The Inside Story

Putting the firm on the map for agricultural advice

Putting the firm on the map for agricultural advice

Joel Woolf is Head of the Agriculture and Rural business team at Foot Anstey. As a farmer’s son from Suffolk and having previously worked as Director of a Farming and Agricultural contracting business, he brings to the team invaluable experience of the industry. Here he gives us an insight into this rather niche area of the firm.

As Head of Agriculture at Foot Anstey, I specialise in a wide range of non-contentious issues from property advice and transactions to strategic business restructuring, as well as assisting colleagues from other areas of the firm who come up against agricultural problems.

Coming from a farming background, I’ve got first-hand experience of this industry and a genuine understanding of how it works in terms of running a farm, the 24-hour nature of the job and the many successes and stresses that go with it. So when working with farmers in a legal capacity, my experience of growing up on a farm and ability to talk to them in their own language about their business and the sector really helps in establishing an important connection.

Building a relationship with a farming client is very different to a commercial client. Typically, farms are family businesses and, more often than not, could have been in the family for years. They are also the family home and so anything that affects the farm not only affects the business but will affect home life as well. Farming is also a very isolating industry; a farmer may only see one or two people during a day and will spend long hours working alone. Farmers can be resistant to change in their professional advisors. Taking all that together, a farmer has to get to know you and trust you before he or she starts to feel comfortable enough to instruct you to undertake a piece of work. Being able to speak their language and anticipate their needs is an important factor of gaining that trust. After all, we could be dealing with a farm that has been in the family for hundreds of years and no one wants to be the generation that loses it. However, once the relationship is established, they might then be with you for the next 25 years through thick and thin, and that’s what makes this sector so interesting.

Since joining, the team and I have worked hard to put the firm on the map for agricultural advice. We’ve been able to grow our client base across the South West and further afield, establishing Foot Anstey as a leading firm for agricultural advice both regionally and nationally. Our clients range from farmers, landed estates, to banks, charities, and investors.

What makes our department different from others is our ability to pull together expertise and work across a wide range of legal disciplines, as well as with the client's other professional advisors, such as accountants, land agents and bankers. We place great emphasis on this team work in supporting our clients and they, and other professionals, really value this. The work we do is very varied, challenging and definitely never boring! One moment we can be talking to a bank taking security over land and the next, we might be discussing a complex arrangement of business re-structuring, wills and pre-nuptual agreements. There’s also a lot of travel across the UK involved going to see clients, but it does mean we get to work in and see some of the most beautiful parts of the country.

The future is looking very bright for the department, as we are becoming the firm of choice for farmers in both commercial and legal advice. We have a clear strategy for growth which ties in closely with firm's overall strategy and are always looking for new opportunities so that we can maintain a market leading offering and a strong, diverse mix of work and clients. The sector is constantly changing; and we do the same to effectively service the sector and so there’s always work to be done and room for our team to grow.

Agriculture is an incredibly important industry and contributes a huge amount to the UK economy. I believe that it has the potential to not only be a significant primary industry in the UK, but a real economic powerhouse driving national economic growth, and I’m passionate about contributing to making this happen.

Our team is entrepreneurial and hungry to grow and develop – we offer an exciting opportunity for lawyers to come in and (with support) take their careers in the direction in which they choose.

To find out more about the current opportunities available in the in our Agricultural Team, contact Joel Woolf directly via Joel.woolf@footanstey.com.