I get a lot of inquiries from lawyers and law students about how they can develop a niche practice in equine law. Below are the most common FAQs and my responses.
1. Is there enough business in equine law to make a living?
The answer to this is a resounding "yes"! I honestly do not believe the state in which you live will dictate this, either. I left a big firm 3 years ago and have been exclusively handling equine matters since then. I now have more business than I know what to do with. And I *only* take equine cases. I truly believe that the smaller your niche is, the bigger your market becomes. I also believe there is enough work for a lawyer to have a niche practice *within* equine law!
2. Do your clients pay you?
Yes. I do handle some pro-bono cases by choice but my clients do pay and I have a competitive hourly rate. Getting paid for your work has nothing to do with the industry your client is involved in. This comes down to running your firm like a business.
3. What kinds of stuff does an equine lawyer do?
I think it depends on what kinds of matters you’re drawn to. While I can handle most types of equine-related matters, I do a lot of trial work. I was a litigator at the big firm so I was trained at the big firm for 6 years to try civil lawsuits. I represent horse owners in several main types of lawsuits, including 1) possessory disputes / recovery of horses being wrongfully held by someone; 2) enforcement of liens on horses; and 3) sales disputes (where the buyer is suing the seller for fraud, DTPA, breach of warranty). I represent individuals almost exclusively. I don’t do any criminal (i.e. cruelty cases) because they are not civil matters. If you’re interested in criminal, you can get a job with the county prosecuting those cases (think "Animal Cops"). Equine lawyer Julie Fershtman(Michigan) often represents the horse owner’s liability insurance company when someone sues a boarding facility or trainer, for example, in a personal injury matter. She has written a lot of books and you need to buy those and read them if you have not already done so. Joel Turner, an exceptional lawyer and person, often represents huge Thoroughbred farms in Kentucky in stallion syndications, racing syndications, and major business transactions.
4. What Is Equine Law?
It is not really a body of law, it is more of an industry niche in the practice of law. An equine lawyer is a practitioner who knows the equine industry (i.e. how they do business) and knows the laws that affect horse owners and businesses. The equine lawyer knows the problems facing horse businesses and knows both common and creative ways to solve those problems. The University of Kentucky in Lexington’s CLE program has an equine law conference every May (right before the Derby). If you go to this, you will learn a lot of the issues.
5. I’m a "horse person" and a lawyer…how do I break into equine law?
First, you have to be a good lawyer. You need to hone your skills in whatever the mechanical aspect of your practice is (i.e. trial advocacy, drafting effective contracts, civil procedure, etc.) Many people incorrectly believe that they can say they’re a "horse person" and get hired just because they are a lawyer who knows how to ride. I do not believe this. Even if you are extremely familiar with how the equine industry works (which most lawyers I know who love horses aren’t), if you don’t do a good job as a lawyer you will not get hired (or re-hired). Take a lot of CLE if you’re young and work with skilled attorneys and learn the trade first. Building a practice takes time, but it’s fun and rewarding. Stick with it even if it seems discouraging at first. Meeting people in the industry and learning the business is key.
6. How do I get business?
- First, do not be scared or worry about what other people think. Go for equine law if that’s what you want to do.
- Stick to equine law and don’t try to be a jack of all trades! Don’t try to make "equine law" one of the 20 things in the paragraph of practice areas you tell everyone you’re an expert in!
- If you’re at a big firm, focus your marketing efforts on equine law even if you are working on other types of matters.
- Go to Cordell Parvin’s website. Subscribe to his blog. Read all the books on his reading list on lawyer business development.
- Read horse industry publications and join their associations to find out what their issues are. Then write articles and do speeches on those subjects.
- Instead of always trying to make a "sale", try to provide value to your potential clients.
- Stay involved in the horse industry. Buy a horse if you sold all of yours. When you’re not doing work for your clients, ride the horse. Show the horse or rodeo on the horse (whatever you like to do).
These are just some ideas on how to get started. There are many other things you can do to generate business in the equine field. Once you decide equine law is for you, the most important thing to do is to "go for it"! American icon Mark Twain may have said it best when he wrote,
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Update: For further information, you might listen to this podcast interview on building a niche practice between Cordell Parvin and myself done in June 2010.