Written By: Siyi Shen, Global Environmental Law Graduate Fellow
How can lawyers help food providers? Or farm owners? Or even craft beer producers?
Students at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University have the chance to answer these questions by participating in the Food and Beverage Law Clinic — the first U.S. law school program linking law students with farms, food businesses and nonprofits on transactional food and beverage law issues. Students get hands-on learning by directly representing their clients on a wide range of matters such as: entity formation, land use, food safety, contract negotiation, and government procurement.
The students face several challenges, including being the main point of contact for clients, and leading meetings and calls. Students also handle matters they have never addressed before —such as drafting leases, negotiating purchase agreements, forming business entities, and applying for tax exemption for non-profits.
The Clinic gives students the opportunity to show their entrepreneurship and creativity, according to Clinic founder and director Professor Jonathan Brown. “A lot of what we do is not only new for our students, but is fairly unchartered territory generally,” said Professor Brown. “Our students often need to come up with creative legal solutions and structures in areas where there are not a lot of precedents.”
Professor Brown described how a farm-operating non-profit client wants to create a community with a democratic structure where other people can live on the land and farm together. To help this client, students reached out to a variety of intentional communities to explore different approaches, and are in the process of setting up a unique housing cooperative and limited liability company hybrid legal structure to accomplish the client’s goals.
Students have also helped a farm in connection with its “farm-to-school” program, whereby the farm sells its products directly to a local school district. Students reached out to state and federal regulators and talked to other organizations interested in promoting farm-to-school procurement. Ultimately, the project led to students developing a “Farm-to-School Legal Toolkit” to aid farmers across New York in navigating farm-to-school opportunities.
The Food and Beverage Law Clinic was launched in January 2017 with the support of Rob Sands, Pace Law alum, and Constellation Brands. It seeks to provide students with knowledge, skills, and values relating to professional lawyering, as well as to facilitate the development of a more just and sustainable regional food system. In November 2018, the Clinic, together with the Pace-NRDC Food Law Initiative, plans to host a CLE training on craft beverage law in New York City. To learn more about the Clinic and its future events, please visit the website here.
Jonathan Brown, Nurturing a More Just and Sustainable Food System: The First Year of Pace Law’s Food and Beverage Law Clinic, 33 Nat. Resources & Env., no. 1, Summer 2018, at 12.
Jonathan Brown, A New Legal Resource for Small New York Farms: Pace Law School’s Food and Beverage Law Clinic, NOFA-NY Field Notes (Apr. 18, 2018), https://www.nofany.org/blog/a-new-legal-resource-for-small-new-york-farms-pace-law-school-s-food-and-beverage-law-clinic.