Michigan Farm Bureau wants to increase the number of farmers serving in government 20% by 2022. This is part of a series of articles aimed at informing Farm Bureau members about elected and appointed positions that offer opportunities for representing agriculture in government.
This is the second of two parts (part 1’s here) of a thorough look at what happens when farm kids go to law school.
By Andy Kok
JOHN BYL is an environmental and redevelopment attorney in Grand Rapids.
“I grew up on a fruit and vegetable farm near Shelby, growing cherries, apples, peaches and asparagus about a mile from Lake Michigan. It taught me patience; some of that hard work didn’t produce immediate results. Pruning trees, planting asparagus roots and thinning peaches were not fun or immediately rewarding.
“I help clients obtain financial incentives to make brownfield redevelopment projects work. My farm background helps me understand ecological cycles and the importance of preserving our planet.
“Farmers also have to deal with the impact of weather. In a single day an entire crop can be lost. But farmers recognize they’re in for the long haul, and lawyers could benefit from that quality.”
Attorney LIZA MOORE currently serves as a commissioner for the Michigan Supreme Court. Previously a partner with a Lansing law firm, she was the first chairperson of the Agricultural Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan.
“I grew up on my parents’ farm in northern Indiana. We grew corn, soybeans and wheat, and had a farrow-to-finish hog operation.
“I grew up valuing community service — volunteered a year of my life to serve full-time as an Indiana State FFA Officer before going to college.
“Farm kids grow up working hard and a good work ethic is useful in any career field, including the law.”
Grand Rapids labor and immigration attorney KIM CLARKE works with agricultural clients on employment compliance, H-2A worker issues and other farm and non-farm matters.
“I grew up on The Ridge, where my family operated a 500-acre fruit and vegetable farm that also had 85,000 egg-laying chickens. My farm background definitely helped my legal career.
“I learned customer service working at the farmer’s market, and learned that practical solutions are the most valuable.
“I intended to practice agricultural law because I saw an opportunity to assist farmers with issues they attempt to figure out on their own. My practice specializes in ag employment matters and immigration.
“Qualities inherent in the agricultural community that are especially helpful in the legal community are hard work, optimism and practical problem-solving.”
AMANDA VAN ESSEN WIRTH grew up on an Ottawa County horse farm near Hudsonville. Over time the livestock population grew with the addition of 4-H projects: hogs, cows, goats and chickens.
“When I’ve had litigation involving agriculture, it’s been an advantage to know the industry and its terminology. Sometimes there are options or compromises available that a lawyer without an agriculture background would never think of.
“Lawyering is similar to farming in that when the work needs to get done, the work needs to get done. Long days! You’ve gotta put in the long days to get the work done.
“If you grew up on farm, you’re better equipped to triage your work and get done what needs to get done — when it needs to get done.”
Finally, we asked all our farm-savvy counselors what advice they’d give a farm kid considering the legal profession:
John Byl: Work hard at it. You can work hard and still thoroughly enjoy your college and law school experience. And do not for one minute think someone with a different background has any advantage.
Liza Moore: Get involved in activities in high school to develop teamwork, public speaking and other career skills. Work hard in college and get as high a score as you can on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
Kim Clarke: Achieve the best grades possible, go to the best law school possible, and look for employment opportunities that challenge you professionally.
Amanda Van Essen Wirth: A law degree is a great way to advocate for agriculture. A career in law can give you the opportunity to help in many ways.
Andy Kok is MFB’s general counsel and secretary.
Local government positions examined in this series:
More to come!