At Equine Legal Solutions, students and young
attorneys frequently contact us to ask what
they can do to pursue a career in equine law.
Some are hopeful that a law school
degree + equine experience = a lucrative new
career as a horse attorney.
However, it’s not that simple.
First, you need to graduate from a
reputable law school, which takes at least
three years. Then, to develop practical
skills, you need to spend at least several
more years as an associate working for a
Only after you have become an
experienced, well-rounded lawyer can you begin
to develop your equine practice, either within
your current firm or on your own.
During all of those years, you need to
remain very active in the horse community so
that you can gain and maintain a deep
understanding of the industry.
Sound expensive, time-consuming and
You Cut Out to Be a Lawyer?
you decide to spend the time and money to
pursue a law career, consider whether you are
well-suited to the legal profession.
There are many different legal
specialties, but successful attorneys have
many of the same qualities.
First and foremost, they are excellent
Whether you are writing an email to a
client or drafting a brief in a court case,
it’s essential to make your points clearly
Talented attorneys are typically very
good speakers, able to convey their key
arguments with conviction and in the proper
attorneys are perfectionists.
As an attorney, a big part of your job
is to anticipate and cover all contingencies,
which means you must be exceptionally
Time management and efficiency are
critical, because not only do you bill your
clients by the hour, you must also be an
expert at tracking and meeting deadlines. Even
a seemingly tiny mistake can result in
malpractice, so all of your communications
must be perfect, every single time.
All communications must be completely
free of spelling errors, odd pagination,
grammatical mistakes and other hallmarks of
Surprisingly, many resumes that we
receive at ELS, from both attorneys and
paralegals, contain grammar and spelling
mistakes, often right in the cover email.
No matter how impressive the
applicant’s other qualifications are,
resumes with errors go right into the
“deleted items” folder.
the practice of equine law, you spend a lot of
time meeting with people and talking on the
your personality matters.
In addition to being a skilled
communicator, you need to have excellent
Patience is an essential component of
On a daily basis, an equine attorney
must listen attentively to half-hour-long,
rambling tales of woe and, while the
prospective client is talking, determine
whether they have a viable legal case and
whether it fits within the type of case
suitable for your practice.
Because horses are like children to
many horse owners, an equine attorney often
needs to be empathetic and kind, ready to
reassure a client in tears or help defuse an
At the same time, you need to be able
to say “no” firmly when the situation
warrants and separate yourself from the
Into Law School
get into law school, you need to be a good
student with excellent grades from a
well-respected college, and you need to be a
The LSAT is the law school entrance
examination, and unless you score well on it,
you will not be admitted to a top law school,
no matter how good your grades are.
Test-taking is important throughout law
school, because semester-end law school
examinations are typically the sole basis for
your grade in a given course.
Test-taking is also an essential skill
for passing the bar examination, which is
required to practice law.
If you plan to practice in more than
one state, you will likely need to take (and
pass!) more than one bar examination.
Bar examinations are grueling
two-to-three day tests consisting of multiple
choice questions and sometimes an essay
John F. Kennedy Jr. famously failed the
Massachusetts bar examination, and many other
less famous law school graduates fail the bar
every year. If you tend to clutch on tests or
have trouble finishing them in the allotted
time, law school and passing the bar will be
extremely difficult for you.
Unless you pass the bar, you will be
unemployable as an attorney.
Taking more than once to pass the bar
will be a lifelong black mark on your career,
as often it is possible to tell from the date
of an attorney’s bar admission whether they
passed the bar on the first try.
a Law School
selecting a law school, your primary
consideration must be your job prospects upon
What is the school’s placement rate,
and even more importantly, does it place
graduates into the type of job that you want?
If you plan to practice with a
nationally-known law firm, you should choose a
national-level law school with a history of
placing graduates at nationally-known law
law schools boast respectable placement rates,
but further examination reveals that not all
graduates are employed as
lawyers after graduation (i.e., they could
be flipping burgers!).
is an essential consideration in selecting a
You should decide, before law school,
where you plan to settle upon graduation.
In job-hunting, it helps tremendously
to have strong ties to the local area, such as
having grown up there.
If you are trying to settle in an area
to which you have no historical ties, you will
need to attend a law school that places a
large percentage of its graduates in that
locale, and you will need to have a very
strong academic record.
do law schools place their graduates, and how
closely does that match up with your personal
local schools tend to place their graduates in
the immediate surrounding area.
State-level schools tend to place their
graduates in-state (and in the immediate
National-level schools place their
graduates nationally, but with some
regionality based upon where their alumni are.
For example, Rachel Kosmal McCart, ELS’
founder, graduated from Duke
University School of Law.
Although Duke is located in North
Carolina and is a national-level law school,
it places many graduates in New York,
Washington, DC and Atlanta, simply because
those are locations in which many of its
alumni are working.
Rachel had no ties to New York City,
but she landed her first job after graduation
at a major New York firm based upon Duke
important is the reputation of your law
law school must be well-known and well-regarded in the geographic area where
you plan to practice.
Throughout your career, your reputation
as an attorney will be colored by where you
went to law school.
Potential employers and clients alike
will ask where you went to school, no matter
how long you have been practicing.
In addition, when attorneys initially
become involved in a case, they typically look
up the qualifications of opposing counsel and
form an opinion of that attorney based upon
You want your school to be a star in
your crown, not something you have to explain
Therefore, you should choose the law
school with the best reputation in your chosen
If you can’t get into the best law
school in your chosen geographic area, you may
want to reconsider your choice of geographic
area and/or your choice of going to law
you attend a substandard law school and are at
the top of your class, you will have a harder
time finding a job than if you attended a top
law school and finished in the middle of your
this will be true throughout your career, not
just when you are looking for your first job.
There is a distinct hierarchy in the
practice of law, and attorneys and clients
seek to hire attorneys whose qualifications
and experience they respect.
discussion of top law schools may remind you
of the old joke, “What do they call the
person who finished last in his class at
Harvard Medical School?
However, grades are essential,
regardless of where you go to law school.
When seeking your first job, your law
school grades will be the single most
important factor in your employability.
Without good grades, you won’t be
invited to interview for positions, so
you’ll never have the chance to impress
potential employers with your other
“Good grades” means at
least the top half of your class and more
often, the top 10%.
Therefore, you can’t relax and coast
once you have been admitted to a top law
school. You will be competing for top marks
against the smartest people you have ever
known, and you may find, possibly for the
first time in your academic career, that you
about night school?
In general, top law schools do not
offer part-time programs.
Local schools may offer such programs,
but be sure to evaluate all of the above
considerations regarding placement and
reputation as they pertain to the part-time
program and not to the law school in general.
Much like “executive MBA” programs,
part-time law degree programs may pale in
comparison to the quality and reputation of
the full-time J.D. program at the same school.
about equine law course offerings?
They are an interesting preview of what
you might encounter in the practice of equine
law, but should not be a key consideration in
selecting a law school.
Rather, you should select a school that
offers excellent instruction in the basic
first-year law school courses, such as
Contracts, Civil Procedure and Criminal Law,
as well as electives in practical subjects
such as Alternative Dispute Resolution.
school is not a trade school.
Rather, law school teaches
students how to think like lawyers.
Attorneys learn almost all of their
practical skills on the job.
Therefore, your first job is essential
in your development as an attorney.
Often, a law student’s first job
after graduation is with the same law firm
where they served as an intern during the
summer between their second and third years of
In selecting an employer, you should
choose a law firm that is skilled at providing
training for young attorneys.
Typically, this does not mean formal
training programs so much as it does
one-on-one teamwork with a senior attorney.
Law firms assign young attorneys to
work with one or several senior attorneys as
part of a team in a practice group.
In very small law firms, it will likely
be obvious who you will be working with, but
in larger law firms, you should ask the
In many cases, large law firms have
designated attorneys who interview candidates,
and therefore the people who interview you may
be completely different than the people you
ultimately work with.
Ask to speak with associates who work
for the partner or senior associate with whom
you will be working, and ask them directly
what it is like to work for that person.
Find out whether they are permitted to
have a responsible role in cases, or whether
they are relegated to more menial tasks.
Is the senior attorney available when
they need help, or does he or she turn them
loose with little or no direction?
a junior associate, you will be spending 50-90
hours a week working, so you must be certain
that you like the firm and the people, both
associates and partners.
When making a decision between two
employers, listen to your instincts about
where you feel the most comfortable.
If the interview with a potential
employer seemed long, imagine spending six
days a week with them.
Do not be swayed by perks such as dry
cleaning services and free meals.
Often, generous on-site perks are a
mechanism to keep attorneys in the office and
about practice area?
A good equine lawyer is a good
generalist, skilled at both contract drafting
and dispute resolution.
Therefore, in selecting a law firm for
your first job, you should select a firm that
will provide training in at least these two
small law firms, all of the attorneys may be
The larger the law firm, the more
specialized the lawyers will be.
However, even in a large law firm, you
can gain diverse experience if the firm has an
established practice group rotation program
(as long as the rotation is not, say, between
aircraft finance and environmental
if you are working in a smaller firm, practice
development is a consideration.
Will you be permitted to bring in your
This may seem like a strange question,
but in many law firms, young attorneys’ only
role is to serve the firm’s existing
you are permitted to bring in your own
clients, on what terms?
Again, this may seem like an odd
question, but most firms have strict financial
and subjective criteria for new clients and
If your prospective client or their
matter does not meet the firm’s criteria,
you won’t be permitted to do the work. You
may find, too, that prospective clients in the
horse industry are not able or willing to pay
the rates that your firm charges.
It is not accidental that most equine
attorneys work for smaller firms with lower
And forget about moonlighting – not
only will your firm’s malpractice insurance
not cover you, you won’t have time to take
on any work outside the firm.
the practice of equine law, your horse
qualifications are at least as important as
your legal qualifications.
Many horse owners are fortunate enough
to have never needed an attorney before, so
they tend to select an attorney whom their
And no surprise, horse people’s
friends are other horse people, so they tend
to know attorneys who are active in their
Your clients will expect you to know
all the same people that they know.
Equine law is a relationship-based
talking with an attorney about their legal
matter, most horse people are very perceptive
about whether the attorney really understands
Many times, prospective clients have
come to ELS explaining that they had already
spoken with a local attorney, but that they
didn’t feel comfortable with that attorney
because he or she “wasn’t a horse
person,” so they called ELS.
Mere horse ownership isn’t enough to
build a successful equine law practice.
Prospective clients will ask, on a
daily basis, what kind of horses you have, how
many and what you do with them. And they care
about the answer because they need to feel
that you are one of them.
Therefore, it is essential to be
heavily involved, on a daily basis, in
the horse community that is the target market
for your practice. As an equine attorney,
your clients will expect you to know exactly
how their portion of the industry works.
So, for example, if your prospective
clients breed top-level reiners, you need to
be out there reining yourself at a respectable
level, and readily familiar with the players
at the top of the sport.
Similarly, if you have backyard horses,
but your target market is top Arabian
breeders, you will have an extremely difficult
time penetrating that market.
Because segments of the horse industry
change so rapidly, having once had experience
in a particular market segment is not
sufficient – your knowledge and experience
must be current.
Oh, and beware of name-dropping, as
most horse people are down-to-earth folks who
know a poseur when they hear one!
You don’t want to be “all hat and
no cattle” as the classic expression goes.