Three Drake Law alumnae are currently serving on the Board of Directors for the American Agricultural Law Association (AALA), a board that consists of nine total members.
The American Agricultural Law Association (AALA) is a national professional organization focusing on the legal needs of the agricultural community. Crossing traditional barriers, it offers an independent, nonpartisan forum for investigation of innovative and workable solutions to complex agricultural law problems.
This role has taken on greater importance in the midst of the current international and environmental issues, reshaping agriculture, and the impending technological advances which promise equally dramatic changes.
Beth Crocker, LW’01, was elected to serve at president-elect. She will plan the 2015 AALA Educational Symposium in Charleston, South Carolina, and will serve as president of the AALA for 2015-16 and past-president for 2016-17. Beth currently serves as assistant general counsel for Clemson University, following a term of 10 years as general counsel and director of legal affairs for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA).
Amber Brady Miller, LW’05, is finishing her three-year term on the Board of Directors. Amber is currently an attorney in the law office of Brady & Hamilton, LLP, practicing primarily in the areas of administrative law, agricultural law, business and commercial law, civil litigation, eminent domain, and water law.
Jennifer Williams Zwagerman, LW’04, of Drake University was elected to a three-year term on the AALA Board of Directors. Jennifer is the director of career development at Drake University Law School and also teaches courses in food and agricultural law.
Professor Neil Hamilton, Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and professor of law and director of the Agricultural Law Center, has been an active member of the AALA for his entire career, including a stint as president. But perhaps his biggest impact has been through the numbers of agricultural law students he has taken to AALA conferences each year.
“Professor Hamilton encouraged me to go with him to the AALA meeting in Columbus, Ohio as a 1L,” says Crocker. “Although I had only been in law school for about eight weeks, I signed up and so many of the topics were over my head. But I liked the people, and I saw that I really could make a career out of being an agricultural lawyer.”
Miller says, “Professor Hamilton is a strong advocate of the organization, and more importantly, he’s an advocate for his students. He encouraged all of his “ag law” students to attend the AALA conferences and to learn more about the organization.”
“I’ve only missed one conference since [my 1L year], as I quickly realized this was a wonderful group of professionals, who were welcoming, open, brilliant, and an amazing source of information and resources,” says Zwagerman.
For each of the alumnae in leadership positions, it was encouragement from Professor Hamilton that both directed and confirmed their interest in agricultural law. It was their experiences at Drake, including mentorship from Hamilton, that prepared them for life after law school.
For Crocker, a combination of factors during law school influenced her career.
“Taking Legislative Drafting with Professor Hamilton and interning with Iowa Senator Merlin Bartz in the Iowa Legislature was a tremendous experience, and I have used those skills a lot here in South Carolina, both in drafting legislation and regulations that have been successfully implemented.”
But she doesn’t just credit Hamilton or the Agricultural Law program at Drake.
“At the time, I did not realize how key my Administrative Law course would be in aiding me in my positions with state regulatory agencies,” says Crocker. “And I also really enjoyed all intellectual property law classes that I took with Professor Sease, especially because he is a practitioner who represented Pioneer Hybrid Seed in a case that I later wrote about for my LL.M. at Arkansas.” Zwagerman agrees.
“Many of the opportunities I have been able to pursue along my career path have directly come as a result of relationships I made while at Drake Law,” says Zwagerman. “Drake allowed me to gain experience in and out of the classroom in the area that I was most interested in – agricultural law – but it also provided a wonderful education and opportunities that prepared me for every position I have ever wanted to pursue, no matter how many times that seemed to change or evolve.”
“I have found that my Drake Law education prepared me for the challenges that I’ve faced and enabled me to quickly adjust and meet those challenges,” says Miller.
These three are not the only successful agricultural law alumni.
Drake graduates practice agricultural law with government agencies, private businesses, financial institutions and state legislatures that deal with agricultural issues. Drake's lawyers also go into private practice, representing farm, ranch or agribusiness interests, domestically and internationally. Drake students have opportunities to work with state and federal institutions, including the state office of the USDA Farm Services Agency, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, the Rural Concern Hotline, the farm division of the Iowa Department of Justice and the Office of General Counsel of the USDA in Washington, D.C.
One recent graduate, Ellen Essman, LW’14, was recognized as the recipient of the 2014 American Agricultural Law Association award for the best student article related to agricultural law. Essman’s Note, "The Ohio Livestock Care Standards as a Blueprint for Livestock Welfare Policy," was published in the fall 2013 issue of the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law.
The paths of alumni may vary, and their reasons for choosing Drake and/or agricultural law may be many, but for Crocker, Zwagerman, and Miller, their commitment to agricultural law remains steadfast through their roles on the AALA Board.