The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC Consultant: Megan Harris-Pero
Since an interest in food and its production historically begins at home, the food and agriculture industry is filled with family-owned businesses and complex partnerships in various configurations. Megan Harris-Pero in Saratoga Springs has an important role in this ecosystem, as one of HVADC’s attorney consultants, advising clients on how to navigate some of the “shifting sands” of intertwined, complex business relationships and agreements. Harris-Pero credits much of the success of much of her enabling smooth transactions for her clients, to her background training in mediation and personal yoga practice.
Harris-Pero founded her law firm in 2015 with a strong desire to help people and business owners plan smartly and comprehensively. “I started this firm with interest of helping farmers and I didn’t know what that would be,” she said. “I have a family historical connection to the town of Essex, N.Y., where there are all different types of farmers; lots of small, young farmers who have started up in that area and are attracted by Essex Farm. I thought that farmers seem like a unique group to help and I can relate to their work ethic.” After she decided to narrow her focus down to agriculture, Harris-Pero said she went to as many farming and ag conferences as she could find, where she stumbled across Cornell’s Lead NY program, that focuses on developing agricultural leaders. Harris-Pero said that participating in the Lead NY Class 16 gave her the opportunity to visit places around New York State to see different types of agriculture and hear about different farmers’ issues around the state. “It helped me see where my niche could be using skills I had developed,” said Harris-Pero. “My niche right now is around helping people through life transitions, such as elder law, estate planning and business law.”
Harris-Pero’s background includes a Bachelor’s degree from Duke University, law degree from Duquesne University School of Law, serving as a non-profit board member for New York Small Scale Food Processors Association (NYSSFPA ) and is a member of The New York Bar Association’s Elder Law & Special Needs Section & Estates & Trusts Section. She is admitted to the Bar in New York and Pennsylvania and Federal Court for the Northern District of New York. Harris-Pero was recently acknowledged as one of five "Women of Influence" in Saratoga County by Saratoga Today magazine.
“I am extremely grateful for HVADC because one of the challenges of helping farmers-- especially young farmers-- is helping while still getting paid,” said Harris-Pero. “It is hard for attorneys who practice in in rural areas to get paid and not do pro-bono work. It is wonderful that HVADC helps with cost-sharing and I think we need more of that.” Harris-Pero said she is able to work with young farmers who I would not have been able to help otherwise.
Harris-Pero went on to cite a study from the Government Law Center at Albany Law School that detailed the many challenges of being a rural-based attorney in New York, such as limited resources, case volume, shortage of experts and due-process issues. She emphasized the all-around positive impact of HVADC’s ability to connect specialized attorneys to clients and funding for the attorneys.
“Everything thinks they can find everything on the internet and put it together on their own,” said Harris-Pero. “If you are not putting together operating agreements, or contracts or leases regularly, then you are not necessarily going to know where conflict might come up later.” Harris-Pero said sometimes her clients start with self-help or Legal Zoom to get them going with business law issues, but eventually there comes a time when they need more and they need an attorney to look at their situation to see what is going to work best for those relationships or issues. Harris-Pero said she also enjoys the business succession aspect of her practice-- being able to work with the estate planning and elder law issues—such as transferring the family farm, or thinking about the need to qualify for nursing care. “Farmers are so interesting because there is a mix of personal and business, it’s an emotional mix of identity and assets.” Harris-Pero said she works with clients to think about what assets to put into a business or leave out of the business, and where to protect oneself for liability reasons.
Harris-Pero said she has advised HVADC clients on several delicate matters, such as helping a business partner exit a business or helping a farmer negotiate a purchase of a business. Right now, she said, she is starting the process with one of her clients for a conservation easement while helping another farmer purchase his brother’s half of the farm and look at estate planning and long-term planning.
Issues of breaking up an aging family business can be thorny enough, so how does Harris-Pero effectively wrangle life and estate planning into that mix without creating an explosion? “A lot of it is that I try to be a good listener and give people space to answer or tell me more about what they are looking for,” she said. “From yoga and mediation training I have learned not to rush things,” she said. “I try to give people the space. What someone thinks is the issue is not really the issue, like what might come up with a family farm.”
“The toughest part of my job is when I can see the complicated legal work that I think should take place, but explain it so that it’s not overwhelming,” said Harris-Pero.
“[Harris-Pero] has been able to help our clients navigate difficult circumstances,” said Mary Ann Johnson, HVADC’s Deputy Director. “Our farmers are working in increasingly challenging and sophisticated business environments. We strive to provide the highest quality service providers to help our clients, and we feel fortunate to work with Megan and her team.”
If you would like to learn more about Harris-Pero, please visit www.saratogawills.com.
Photo Source: Megan Harris-Pero