Abstract from Purdue Agricultures Magazine. Winter 2012. Written by Keith Robinson. Reprinted with permission.
Used to be that Alan Townsend would get only an occasional case involving agriculture in his law practice.
Now, the Purdue Agriculture alumnus says he spends 25 to 40 percent of his time representing clients in agricultural legal matters, including some that go to court. "Having grown up on a farm, I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times we ever had to call a lawyer," he says.
Three decades later, that has changed.
"I have seen a steady stream of agricultural disputes," says Townsend, an agricultural lawyer and vice chairman of the litigation group of Bose McKinney & Evans in Indianapolis.
Running a farm or other agribusiness today is far more complicated than it was 30 years ago. There are more government regulations, more people watching out for the environment—the buzzword is "green"—and more ways for farmland to be used, including for alternative energy operations such as wind farms.
All of that leads to more work for lawyers who specialize in agricultural and environmental law, whether they represent family farmers, large-scale producers or groups of people trying to right a wrong, get something started or stop something from happening. Purdue Agriculture graduates who have pursued legal careers are using their background to fill a growing niche in the law.
Building Relationships Through Ag
Townsend grew up on a hog farm near Hartford City, Ind. A son of former State Sen. W. Wayne Townsend, he comes from one of Indiana's most prominent agricultural families. He went from the farm to Purdue University, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics in 1987. He earned his J.D. from Indiana University in 1992.
Bose McKinney colleague Gary Chapman, chair of the firm's agricultural law group, agrees. His agricultural background comes in handy with his work in property acquisitions, estate planning and general business planning for his agricultural clients. He grew up on a Holstein dairy operation in Morgan County and received a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics from Purdue in 1980 (J.D. IU 1989). He says his background helps in building strong relationships with clients who are producers or whose businesses are otherwise focused on agriculture.
"The client really appreciates talking to someone who knows the difference between a steer and a bull," Chapman says.
Producers are more likely to seek counsel of a lawyer today because of the mounting complexities of the legal issues they face. There are fewer producers, but Chapman says their operations are larger and the producers are wiser. "The players are getting much more sophisticated," he says. "They are in a much better position to afford and therefore use and see the benefits of good legal counsel."
They also are more cautious, in part because of expanding government regulations. Townsend says that is true especially for operators of hog farms, which state regulators visit often. "When they have a regulator knocking on their door, they think to themselves, 'Do I let him in or do I call my lawyer and ask what my rights are?'" he says
Townsend says what people want from a lawyer is someone who understands their business—in this case, farming.