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By: Stephanie R. Brophy

Members of the Agricultural Law Section of the Maryland State Bar Association (“MSBA”) engage in the practice of law taking into consideration the great umbrella of agriculture, agribusiness, and aquaculture that covers the state of Maryland and thereby permeates almost every other practice area of law. Members include private practitioners and in-house counsel in almost every area of civil practice, including land use and zoning, conservation, civil litigation, environmental, estate planning, trusts, intellectual property, corporate and business, labor, bankruptcy, and immigration, just to name a few. Members also include attorneys who work for the State of Maryland, including at the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland (including the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics as well as the Francis King Carey School of Law).

This Section provides its Members and the broader legal community information and timely updates on applicable legislation, proposed legislation, legislation that did not pass, regulations, case law, and other educational materials pertaining to agriculture, agribusiness, and aquaculture in the State of Maryland and the implications across different practice areas. This includes applicable federal law and regulations.

This Section serves as a knowledge reservoir made up of its individual members, thereby creating a pool from which each member can draw from expanding his or her resource base resulting in more effective and thoughtful counsel to clients. This Section also acts as a networking base amongst attorneys in a variety of practice areas in all different contexts (private, government, non-profit, etc.) creating a statewide spider web of connections, some of which would never otherwise be made and all of which elevate each individual member’s ability to better serve the legal and agricultural communities. This is a unique section with surprisingly broad applicability across a wide span of practice areas.

Why you should join the MSBA Agricultural Law Section

You should join this Section because being a Member (who hopefully participates) elevates your practice of law by educating you on subject matter that you may otherwise have not considered relevant to your practice areas or by increasing your knowledge base even if you already consider agriculture, agribusiness, and aquaculture relevant to your practice areas. Ask yourself, how much do you know about Maryland’s Right-to-Farm law, the 2018 Farm Bill, environmental compliance, intellectual property considerations, precision agriculture, tax considerations, mineral leasing, state and federal labor law, negligence and liability issues, agricultural leases, agricultural preservation easements, conservation as an estate planning tool, succession planning, and so on? What about the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Wetlands Reserve Program, or the Farmable Wetlands Program? Not to mention local applicable law and considerations you need to consider when advising clients. A good example of current controversy in Maryland relates to nutrient management.

The more well-versed you are on the subject matter and applicable law that affects, or potentially affects, your Maryland clients (be they private or public), the better practitioner you will be. The better practitioner you are, the more confidence you will have as an attorney, all resulting in more legal business if you so desire, but more importantly resulting in better advice to clients. If you are a seasoned practitioner and well-versed on the subject matter and able to stay current on the applicable laws and regulations on your own and how the changing laws and regulations might impact other practice areas that at first glance might not seem relevant, teaching others will only strengthen your own skills in this area and you will make connections that will benefit you in other areas and lead to referrals.

Recent events and initiatives and more reasons why you should join this Section.

Last year this Section published its updated 2020-2021 Legal Services Directory that is distributed to the public, government agencies, private businesses, and other practitioners. No other Section of the MSBA has a Directory and in the first year of publication, this Section received the MSBA President’s Award.

The Directory contains the contact information for all of the Members of the Agricultural Law Section and is a valuable resource for identifying attorneys who are members of the Agricultural Law Section who may be the appropriate fit for a particular case. For example, if a potential client or another attorney is trying to identify an attorney to handle a case involving a new innovation in the agricultural field, such as technology in animal breeding and the question of whether that technology could be patented, by looking in the Directory they could find attorneys who practice intellectual property law who are also familiar with agriculture. Another example is when a farming organization is seeking general counsel for business or non-profit matters, it might prefer to pick an attorney who is a member of this Section because of the association with agriculture. The Directory is a resource where important connections can be made. It is available both in print and online. The link to the digital version is: https://cdn.laruta.io/app/uploads/sites/7/2020/08/28170703/Directory-_-Agriculture-Law-Section-_-MSBA-2020-1.pdf.

Last year this Section also held a 2020 legislative update webinar that examined agricultural-related bills introduced during the prior legislative session, including bills that became law, bills that were vetoed, and noteworthy bills that did not pass. The webinar also examined regulations that the Maryland Department of Agriculture recently adopted in response to legislation passed in 2019.

In the fall of 2020, this Section held a joint CLE program with the Intellectual Property Section about protecting hemp-related intellectual property.

Members of this Section have also recently been asked to participate in COVID-19 webinars for private organizations outside of the MSBA. This Section provided speakers who addressed potential liability issues in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic and the availability of relief funding for equine and other agricultural businesses. Members of this Section have also been asked to speak on liability issues in general in connection with equine businesses for various outside organizations.

In 2019, Members of this Section provided at least two separate presentations at the 2019 40th Anniversary AALA Educational Symposium. One of the Members of this Section is even on the AALA board. This Section also provides speakers for periodic topical webinars of interest to the Maryland agricultural community.

Upcoming events and opportunities

Another CLE joint program with another section of the MSBA for the spring-summer of 2021 is the next project. In addition, topics have been submitted for presentation at the MSBA annual meeting, as well as for the AALA’s 2021 Annual Educational Symposium.

This Section encourages participation, suggestions, topic proposals, and any other ideas that will further educate our Members so that we can provide the most informed counsel to the people and organizations we serve. It is not too late to join and get involved for 2021 events and initiatives. You might be the one with a new great idea that the Section will work to bring to fruition. All you have to do is join and start getting connected with us.

A Challenge…

I challenge you to join this Section for one year and participate as a Member and then at the end of that year you can determine for yourself whether your practice or your knowledge base has benefited from being a mMember the Agricultural Law Section. I have been a Member of this Section since its inception and each year (and the more I participate) the greater the benefits I receive and the more I have to offer back to the legal and agricultural communities I serve.

To join, simply log-in to your MSBA account, click on the Members link at the top, then click on Member Sections, then click on Agricultural Law, and then click Join this Section. You are four clicks away from joining an exciting group of people who would love to get to know you and work with you.

About the author: As a partner at Dulany Leahy Curtis & Brophy LLP, Ms. Brophy’s general statewide practice includes land use and zoning, civil litigation, corporate, business, and real estate. Ms. Brophy is admitted to practice in Maryland and Colorado with her main office in Westminster, Maryland. She is a Member-at-Large on the Council of the Agricultural Law Section of the MSBA. Ms. Brophy can be reached at brophy@dulany.com.