When Allison Condra, LW’11, decided to apply to law school, she knew she wanted to study agricultural policy. With some dedicated searching, she found Drake’s Agricultural Law Center. A welcoming campus tour and a chat with Neil Hamilton, Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and the Center’s director, made choosing Drake an easy decision.
After coming to Drake Law, it was the tight-knit community and wealth of networking resources that launched her into a career in agricultural law. Post-graduation, the Center connected Condra with a job as a legislative assistant for a firm in Washington D.C., and she recently accepted a position as a clinical fellow in the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School.
Condra is just one success story to emerge from the Agricultural Law Center, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Since 1983, the Center has educated hundreds of students and, starting in 2003, awarded 50 Food and Agricultural Law Certificates to date. But its influence reaches much further than the Drake campus. Hamilton explains that students work with issues relevant to more than just farmers and lawyers. They study topics including food production and safety, product labeling, and a wide variety of issues that affect the general public. As Hamilton says: “You’re only as far from agriculture as you are from your next meal.”
Hamilton has been with the Center since its first day. He has developed curriculum, taught classes, published research, and continues to publicize the program and recruit students. His goal has been to establish a program that leads students to be effective and comfortable in conversing about the issues they study and for Drake to be part of the national discussion on agricultural law. Thanks to the Center’s hands-on, practical approach, Condra has the skills to enter this conversation with ease.
“We did mock negotiations and looked up actual regulation and code, acting as if we were already in a law firm,” Condra says. “For me, that was really important because it prepared me to walk into a law firm and say, ‘I can do food law,’ and jump right into it.”
In its 30 years, the Center has also made a name for itself internationally. Last January, Hamilton traveled with Drake students to Cuba; they were the first group of American students to study agricultural law in that country. They focused much of their studies on the agricultural reforms taking place within the nation, and had opportunities to visit farms and urban gardens, speak with native Cubans, and attend a session with the Cuban Agricultural Law Society. This experience provided the students an understanding of a country to which few Americans have ventured. The Center is planning to continue these trips and hopes to include other lawyers as well as Law School alumni.
In celebration of its anniversary, the Center will hold a number of exciting events during the next year. Already this fall, a delegation of students and professors attended the American Agricultural Law Association’s Annual Symposium in Nashville, Tenn. On Oct. 19, the Center hosted the Symposium’s evening reception at the Tennessee State Museum to recognize its three decades of work. Dozens of Drake graduates joined the evening’s festivities.
The anniversary will be formally recognized on April 19 with a conference, Continuing Legal Education program, and celebration on Drake’s campus. This event, which will be open to the public, will highlight timely issues related to agricultural law such as the drought, food labeling, and the future of federal farm programs. Professors from around the country and Law School alumni will lead discussions and deliver lectures.
Looking further into the future, Hamilton knows Drake will continue to prepare students for a wide range of professional endeavors. While many graduates enter traditional legal practices, alumni join rural firms, work in state governments or the agriculture industry, or become lobbyists, among other options. The opportunities for these students continue to grow, especially with renewable energy and other “green” initiatives entering the spotlight.
“I know the Center will continue because these issues will never go away,” Hamilton says. “It has earned a reputation for high quality graduates and is well respected, and there’s value to the longevity of the Center, as well. We give people the opportunity to study these topics and challenge them to think in ways that they haven’t before.”