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Yale Law School Launches Legal Food Program in Connecticut
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Summary: With the collaboration of several legal clinics at Yale Law School, a new program aimed at helping small farmers, food entrepreneurs and others has been created.

Interest in food law has been growing, especially at Yale Law School. With the help of two Yale Law School clinics, the Connecticut Legal Food Hub was launched to serve as a free legal services clearinghouse that connects income-eligible farmers, related nonprofits, and food entrepreneurs with pro bono legal aid.

  
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The service relies on a network of volunteer attorneys, some of which are Yale law students, to provide support to industry businesses striving towards healthy, sustainable and innovative solutions, according to a Yale Law School announcement. With support from the Conservation Law Foundation, The Ludwig Center for Community and Economic Development at Yale Law School, and the Environmental Protection Clinic at Yale Law School, the program launched March 1. There are only three other programs like this one in the country.

The leader of the Environmental Protection Clinic Joshua Galperin said the idea for the program came several years ago when their clinic was taking on more and more food projects in response to student interest. Student-led research on the food and farming environment in the state started the drive toward more food law projects. He said, “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.”

The Community & Economic Development Clinic, directed by Professor Anika Singh Lemar, soon approached them to help launch the concept. Lemar said, “This work is important because food entrepreneurship is a key entry point to small business ownership for low-wage workers. 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.”

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With the initial research done, Yale Law School fellow Brian Fink was asked to oversee the program. He explained, “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.”

Fink is now working to connect potential clients with the correct services. “Sometimes, a person calls me who is not yet ready to see a lawyer 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,” Fink explained. “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.”



He added, “The costs associated with starting and maintaining a small farm or food business are just incredible. 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 students that participate in the program gain knowledge of the industry and what farmers and food entrepreneurs need. Galperin said, “These students have helped – and will continue to help – with strategic planning, policy advocacy, and communications to bolster these important industries.”

He added, “Food, agriculture, health, environment; these are all areas that courts, Congress, and state legislatures have grappled with for more than a century. 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.”

Student Lauren Hobby said, “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.”

Do the clinics that law schools offer affect your opinion of them? Would the clinics make you more interested in attending that law school? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about Yale Law School, read these articles:

Photo: flickr.com



 

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