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NYC Food Policy Center (blog) featured Pace Food and Beverage Law Clinic in "Pro Bono Legal Services for Farmers and Food Businesses: Pace Food and Beverage Law Clinic"

02/11/2020

NYC Food Policy Center (blog) featured Pace Food and Beverage Law Clinic in "Pro Bono Legal Services for Farmers and Food Businesses: Pace Food and Beverage Law Clinic"

Name: Pace Food and Beverage Law Clinic

What They Do: The Pace Food and Beverage Law Clinic is the flagship program of the Pace-NRDC Food Law Initiative, a collaboration between the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). With faculty supervision, Pace law students in the Clinic provide legal representation to small farms, food and beverage entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations.  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. Areas of legal services include new business formation and legal structure; tax exemption for nonprofit organizations; reviewing, drafting, and negotiating contracts including leases, financing agreements, and other documents; regulatory advice, including that relating to food safety, labeling and marketing, and land use; and other transactional legal matters.

How They Do It: The Food and Beverage Law Clinic is part of John Jay Legal Services, Inc., a nonprofit legal services organization within Pace University. Services are provided to clients free of charge, primarily by Pace law students under faculty supervision. Clients are selected based on factors including variety in caseload, number of clients currently being represented, complexity of a client’s case, and fit with the clinic’s mission. For a for-profit business, the business leaders’ household income may not exceed 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. For a non-profit organization, the organization and project must satisfy the Association of Pro Bono Counsel’s “mission, matter, means” eligibility criteria.  Clients are accepted on a rolling basis, but new projects typically start at the beginning of the Pace school semester.

Read the full NYC Food Policy Center article.

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"Civil Eats" featured Haub Law Professor Margot Pollans and the Pace Food and Beverage Law Clinic in "Farmers Can’t Afford the Legal Help They Need. These Lawyers Are Mobilizing to Change That."

05/17/2018

"Civil Eats" featured Haub Law Professor Margot Pollans and the Pace Food and Beverage Law Clinic in "Farmers Can’t Afford the Legal Help They Need. These Lawyers Are Mobilizing to Change That."

Corbin Hill Food Project founder Dennis Derryck believes that food justice depends on land justice, which is why he’s taking 95 acres of upstate New York farmland his organization owns and “turning it over to the community.” In the process, he’s tackling big, philosophical questions: “Who is the community? What should the land be used for? Shouldn’t the community itself answer that question?”

To make the project work, however, he also needed to ask some more mundane, practical questions, like: “What kind of legal structures exist for collective ownership?” Normally, Derryck says he would have pieced together ad-hoc legal advice, since Corbin Hill could not afford an attorney. But this time, he turned to a team of law students at the Pace Food and Beverage Law Clinic.

“They spent considerable time with us really helping us understand things like rules and regulations,” recalls Derryck. “They said, ‘We love what you want to do, but you’ve got to hear about all the things you’ll have to deal with,’”—like land easements and non-profit governance structures.

The clinic is the central piece of the Pace-NRDC Food Law Initiative, a program launched in 2015 in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in New York City, to provide small farmers, food producers, and food activists with pro bono legal services. It’s also educating a new generation of food lawyers on the day-to-day legal issues that producers outside the industrial food system face.

“Legal services are a key part of the infrastructure for a sustainable regional food economy,” says Margot Pollans, the initiative’s faculty director.

While the clinic is the first law school initiative of its kind, it’s part of larger movement to make attorneys and legal information accessible to small farmers and food producers, who often end up trying to navigate complex issues—including labor policies, food safety regulations, contracts, and land transfers—on their own.

In addition to the Pace-NRDC initiative, The Legal Food Hub launched in Massachusetts in 2014 and now connects producers with pro bono lawyers throughout New England. And organizations like the Sustainable Economies Law Center and Farm Commons, along with other university law clinics, produce free legal guides and toolkits that address common challenges like establishing farm business structures and earning organic certification.

With her law students, Pollans says she emphasizes how critical legal help can be for good food businesses to survive. “The clinic is embedded in developing a regional food system … by thinking about systemic barriers,” she says. “Lack of legal services is one of those barriers.”

Read the full article.