2009

I get a lot of inquiries from lawyers and law students about how they can develop a niche practice in equine law.  Below are the most common FAQs and my responses.  

1.  Is there enough business in equine law to make a living?  

The answer to this is a resounding "yes"!  I honestly do not believe the state in which you live will dictate this, either.  I left a big firm 3 years ago and have been exclusively handling equine matters since then.  I now have more business than I know what to do with.  And I *only* take equine cases. I truly believe that the smaller your niche is, the bigger your market becomes.  I also believe there is enough work for a lawyer to have a niche practice *within* equine law!

 2.  Do your clients pay you?

Yes.  I do handle some pro-bono cases by choice but my clients do pay and I have a competitive hourly rate. Getting paid for your work has nothing to do with the industry your client is involved in.  This comes down to running your firm like a business.  

3.  What kinds of stuff does an equine lawyer do?

I think it depends on what kinds of matters you’re drawn to.  While I can handle most types of equine-related matters,  I do a lot of  trial work.  I was a litigator at the big firm so I was trained at the big firm for 6 years to try civil lawsuits.  I represent horse owners in several main types of lawsuits, including 1) possessory disputes / recovery of horses being wrongfully held by someone; 2) enforcement of liens on horses; and 3) sales disputes (where the buyer is suing the seller for fraud, DTPA, breach of warranty).  I represent individuals almost exclusively.  I don’t do any criminal (i.e. cruelty cases) because they are not civil matters.  If you’re interested in criminal, you can get a job with the county prosecuting those cases (think "Animal Cops").  Equine lawyer Julie Fershtman(Michigan) often represents the horse owner’s liability insurance company when someone sues a boarding facility or trainer, for example, in a personal injury matter.  She has written a lot of books and you need to buy those and read them if you have not already done so.  Joel Turner, an exceptional lawyer and person, often represents huge Thoroughbred farms in Kentucky in stallion syndications, racing syndications, and major business transactions.

 

Continue Reading Advice for Lawyers: How to Develop an Equine Law Practice

Beginning September 1, 2009, all large animal veterinarians in the state of Texas will have a lien on treated animals to secure payment of vet bills. This lien will be effective both before and after the animal is released to the owner.
 
Prior to the effective date of this legislation, veterinarians have no statutory lien on treated animals to secure veterinary services other than board. See "Liens for Veterinarians and Farriers in Texas" (February 18, 2008)

 

As of January 2009, twenty-eight other states provide veterinarians with a statutory lien. Texas’s lien is unique in that it only applies to large animals (livestock) and is not purely possessory in nature (i.e. allows repossession after the animal is taken by its owner).

*The passage of this lien doesn’t mean the vet "has" to take the treated animal as payment…it’s just there as an alternative collections measure.*

The final bill (S.B. 1806, proposed by this firm and carried by Senator Judith Zaffirini) will be codified in Section 70.010 in the Texas Property Code.
 
This lien may give veterinarians some leverage in getting paid for their services, even if the lien is not ultimately enforced.
 

FACTS ABOUT THE NEW STATUTE:

1) The lien will only apply to amounts that become due to vets after September 1, 2009.

2) When the vet maintains possession of the animal, the vet’s lien will have priority over all other liens.

3) Once the vet relinquishes possession of the animal, the vet’s lien should be filed of record in the county where the services were rendered and with the Secretary of State.  The vet’s lien, post possession, takes priority in the order of filing the notice, per Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code.

Texas law provides liens for two specific types of services provided to horse owners: 1) the stable keeper’s lien, (Tex. Prop. Code §70.003) which secures payment for charges related to the care of horses; and 2) the stock breeder’s lien, which secures payment for breeding services. The stable keeper’s lien also applies to an animal fed in confinement for slaughter, and thus can also be asserted by feedlot operators. See Tex. Prop. Code §70.005(c).

Unlike many other states, Texas does not provide veterinarians or farriers with a lien on a horse to secure payment for professional services rendered. However, the stableman’s lien in Texas does provide a farrier or vet who had a horse in his or her care a lien on the animal for costs of boarding the animal.

Two things to be considered are that 1) a service provider may attempt to hold your horses for nonpayment, even though no statutory lien exists. This may result in the necessity to get a writ of sequestration to regain possession; and 2) horse owners need to be aware of the lien laws in other states when shipping their horses across state lines in the possession of a service provider.
When a service provider refuses to turn over the horses until the full amount of the bill is paid, the local sheriff’s department and the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers will rarely assist the horse owner in regaining possession of his horses due to the civil nature of the dispute. Without the aid of law enforcement, a horse owner may decide to pursue a lawsuit for conversion asking for the return of the animals that includes an application for a writ of sequestration to regain possession of the horses and to seek damages.

A writ of sequestration will enable the owner to regain possession of the horses within a short time, without a trial on the merits, and maintain possession until the lawsuit is disposed.

In the context of horses, a writ of sequestration is available to a plaintiff in a suit if the suit is for possession of horses or for foreclosure or enforcement of a lien or security interest in horses, and a reasonable conclusion may be drawn that there is immediate danger that the party in possession of the livestock will conceal, dispose of, ill-treat, waste, or destroy the livestock or remove it from the county during suit. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §62.001 (Vernon 1997). The defendant’s use of the livestock while the suit is pending is not enough for a writ to be granted. The plaintiff must fear that the livestock will be sold, mistreated, killed, or concealed. Mere depreciation in the value of the livestock during the pendency of the suit probably will not constitute injury that would warrant the issuance of a writ of sequestration. Commercial Acceptance Trust v. Parmer, 241 S.W.586 (Tex.Civ.App.—Fort Worth 1922, writ ref.)(involving depreciation of motor vehicle).

“Sequestration” is not a cause of action, but rather, a remedy available after suit has been filed, but before a judgment has been obtained. Its purpose is to prevent the destruction or disposal of property until the court can reach a final judgment.

To avoid these situations, horse owners and service providers should put all terms of the service agreement in writing. The contract needs to specify what the service provider has been hired to do with the horses, where they will keep the horses, and the expected payment for the care and services provided. Horse owners should ask all service providers to send a detailed bill at least once per month and be sure to pay bills timely.

Owners should not entrust their horses to anyone in whom they do not have full faith and confidence, and should keep in close contact with the person or company in possession of the horses. Similarly, a service provider needs to check references to make sure they are not accepting a client who will not end up paying for the services.
 

 

In these economic times, horse industry businesses need to make sure they are effectively managing their credit, as well as their client relationships.

Many equine-related businesses owners have occasion to extend credit to their customers or clients. First of all, it is important to get everyone on the same page with respect to billing. “Everyone” includes you, others in your office who have client contact, and the client. For example, everyone who deals with your accounts should know when statements are mailed, when payment is due, and when or if the client may spread out payment over a number of installments. Similarly, your customer or client needs to clearly understand your expectations regarding payment. 

Your spoken words and your actions must match your paperwork and billing terms. This is one of the weakest areas for many horse businesses in debt management. I have seen, for example, many people who believe someone is boarding or training their horse for free in exchange for a commission when the horse is sold, only to receive a bill in the mail months later for thousands of dollars of boarding and training services. When this occurs, there is a much higher potential to really upset a client who believes your rules have changed between what was verbally offered and how they were actually billed. 

The following are some things you can do to avoid having to collect a debt in the first place:

1. Have clear, written terms from the outset.  You need to give your client a written confirmation of the product or service you will be providing before you provide the product or service.   The initial agreement should be signed by both you and the client.  

2. Publish your terms frequently.  Your terms should be published frequently after the original agreement. For example, the payment due date should be printed on each statement.

3. Send out detailed statements.  You should bill your clients at least once per month, and the bill needs to be as detailed as possible. People are more likely to pay a bill and pay it on time when they fully understand all the services that were performed. When a client sees a general entry such as “vet services” on a bill, for instance, when the client had no idea a veterinarian had treated their horse, the client may become suspicious that you are divvying up your vet expenses equally among all clients, whether that particular client received the vet service or not. 

4. Invoice clients on a consistent billing cycle.  Once a product or service has been delivered, invoice the client as soon as possible. Whichever date you choose to send out bills, send one out at least once per month on that same schedule as long as you are providing services or waiting for payment.

5. Encourage prompt payment.  To encourage the prompt settlement of bills, offer an incentive such as discounts for early payments (while always balancing the extent of the price cut with the benefits of an improved cash flow).

For more debt collection tips, continue reading.

Continue Reading How to Successfully Manage Credit in a Tough Economy

Profit-sharing arrangements between a horse owner and his or her trainer are commonplace in the horse industry. They are often referred to as “partnerships,” but a written contract is seldom used. I strongly advise my clients against doing any kind of profit-sharing or partnership arrangement without putting the terms in writingI have seen countless relationships between owners and trainers break down over a profit-sharing deal, and it generally happens because the parties had a different idea about what the agreement was supposed to entail. These disputes can get ugly, and sometimes law enforcement even becomes involved in disputes over possession of the horse. 

Usual Scenario. The typical profit-sharing arrangement usually arises when the owner and trainer agree that the trainer will train, board, and promote the horse free of charge or at a very discounted rate to the owner in exchange for an increased percentage of the horse’s racing proceeds or a percentage of the proceeds from selling or breeding the horse.

 

Essential Documents. The following documents should be drafted to fit your specific terms and executed by the appropriated parties:

 

* A purchase and sale agreement between the owner and seller;

* A bill of sale transferring title of the horse from the seller to the owner; and

* A profit-sharing agreement between the trainer and owner.

Continue Reading Legal Documentation for Owner / Trainer Profit Sharing Deals