When you find yourself in need of a lawyer, it’s always best to either call on an attorney whom you already know, or to call someone to whom you were referred by a person you trust. 

Because equine law is such a specialized niche practice, you might not already know an equine practitioner and you might not be able to get a referral from a trusted source. In these cases, your only option might be to “cold-call” an equine attorney whom you found through a Google search or on a social media outlet.

Once you’ve found the name of an equine attorney you’d like to call about your legal matter, here are some guidelines to consider before you make the first contact:

1)         Prepare for the Call. If you have been served with papers, look at the papers carefully and determine which court the matter was filed in, whether it is civil or criminal, and what the court is asking you to do and when. If you have received a demand letter, figure out what exactly the other party is demanding of you and by when. Have the papers in front of you when you call the lawyer, and have a plan lined up on how you can fax or email the papers to the lawyer immediately if necessary.

2)         Think About What You Want From the Lawyer Before the Call. If you are calling a lawyer to talk about suing someone, think about how to explain the problem and what you want in four sentences or less. The lawyer will follow up with questions pertinent to the legal issues raised by your short summary of the issue. 

A good example of a summary to start a conversation with a lawyer: “I think I want to sue the guy who sold me my horse. Two days after I got him home, he was crippled. My vet says the problem existed before I bought him and that he will never be sound again.”  Let the lawyer take it from there.  Try to refrain from going on tangents when you are answering the lawyer’s questions.

Before the initial call, think about whether you are willing to spend money on an attorney to pursue your claims. If the answer is “no”, your first question to the lawyer should be whether you can schedule a paid consult to help you investigate your claims, or whether the particular lawyer takes contingency cases.

3)         Be Prepared to Listen.  It is not the lawyer’s job to tell you what you want to hear. If you disagree with what the lawyer is telling you about your case, refrain from arguing with the lawyer (doing so will make him not want to take you on as a client).  It is best to listen and consider what the lawyer is telling you, and ask follow up questions if necessary. You should call another attorney for a second opinion if you have doubts about what a lawyer tells you about your case. Be mindful of the fact that if you insist on a lawyer who will only tell you want you want to hear, you might find yourself being represented by someone who is (1) a pushover, (2) dishonest, or (3) desperate for work. None of these scenarios will be good for you in the long run.

4)         Think About Timing.  You should not wait until 5 days before your trial or appearance date before calling the lawyer.  If you need a lawyer to draft an agreement or set up a business entity for you, you should call a lawyer at least two weeks before the work needs to be completed. Sometimes a task that you might think will only take a couple of days for a lawyer will take more time, because the lawyer has work that has to be completed for other clients who hired the lawyer before your matter came in.

Related Post: Is My Horse Case Worth Pursuing?

Hat tip to Ken at Popehat for providing the inspiration for this post.

Follow me on Twitter @alisonmrowe

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