The client-lawyer relationship is personal, and the right lawyer for you depends on a mix of the right experience, the right personality, and the right level and price of legal services. Below are some factors to consider when assessing whether a lawyer is a good fit for you and your farm business.
- Do you feel comfortable talking to the lawyer? You should feel comfortable asking your lawyer as many questions as you need to, and you should also feel comfortable answering your lawyer’s questions. It’s a lawyer’s job to try to understand your situation and farm operation as much as possible in order to provide you with customized and effective legal advice, so expect your lawyer to ask many clarifying questions. If your lawyer doesn’t seem interested in understanding your business, or if you don’t feel listened to or heard, find someone else to work with.
- Does the lawyer get back to you promptly? Don’t expect immediate responses to calls and emails, as your lawyer will likely be busy. However, you should expect answers to your questions, calls, and emails within a reasonable time. You can ask your lawyer if they have a specific time frame that is standard for responding to clients, such as within 1-2 business days. Also, unless you are in an emergency situation or it is absolutely necessary, it’s best to refrain from unnecessarily frequent calls and emails to your lawyer.
- Does the lawyer have experience working with farmers? Look for a lawyer who understands your line of work or has worked with related types of businesses – such as farm businesses, especially smaller operations. Experience working with diversified, sustainable, or organic operations is a big plus if you fall into those categories. You want an attorney who “gets” your operation, either because they have experience with similar clients or because they are very willing to learn and listen.
- Does the lawyer have experience with your specific issue? Even if a lawyer understands your type of farm operation, you also need the lawyer to have experience with your specific legal issue. For example, if you need a conservation easement set up, you should look for someone who has done that type of work before. Note that an experienced attorney may cost less in the end, even if her hourly rate is higher than a less experienced attorney. For example, a $100-per-hour attorney who takes five hours to review and revise a conservation easement will cost more than a $200-per-hour who does it in two hours. In sum, find a lawyer who is able to provide reliable counsel on the areas of law that apply to your business needs, but who also ideally knows the unique legal landscape that applies to farm businesses.
- Is the lawyer licensed in your state? Most of the legal work related to farm business law will require a lawyer licensed in the state where your farm is located. Although state laws are often similar, there are specific important details that vary from state to state. Your lawyer should be well versed in those details.
- The client-lawyer relationship is a two-way street. Lawyers are looking for clients that fit their law practice’s business model, and they are also generally looking to make sure their experience fits a client’s needs. If a lawyer declines to work with you, remember that it isn’t personal and ask for their recommendation for another lawyer that better fits your needs.