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(Robert) Andrew Branan

I've been a lawyer working with farmers and rural landowners for about thirteen years now.  Here's the story so far.

Education. I grew up in Houston, Texas, and not on a farm.  The 1930's ended the farms of my Oklahoma and Louisiana great-grandparents, so the land was a generation gone by the time I arrived.  My grandmother once took me to see what was left of the Louisiana farm where my father lived as a boy, and the land was there, but it didn't seem "owned" by anybody. 

I went to Hampden-Sydney College in rural Southside Virginia.  My grades were good and the professors there let me in to Phi Beta Kappa and a few other honors clubs, and I studied at Oxford University in England.  I majored in History among hallowed halls and battlefields of the Old Dominion, and also majored in Economics, figuring I should go work at a bank when I graduated.  Instead I went to law school over at Wake Forest University.

After law school I moved to Virginia and passed the Virginia Bar Exam, then worked on a Vermont dairy farm, then moved to Washington, DC.  In the DC area I practiced law, wrote for a political magazine, and worked at a newspaper that covered Congress, and earned enough monty to pay off my law school loans.  Near the end of all that I met my wife, a photojournalist, and we moved south to start a family.

Career in "Farm Law"

After leaving DC, I stayed on in print media until, as so often happens, it was time to adapt to changing times.  So I went into agriculture as a lawyer that worked with farmers.  For the benefit of anyone trying to do the same thing, here's how I went about it:

American Farmland Trust.  First I went to work for American Farmland Trust, a national non-profit that helps communities and landowners develop strategies to preserve farmland through consevation easements and community agricultural development.  I worked out of their Southeast Regional office in Graham, North Carolina.  During this time I began to understand that to protect the land, you've got to protect the families who own and manage it.  To that end I worked with a group of farm service organizations to develop a new initiative that would focus squarely on helping the elder generation of farmers plan their exit and help those who follow them succeed.  Also during this time I took the North Carolina Bar Exam, and somehow passed it.

The North Carolina Farm Transition Network. That next generation farmer project would be known as The North Carolina Farm Transition Network (NCFTN).  I became its director and began work on a number of initiatives, including a campaign of estate planning and farm transition workshops and kitchen-table consultations for farmers and landowners.  These farm families I spoke with over these years taught me a lot about farming and their concerns for the future of their land.  I also learned a fair bit about how our vast body of laws impacts their ability to keep land in the family or pass on farm assets.  I developed resources to try and help them understand how the law impacts their goals for farm transfer.

During this period I served as an adviser to both the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and the North Carolina Local Foods Advisory Council, and was privileged to contribute to a number of community development projects, including co-authorship of the Franklin County (NC) Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Plan.  I also worked with a dedicated team to enhance and expand the North Carolina statewide Voluntary Agricultural District program.  I built a well-received resource website, whose spirit you'll see reflected in Workbooks and Workshops page of this website.

Transition to Private Law Practice.  Early on a mentor advised that if I wanted to practice farm law I should join the American Agricultural Law Association (AALA).  AALA's legal education conferences and the lawyers I met through them continually expanded my facility with the legal issues surrounding production agriculture and working lands.  At one such conference I shared a speaker panel with Paul Wright, a long-time farm lawyer out of Ohio, who invited me to work for his firm's farm clients while allowing me to start a similar law practice serving North Carolina and Virginia.  Following Paul's retirement from his practice, I accepted the opportunity to start my own store.

My Life Outside Law.  I live in Cedar Grove township, north of Hillsborough, North Carolina, with a fine wife and two great kids.  When I can, I trout fish and I surf fish. I sometimes get to canoe a river, the more whitewater the better, and ride a mountain bike.  I play guitar, and sometimes have a band. 

And that's the story (so far). 

P.S.  This law practice is dedicated to my late grandmother, Ms. Geneva Ivy (Mimi).  She once had the temerity to try and become a lawyer to join her father's law practice in Houston, but the glass ceiling was pretty thick in those days.