Working as a solicitor with 20 years’ experience in agricultural law, as well as helping manage her family farm, Lydia Fotheringham is one woman with a passion for the industry and is helping safeguard the future for farming families across Perthshire.

She is a partner in the Perth-based solicitors firm, Anderson Beaton Lamond, specialising in agricultural law.

Here she speaks with Kathryn Dick:

Your background

in agriculture?

My family, on both sides, were farming orientated so I come from a rural background.

I was involved in my local young farmers club, Bell Baxter JAC, and participated in club events including speechmaking, which was a huge boost to my confidence.

My husband and I bought a 60-acre farm and I help run that. This gives a great insight and understanding of what my clients are experiencing in their own businesses, which helps me help them.

What's been your career path?

I went to university to study law and I found that court or corporate law was the most popular and that agricultural law was largely ignored.

At Edinburgh, there was an extra course made available to study agricultural law so I took part and found it really enjoyable and interesting. I was offered a traineeship with a firm in Aberdeen that specialised in agricultural work and then my first real job was working for a firm in Dunblane, also specialists in agricultural law.

I then moved to Perth and to Anderson Beaton Lamond in 2000 and started as an associate, before then being made a partner in the firm in 2003.

One of the founders of the firm, Alastair Anderson, really pushed me to do more and get out and about in the community, especially at shows where we can support our clients outside of the office.

What about your job?

It’s not the same every day, there’s always a good variety in the nature of the work I deal with.

I tend to come in and chat to colleagues about issues in the agricultural sector that we need to be aware of and then I make time for client meetings.

These take up the majority of my day as I’m dealing with wills and succession planning, which is quite intense and takes time to work through.

Why have you remained with the company for nearly 20 years?

I like the fact we have a small team.

I believe that if you work in a small firm as a young solicitor you get so much more experience of the job as you're just expected to get on with it instead of shadowing or sitting in on meetings, which can happen in large firms as a new start.

I definitely benefitted from that at the start of my career. I also like the fact that we are not trying to do everything – we are a specialist firm that concentrate on the likes of agriculture, renewable schemes and forestry work and try to do the best for our clients.

It helps that I get on really well with my partners, Peter Stewart and Lizzie McFadzean, and we share the same vision for the firm in the future.

What issues are pressing in farming?

Definitely succession planning. I can't say it often enough as it is so important for the future of farming families.

People are cautious of coming to see solicitors to discuss their business in case it costs them money but, in the long run, tackling these issues will save you money and help secure your family’s future.

What problems do

you come across?

Family disputes are one major issue I come across. When a parent dies or siblings don't get on, that can lead to a chain of issues about the running of the business.

Landlord and tenant disputes are another big issue, including rent reviews, tenant’s amnesty, right to buy and diversification – it can take a lot of planning and patience to sort out!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Farmers are loyal people and if you do a good job for them, they stick with you and you end up working with generations of the same family.

You get a better picture of their situation and are able to build up a strong relationship and trust with the whole family – which allows me to do the best job that I can for them.

I also get a good feeling knowing that I've sorted someone's problem out for them and released a bit of pressure!

Have you ever received discrimination?

Not at all in the legal profession.

If you look at who is coming out of law school now it's 70% women and 30% men. Ownership of law firms is still male dominated but that will change in time.

I believe that women play a huge role in all areas of agriculture, it's only now that these are being highlighted.

What are the main problems in the agricultural industry?

I think people worry about succession planning but they may not know where to start.

My job is to take some sort of that pressure off their shoulders and make the situation better whether that is by suggesting some small initial steps or bolder planning. I also believe that agriculture is struggling to attract young people to get involved – another side of the same succession planning issue.

We have definitely notice a change in our own profession – it’s getting harder these days to attract young and newly qualified solicitors into any rural law firms.

What has been the biggest changes in agriculture you've seen?

Technology has been a massive head turner for farmers – everything is online these days.

You have to keep in mind that the majority of the farming community weren't brought up to work with computers and I see a lot of people panicking about how they are going to keep afloat because they don't know how to fill out forms like VAT submissions or IACS returns online.

That is why I encourage face-to-face meetings, so that I can help with that aspect of the business, which takes some of the pressure off my clients’ shoulders.

In the last 20 years there has been a huge amount of legislation affecting farmers – changes to the law on agricultural tenancies, the introduction of the tenant’s right to buy, the introduction of the right to take responsible access to the countryside – the list has become endless and is also constantly changing.

Would you encourage people to get involved in agricultural law?

We encourage taking on trainees so they can see, first hand, what agricultural law is all about.

It's not the first thing that people think of when they think about law but we encourage our staff to go to the local shows and farming events to keep up with community and also highlight what it is we do.

It is an interesting and constantly evolving area.

How do you relax away from work?

I like walking my dog – I even bring her into the office some days and she meets the clients too!

I also swim and go to book club regularly but, to be honest, by the time I'm finished in the office and dealt with the family ... I don’t have that much time left!

Any future plans?

To carry on what I'm doing here and attracting new clients to come and work with us.

There's no desire to expand into a massive business – we like the small team that we operate here.