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Monday, March 19, 2018
Yale Law School Clinics Help Launch Legal Food Hub
Building on a growing interest in food law, two Yale Law School clinics recently helped launch the Connecticut Legal Food Hub, a free legal services clearinghouse that matches income-eligible farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related nonprofits to pro bono legal help.
The concept relies on a network of volunteer attorneys, including Yale law students, working to provide support to some of the most innovative, sustainable, and healthy businesses in the industry.
The program launched on March 1, 2018 as a collaboration among the Conservation Law Foundation, The Ludwig Center for Community & Economic Development (CED) at Yale Law School, and the Environmental Protection Clinic at Yale Law School. It is one of four initiatives around the country.
Joshua Galperin, who directs the Environmental Protection Clinic, said the idea began several years ago just as the Clinic began taking on more food projects to meet rising student interest. It started off with student-led research on the food and farming landscape in the state, but it quickly became clear that there was much more work to do.
“We sat down with Conservation Law Foundation and decided that as a continuing relationship, we could not only help lay the groundwork for the Legal Food Hub, but could actually help launch the project and carry it through its early days,” said Galperin.
“I have learned so much substantively from working in the area of food law. For food businesses to grow, they need smart and creative lawyering, especially because this is a highly regulated and price-sensitive sector." — Lauren Hobby '18
Not long after, the Community & Economic Development Clinic, led by Professor Anika Singh Lemar, partnered to help launch this concept.
“This work is important because food entrepreneurship is a key entry point to small business ownership for low-wage workers,” said Lemar, explaining the interdisciplinary aspect of this collaboration. “Local food production is key to a sustainable local economy. Because food is both a highly regulated and, typically, low-margin business, access to capable legal counsel is highly valuable to both farms and food businesses.”
Once the initial research was conducted, Brian Fink, a Yale Law School fellow, was brought on to oversee it.
“Bringing the Legal Food Hub to Connecticut has involved collaborating with other organizers, sharing information about the program with attorneys, meeting with agriculture-and food-related folks throughout Connecticut, participating in agricultural conferences, and organizing the launch celebration,” explained Fink.
With the program now launched, Fink is working to connect potential participants to the right services.
“Sometimes, a person calls me who is not yet ready to see a lawyer,” said Fink. “But if that person could benefit from working with a lawyer, I search our volunteer network to see who would be best suited for the case. When a match is successful, I introduce the participant to the lawyer, and they form the pro bono relationship together. I then check on the progress of the matter until it commences.”
The types of cases vary from a small farm or food businesses dealing with increasingly complex food-safety and consumer-protection rules to helping young farmers work with retiring farmers on important succession planning.
“The costs associated with starting and maintaining a small farm or food business are just incredible,” explained Fink, noting that Connecticut has the third most expensive farmland in the country. “While consumer demand for local foods keeps climbing, the average size of the farm is shrinking and getting harder to obtain. On top of these and other costs, too many of food and farm businesses and organizations cannot afford legal help. The result is that they often go without legal help, which can be disastrous."
The Legal Food Hub is designed to help mitigate some of those legal costs to support a stronger and more resilient local and regional food system. By filling this need, it has provided a great opportunity to students who are gaining real world, practical experience in an area of law that has taken off in the last several years.
In the Environmental Protection Clinic, students have had the chance to survey the landscape of food and agriculture in Connecticut and get to understand the needs of farmers and food entrepreneurs, the existing networks, and the room for growth within the industry.
“These students have helped—and will continue to help—with strategic planning, policy advocacy, and communications to bolster these important industries,” said Galperin.
Secondly, the project provides direct, hands-on legal work by connecting farmers and food entrepreneurs who need legal services with pro bono lawyers who are able to help.
“One of the most important ‘firms’ in our Legal Food Hub network is the Community and Economic Development Clinic,” explained Galperin. “Students in the CED are in a position to work on interesting, long-term, and complex legal issues that face Connecticut farmers and food entrepreneurs. As the Hub takes off and sees more and more clients, students in the CED clinic will be some of the most important sources of support.”
Lemar agreed this collaboration has been a fantastic experience for her clinic students.
“I am thrilled that our students are working alongside entrepreneurs and farmers to understand how the law both advances and hinders economic opportunity,” said Lemar.
Lauren Hobby ’18 is one of the students who has worked on the Food Hub and spoke at the launch of the program.
“I have learned so much substantively from working in the area of food law,” said Hobby. “For food businesses to grow, they need smart and creative lawyering, especially because this is a highly regulated and price-sensitive sector.”
The Food Hub is just one example of the growth in food law-related activity that continues to build at Yale Law School. In 2014, two former students launched the Yale Food Law Society (FoodSoc), a nonpartisan community that promotes the study of and engagement with food and agriculture law and policy. In response to student interest at that time, the Law School also began organizing special courses on the topic, with the first class on U.S. Food Law and Policy taking place in the spring of 2015. The course is also being offered this semester. And in 2016, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter taught a seminar on The Legal and Political Economy of Hunger. These courses add further depth to an array of environmental and health law course offerings already in place thanks to a strong partnership with Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Law School’s Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy, the Community & Economic Development Clinic, and Environmental Protection Clinic.
“Seeing food law and policy expand here in the last five years has been really remarkable,” said Galperin.
As a result of this growth, Galperin said he has also witnessed graduates getting more engaged in the industry once they leave New Haven.
“Graduates are finding jobs in the field of food law and policy, which is not an easy task given that the fledgling field is still quite small,” he said.
And for those following the development of this area of law, having a strong network of smart, young lawyers interested in food law and policy is critical.
“A well-developed discipline of food law and policy can bring order and understanding to practitioners, food and farm businesses and organizations, academics, policymakers, and others with a stake in the field,” said Fink.
Galperin agreed, noting that while food law and policy is an emerging field of study and practice, the problems that it addresses are not new at all.
“Food, agriculture, health, environment; these are all areas that courts, Congress, and state legislatures have grappled with for more than a century,” said Galperin. “It is only today that a synthetic field of law is emerging to focus on these, and other issues, as critically interrelated. What we are doing at Yale Law School is training some of the brightest students to tackle these old problems with a fresh new perspective.”