of NOFA-NY Board of Directors

Small farms must navigate a variety of legal matters in building successful, resilient operations. Some of these are typical for any small business: formalizing business structures, negotiating contracts, and properly hiring employees, for example. But farms also operate in a complex regulatory space and face unique legal issues relating to food safety, labeling, land use, land access, and more. This list only gets longer when CSA operations, agritourism, farm-to-institution sales, value-added processing, and other new business models come into play. Unfortunately, farms are far less likely to use legal services than other small businesses. According to Farm Commons, only about 10% of surveyed small farmers used legal services, as compared to 70% of small business generally, a gap that was attributed both to lack of available services and to a perception that most lawyers do not understand the issues that farmers face.

4.18 Food and Beverage Law Clinic on Farm

The Food and Beverage Law Clinic, a legal clinic at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, is striving to meet some of this legal need in New York. A law school “clinic” is a program that provides both legal services to clients and hands-on legal experience and training to law students. The Food and Beverage Law Clinic is unique in that all of its clients are small farms, food and beverage businesses, and nonprofit organizations seeking to improve our food system. It is part of a larger partnership between Pace and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that started in 2015 with the mission of building an infrastructure of direct legal services to support more just and sustainable food systems, complementing broader policy initiatives in this area. The Clinic itself was launched in 2017, with the support of Pace Law alum Robert Sands and Constellation Brands.

The Clinic provides pro bono legal representation to clients on “transactional” legal needs, which broadly speaking, encompasses business law matters rather than litigation or other adversarial proceedings. The Clinic’s past work with farms has included business entity formation, tax exemption for nonprofit farming organizations, drafting of leases and CSA agreements, advice on regulatory matters including food safety, land use, and government procurement. The majority of clients are farms, but clients also include small food processors, small beverage companies, and related nonprofit organizations.4.18 J. Brown Food and Beverage Law Clinic

All of the Clinic’s services are performed by law students under close supervision of Pace Law faculty. For that reason, it primarily works with clients during the academic year (September-December and January-May). Although new clients may be accepted on an ongoing basis, the Clinic aims to start new projects at the beginning of each semester. Clients are selected based on a range of factors that include student capacity, the number of clients engaged at the time, the complexity of the client’s project, and fit with the Clinic’s mission. As the Clinic is based in White Plains, most clients are located in the Mid-Hudson Region, NYC, or Long Island. In addition, clients are screened for income criteria to be eligible for pro bono services. For a for-profit client, the household income of the business’s principals may not exceed 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (2018 levels can be found here). For a nonprofit client, the Clinic uses the Association of Pro Bono Counsel’s “mission-matter-means” criteria. To learn more about the Clinic, please contact the Clinic’s Director, Professor Jonathan Brown, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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