Believing in the future of agriculture, Lauren Lucht assumed the responsibilities of Northwest Transplants from her parents. As the operating CEO, Lucht said the Molalla-based company grows a total of about 90 million vegetable, herb and flower seedlings on contract for growers throughout the Northwest.
Because farmers already wear multiple hats throughout the day, Lucht said it’s important they enlist strong partners to help them in areas such as legal assistance.
“Don’t only come to them with problems, many times they can help you identify and avoid challenges,” she said.
Lucht looks for professionals with whom she can have difficult and honest conversations. She advises farmers to make sure the attorney they hire values their time as much you do their time.
“If they aren’t willing to visit the farm to see the operation in action, I find that concerning,” Lucht said. “It’s important to build strong relationships because you never know when they will be bailing you out.”
Joe Hobson, a shareholder and business attorney with Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, has been practicing business and organizational law, helping design and develop small business and public and private institutions and associations for 40 years. He concentrates his practice in business and property law with a special emphasis on private, nonprofit and quasi-public entities.
“Managing a modern family-owned farm or ranch is a team sport,” Hobson said. “Farmers and ranchers should take the time and spend the money to develop a relationship with your own team of professionals so that when the time comes and you need a quick response to a difficult question you are well down the road toward getting what you need when you need it.”
The majority of his clients are individual farmers or forest owners, or entities that represent their interests. Hobson helped develop the structure and function of the Oregon Farm Bureau over the years, including development of a nationally recognized legal advocacy program. He also helped create the Oregon Agricultural Education Foundation and the Oregon Agricultural Legal Foundation.
“Life is not getting any easier,” Hobson shared. “When you encounter a bump along the road you need good professional advice. Many rules and regulations are not intuitive anymore and before you respond to something you need to talk to someone about the issue who knows what to say and what not to say.”
Over the years, Hobson said lawyers have become more specialized. What owners of agricultural businesses need to start with is a good business lawyer.
“Like the primary care physician, you want a business lawyer who can handle your general business and real estate needs and who can then refer you out for more specialized services,” he said.
Along with expertise, a lawyer can provide a client with objectivity. “That is something you cannot bring to a situation that you are involved in,” Hobson said. “You need a professional who can give insight and objectivity in a tough situation.”
Every farmer knows some crops grow better in some regions of their state than other regions. The same can be said about people. Some people can work together to grow a business while others cannot. Hobson said assuming a common level of competence, the biggest issue when selecting a lawyer is whether you can work together.
“More than anything else, choosing a lawyer is a question of style,” Hobson said. “There are so many lawyers available you should be able to find one that you are comfortable working with.”
Hobson said most farmers want to be able to pass their farm on to the next generation. For that reason, he said the lawyer needs to be well-versed in succession planning techniques for farmers and ranchers.
“An aspect of succession planning is estate planning,” Hobson said. “Therefore, the lawyer should be able to handle estate planning at the level required for the operation or have someone with estate planning expertise who can be added to the legal team to make sure the succession plan and the estate plan work together well.”