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Lauren Handel
Partner
The Food Law Firm: Foscolo & Handel PLLC
March 18, 2014

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

My "aha!" moment was on National Food Day, October 24, 2011. Just days before, I made the decision that I would leave my job within 9 months. I had been working for 10 years as an attorney at a very large law firm doing mostly product liability and environmental litigation. Although there were many things about that job that I liked, it was not personally rewarding work, and I knew I had to leave. The only problem was I had no idea what else I would do. My biggest passion was food, but I wasn't sure I could turn that into a career.

Then, on Food Day, I read a blog post entitled "Wanted: Food Lawyers" by Mark Izeman of the Natural Resources Defense Council. In that post, Izeman urged lawyers to consider careers in food law to help build local, sustainable food systems. An attorney in Toronto, Carly Dunster, commented on the blog that she had recently started her own food law practice. Food law! It was exactly the answer I had been looking for. I realized that day that I could use my skills and the things I loved most about being a lawyer - problem solving and advocating for clients - to help ensure the success of good food businesses.

How did you get your current good food job?

After reading Carly's comment on the blog post, I spoke with her about her food law practice. She suggested that I contact Jason Foscolo, another attorney who had recently started his own food law practice in New York. Jason and I kept in touch and became friends. We realized that we could work well together and started talking about becoming law partners. But before I could start a food law practice, I needed to learn the specialized laws and legal issues that pertain to food and farming businesses. I did that by attending the LL.M. (Master of Laws) Program in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. Since I finished that program, I have been working with Jason in an "of counsel" capacity while we prepared to launch our firm, Foscolo & Handel PLLC.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

My personal experiences and history with food give me a passion for my clients' work and drive me to help them succeed. From a very early age, my family instilled in me an appreciation for quality food, an interest in knowing where food comes from, and a love of cooking. I have always spent a great deal of my time learning about food through reading, shopping, talking to growers at farmer's markets, exploring new types of foods, cooking and, of course, eating.

My law school education and 10 years of experience at the big firm taught me how to be a lawyer. My past practice enabled me to develop skills that all lawyers need, such as abilities to work with clients and to understand their challenges and goals, to investigate and analyze the relevant law and facts, to think creatively to solve a client's problems, and to marshal the law and the facts effectively to make compelling arguments on a client's behalf.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

My greatest obstacle was fear of risk and potential failure. I gave up a very comfortable, financially secure job with no assurance that my dream job would work out. I choose to trust that, if I do what I love, success will come. I have never seriously thought about giving up on my dream because I feel that I have no choice but to pursue it. There is no other work I would rather be doing.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

There are so many opportunities. To name one, there is a lot of room for growth ? and therefore tremendous opportunity - for food distribution and logistics businesses, including those that provide aggregation and marketing services. Food hubs are very exciting businesses. The demand for local, sustainable food isn't close to being met in large part because we have insufficient infrastructure and logistical services for getting such food to markets and consumers.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Cheese or New Jersey summer tomatoes or oysters. I could go on . . .

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