The Food Law Firm, NY
“I’m simply a guy that likes to eat.”
Jason Foscolo didn’t grow up on a farm and doesn’t have any other early or lifelong connection to the work he now does—instead, he arrived at being a food lawyer through being “simply a guy that likes to eat.” After graduating from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in 2002, Jason practiced for a few years in staff attorney positions he found rather uninspiring, and then became a Judge Advocate in the Marine Corps in 2005. While stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, he noticed and began to appreciate a strong enjoyment of and respect for food in the local culture. As a not-quite-joking example, Jason says that bringing a melon as a birthday gift was appreciated. While living there, he “traveled extensively and ate on base as little as possible.” Leaving the legal field entirely seemed like too large of a change, so Jason decided to merge his growing passion with his existing work. After earning an advanced degree in Agricultural and Food Law, Jason founded The Food Law Firm in 2011.
The Food Law Firm is headquartered in New York but works nationwide, representing clients across the spectrum of the food production field. It offers an unusual model: subscription-based representation, available at different levels and for different stages of a business, from preventative legal services and troubleshooting to representing clients facing administrative action by the FDA. Although Jason points out that “retainers aren’t new,” his approach is innovative and there are notable differences between it and retainer-based billing. Where a retainer fee generally completes an agreement for work to be done later—and perhaps even specified later—Jason establishes a curriculum of work to be done for a client at the beginning of each subscription period. By making himself more accessible to farmers and food businesses, Jason can build relationships and trust with his clients over months and years, meeting and getting to know them before they’re in any legal trouble. He says that he prefers this model to traditional, hourly-billed work because he gets to be “part of the team” and it makes his input more valuable. In effect, Jason is able to serve as general counsel for small- and medium-sized businesses in the food and agriculture arena, and his work can range from drafting leases, non-disclosure agreements, and supplier agreements to trademarks, employment law, and statutory compliance for labeling. While Jason notes that his rates did not decrease when he moved to this model of practice, subscription-based representation encourages his clients to budget for legal services as an upfront, predictable cost, rather than thinking of an attorney as an expensive emergency.
In speaking about his expertise, Jason reflects that he’s largely learned how to do this work well by listening to his clients: “They define what’s valuable,” he says. He also notes that many legal skills overlap—for example, that theories of liability are applicable in employment law as well as in a well-drafted lease agreement. He counsels attorneys interested in the field to “be prepared to make some bold decisions for yourselves.” He notes that more and more educational and professional opportunities are becoming available in the “food law” realm and that taking advantage of these opportunities is a good idea. However, he tempers that advice with a caution to be realistic: “The market for food law attorneys is nowhere near as strong as the enthusiasm for this area of law.”
The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems is an initiative of Vermont Law School, and this toolkit provides general legal information for educational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute, and should not be relied upon, for legal advice. Each farmer’s circumstances are unique, state laws vary, and the information contained herein is specific to the time of publication. Accordingly, for legal advice, please consult an attorney licensed in your state.