Sunday, April 3, 2011

USDA Senior Legal Advisor Stephanie Smith Addresses Class

Our Food, Farming, & Sustainability class has been focusing on agricultural cooperatives, and we were delighted to have USDA cooperatives attorney Stephanie Mari Smith conduct a fascinating video conference with the class from Washington D.C.

Stephanie is the Senior Legal Adviser on Tax, Legal and Policy in the Rural Business Services and Cooperative Programs of the USDA Rural Development Agency where she advises policymakers, agricultural producers, and stakeholders on the legal and tax structures of cooperative development.  Prior to her appointment, Ms. Smith has worked in the corporate, academic, public and private sectors with a primary focus on affordable housing law.  She has also gained expertise in finance while representing various financial institutions, large-scale developers and investors at national law firms.

Stephanie taught affordable housing law at the University of Michigan Law School- Legal Assistance for Urban Communities Clinic in Ann Arbor, Michigan as an adjunct clinical assistant professor.  Ms. Smith has also worked at the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency in Trenton, New Jersey where she was a senior underwriter for the Multi-Family Lending Department.  She was in private practice for several years with offices in Newark and Trenton, where she represented residential, commercial and retail development clients.

Stephanie earned a B.A. at Howard University, a J.D. at Rutgers University School of Law, and Certification from the Harvard Divinity School- Summer Leadership Institute for Leaders in the Affordable Housing Industry.  She is currently attending Georgetown University Law Center in the pursuit of a LL.M. in International Business and Economics with an emphasis in International Taxation.  Ms. Smith has written various articles on the business practices of cooperatives and the affordable housing industry in peer-reviewed law journals and magazines; and has spoken in various venues about the role of the development attorney in the affordable housing industry.  She is currently Group Chair of the Residential, Multi-Family and Special Use Group and Co-Vice-Chair of the Membership Committee of the ABA’s Real Property Section.  She also serves as the ABA Real Property Section’s Liaison to the ABA Affordable Housing Forum.

Our appreciation is extended to Stephanie and to the USDA for this informative and interesting discussion.  I first met Stephanie when we both participated in an Agile Agriculture conference sponsored by the Center for Applied Sustainability.  We hope that this is just the first of our efforts to link her to our LL.M. Program.

In preparation for the video conference, the LL.M. candidates reviewed the video presentations and course materials prepared by recognized cooperatives attorney, Dr. James Baarda.  Dr. Baarda prepared extensive materials on agricultural cooperatives and donated them to us for educational use.  They are posted on our website as part of our cooperative law project, currently under development.  This project is supported by the  Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corporation through the Leatherman Scholarship, named on behalf of Leland Leatherman, a leader in rural electric cooperatives law.  Next week, each of the LL.M. candidates will report on an agricultural or food cooperative that they have researched.

For more information on USDA's work with agricultural cooperatives, visit their cooperatives website and follow developments through the Rural Cooperatives magazine.

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