Food and Beverage Law Clinic

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Farm to School Legal Toolkit

The Food and Beverage Law Clinic (FBLC) at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, in partnership with Common Ground Farm, is excited to share the Farm to School Legal Toolkit: A Legal Guide for New York Farmers. The Toolkit is a free legal guide created as a response to the lack of legal resources available to New York farmers interested in entering into farm to school arrangements. The Toolkit addresses relevant legal topics related to the following: insurance concerns for farmers in establishing a farm to school relationship, food safety regulations, compliance with federal, state and local procurement procedures, and available legal structures for engaging in farm to school arrangements. 

The Food and Beverage Law Clinic is a part of John Jay Legal Services, Inc., a non-profit legal services organization housed at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. FBLC represents farmers, food and beverage entrepreneurs, and non-profit organizations seeking to improve our food system.

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About Us

Food and Beverage Law Clinic Food and Beverage Law Clinic

In January 2017, Pace Law launched the Food and Beverage Law Clinic with the generous support of the Sands Family Foundation and Constellation Brands. The Clinic is the first in the country entirely dedicated to providing direct, transactional legal services to food and beverage clients. Under faculty supervision, law students in the Clinic represent farmers, food and beverage entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations. ​​​Meeting with Client (NAHE)The Clinic’s legal services help clients expand access to local, healthy food in underserved communities, start or expand mission-driven business ventures, steward the preservation and transitioning of farmland for future generations of farmers, and implement innovative and sustainable production, processing, and distribution practices. 

The Food Law Initiative

The Food Law Initiative The Food Law Initiative

The Pace-NRDC Food Law Initiative (FLI) addresses the unmet legal service needs of farmers, food and beverage entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations seeking to improve our food system. To implement innovative practices, these ‘food revolutionaries’ must navigate a complicated legal landscape governing all aspects of their work from land management to food labeling to legal entity structuring. Access to legal services is vital to empower this transition to a more just and sustainable food system. FLI offers direct legal services through its Food & Beverage Law Clinic, provides training on key food law issues to food and farm businesses, and educates the next generation of food system lawyers. Founded in 2015, FLI is a partnership between the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University (Pace Law) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

NRDC LogoThe Initiative’s programs include an externship program, placing a Pace student with the NRDC’s regional food team and an annual lecture series focusing on critical food law topics. The first extern began work in January 2016, and the first annual lecture was held on January 27, 2016.

The Initiative is also developing a variety of educational programming focusing on concrete legal issues arising in the work of food justice organizations, farmers, and food entrepreneurs. 

Information for Prospective Clients

Information for Prospective Clients Professor Brown with Client

The Food and Beverage Law Clinic (the “Clinic”) of John Jay Legal Services, Inc. (JJLS), a not-for- profit organization located at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in White Plains, New York, provides free transactional legal services to farmers, food and beverage entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations seeking to improve our food system. The Clinic’s legal services help clients expand access to local, healthy food in underserved communities, build community and create jobs through mission-driven business ventures, steward the preservation and transitioning of farmland for future generations of farmers, and implement innovative and sustainable production, processing, and distribution practices. Under the close supervision of the Clinic’s experienced faculty, our student attorneys assist clients on a variety of transactional matters, including:

  •  New business formation and legal structure
  •  Applications for tax exemption and maintenance of tax-exempt status for nonprofit corporations
  •  Review, drafting, and negotiation of contracts, including leases, financing agreements, and other documents
  •  Regulatory advice, including relating to food safety, labeling and marketing, and land use

Client Selection Criteria

We choose which clients we can help according to a range of factors that include the variety in our caseload, the number of clients we already represent, the complexity of the client’s case, and fit with our mission. In addition, clients are screened for income criteria. For a for-profit business, the household income of the business’s principals may not exceed 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (for example, under the 2019 guidelines, 400% of the Federal Poverty Level equals $48,560 for a household of one, $65,840 for a household of two, $83,120 for a household of three, $100,400 for a household of four, etc.). For a non-profit organization, the organization and project must satisfy the Association of Pro Bono Counsel’s “mission-matter-means” eligibility criteria.

How to Apply for Legal Assistance

To request legal assistance or for more information, please contact the Director of the Clinic, Professor Jonathan Brown, at jbrown4@law.pace.edu or 914-422-4401. The Clinic primarily works with clients during the academic year (September - December and January - May). Although we accept new clients on an ongoing basis, the Clinic aims to start new projects at the beginning of each semester.

What Does It Cost?

There is no charge for legal services provided by the Clinic. However, clients are responsible for any filing fees or other expenses incurred in the course of the representation and approved by the client in advance.

Client Profiles and Feedback

The Food and Beverage Law Clinic provides direct, transactional legal services to farmers, food and beverage entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations and other community-based organizations engaged in food and beverage activities. The Clinic’s legal services help clients in the following areas:

  • Expand access to local, healthy food in underserved communities
  • Start or expand mission-driven business ventures
  • Steward the preservation and transitioning of farmland for future generations of farmers
  • Implement innovative and sustainable production, processing, and distribution practices

See profiles and feedback from some of our clients

Information for Law Students

Law Students in the Clinic Student Opportunities

Under faculty supervision, law students in the Clinic provide transactional legal services to small- and medium-sized farms, food and beverage entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations seeking to improve our food system. Students complete projects in areas of critical need including business formation, access to land, access to capital, eligibility for federal and state programs and benefits, and compliance with federal, state, and local regulatory law (including food safety law, labeling requirements, labor law, and zoning). Through their client work students develop fundamental transactional legal skills including contract drafting, entity and deal structuring, negotiation, legal research and analysis, creative problem solving, and counseling.

The weekly seminar component of the Clinic teaches the substantive law and legal practice skills that are most useful to students to support their client work. In addition, the seminar provides an opportunity to discuss the role of law and lawyers in food systems and the practical, ethical and policy-based issues that arise in the context of their client work.

FBLC Students in Class Permission of the professor, based upon application and interview, is required. Prerequisites: Professional Responsibility plus one regulatory course (Environmental Skills and Practice/Clean Water Act, Environmental Law Survey, Administrative Law, or Food Systems Law) and one transactional course (Corporations and Partnerships, Drafting Legal Documents, Sustainable Business and the Environment, Environmental Law in Commercial Transactions, or Real Estate Transactions and Finance). The regulatory or transactional course requirement may be waived or taken concurrently in exceptional circumstances. The clinic is open to students in their second, third, or fourth year of law school.

Course Information
Student Applications

Alumni

Nick Sioufas

Nick Sioufas

Why did you choose Pace Law?
There are two reasons I chose Pace Law. First, my doctor recommended I go to law school­­—specifically, Pace Law’s environmental program. Second, I investigated my doctor’s advice to discover that Pace recently launched the Pace-NRDC Food Law Initiative, along with the Food and Beverage Law Clinic. After learning more about the Initiative and Clinic, I realized Pace Law was the perfect place to explore my interest in agriculture and America’s food system. 

How did you pursue your interest in food and agriculture law at Pace? / What was your experience participating in Pace’s food law offerings?
I pursued my interest in food and agriculture law from the start at Pace Law. First, the 1L and other doctrinal courses both taught the nuances of our American legal system and offered a micro-level glance at the history that is the backdrop of our American food system. Both results prepared me to take advantage of Pace’s numerous upper-level offerings. This included: Taking an array of environmental, land use, food / agriculture, administrative and business law courses; Joining the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic and the Food and Beverage Law Clinic; Participating in skills-oriented, extra-curriculars, such as, the corporate externship program and the Haub-Pace Center for Environmental Legal Studies’ IUCN-World Conservation Congress 2020 team.

What was your experience in the Food and Beverage Law Clinic like?
The Food and Beverage Law Clinic allowed me to apply and grow my lawyering skills while counseling clients that inspire and promote local food systems.  With the Clinic, I gained confidence in my ability to engage a client, understand their needs and direct a value-added solution. The Clinic was an incredibly valuable experience as a young law student learning the practice of transactional law.

Tell us about the job you are starting after graduating from Pace Law:
Fall, 2019, I began a two-year Excelsior Service Fellowship with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM). Specifically, I respond to complaints and requests for assistance under the NY State Constitution’s Right to Farm Law, and various ordinance provisions, such as Agriculture and Markets Law 305. Also, I assist with regulatory proposals, Article 78 defense proceedings, department bill drafting, and appellate court briefs and oral arguments. Lastly, I represent DAM at multi-departmental hearings and meetings with local governments. All told, each day I build on what I learned at Pace Law to serve the people of New York State.

Tell us about the vegetable garden you started on Pace Law’s campus:
April 2019, fellow students, faculty members and I started a new campus garden in front of the E-House at Pace Law. The garden is meant to highlight the fact that healthy, tasty food can be grown locally­—even on a school or home lawn. The school already had a small, and mostly hidden, garden. However, I found the sunny and inviting E-House front lawn to be an ideal spot for a campus garden. I am grateful that many others on campus agreed. Therefore, on April 11, 2019, faculty and students came together to break ground on a new organic garden. This past summer, we maintained three beds that grew vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers. From our harvests, fresh food donations were made to Hope Kitchen and Trinity-St. Paul Church through the grow! Lincoln Park Community Garden­—all located in New Rochelle, NY. This Fall, we will plant cover crops and several perennials, such as rose bushes and a fruit tree.

Sarah Vaile

Sarah Vaile

When did your interest in food and agriculture begin?
I grew up in Indiana – the Heartland. Farm country. However, I had no connection to “real” food. My family ate frozen corn and peas out of a can. The food all around us – corn and soybeans – was destined for food processing plants. 

Ironically, I had to go away from the Midwest to discover real food. In my 20s, I spent time in England and went to my first farmer’s market. I was astonished to learn about things like arugula and aubergine, and that these delicacies were grown by farmers in the surrounding countryside. England was going through the GMO debate at that time, so when shopping I paid a lot of attention and started asking questions. 

When I returned to the U.S., I landed in Minneapolis. With an interest in “real” food, I worked in one of the city’s many food co-ops. I attended a book reading on The Farm as Natural Habitat and the Sierra Club was there with its “Keep Pigs Off Drugs” campaign. I approached the person at the table and said, “I want to do what you do.” That was my eventual friend Kendra, who declared that she was going to go to law school to fight factory farms. That sounded great to me, so I joined her mission. I started at Pace Law in 2004. 

How did you pursue this interest while at Pace Law School?
While at Pace, I did everything to learn about law relating to agriculture. There was no Food & Beverage Law Clinic back then, but I took advantage of every opportunity in the food and farm world. On the environmental law track, I took classes in the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, etc. – and did the Environmental Law Review and the Environmental Litigation Clinic. I wrote a research paper on the Monarch butterfly and the impacts of pesticides causing its decline. I went on a field trip to Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture and wrote my law review article on regulating Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) under the Clean Air Act. 

Tell us about your job at Farm Commons:
I joined Farm Commons in August 2018. Up until then I had spent most of my career (since graduating in 2007) working as a lawyer, but not in areas relating to food and farming. I did a clerkship, I worked as a public defender, and I spent the last six years or so practicing family law, estate planning and business law. I had always stayed involved in the food and farming world, mostly through my board service for farm organizations where I live in Oregon. However, the time came to get squarely back into the food and farm world. So, the same day I ended my job at the law firm, I saw an email from Farm Commons that they were hiring attorneys! I reached out to the executive director and I am happy to say she hired me!

Farm Commons is a non-profit organization focused on increasing the legal resiliency of small-scale, sustainable farms. These farms are the most vulnerable to legal risk, as they don’t have the capacity to hire lawyers to advise them on liability insurance options, explain how zoning may impact their venture, and counsel them on employment law. Farm Commons fills this gap by providing legal education, for free, to farmers and farm service providers. We do this through written publications, podcasts, website webinars and videos, and in-person workshops. As Staff Attorney, I am involved in all aspects of the work from researching and writing legal memos, to developing curriculum, to delivering the workshops. 

How did your time at Pace prepare you for your career?
My career has spanned a wide variety of work – from traditional “lawyering” such as courtroom litigation and transactional work to non-legal positions including being an organizer for a small non-profit organization. While all of these positions are so varied, they all have one thing in common: communication. Throughout my career, particularly now at Farm Commons, my work has always involved taking complicated legal and technical information and making it accessible to the “non-lawyer.” Pace really taught me how to do that. I learned not only how to read and digest complicated information – through all that reading of caselaw and statutes – but also how to explain it to others – though just about everything else I did at Pace – in study groups, writing assignments, oral argument. I don’t know of many other skills that are more important in our modern world. 

FACULTY AND STAFF

Faculty

Jonathan Brown

Professor

Faculty

Margot J. Pollans

Associate Professor of Law

Staff

Violaine Panasci

Food Law Fellow