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New agricultural law course fills longtime void in Arizona

Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison will teach the agricultural law class at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU. The course will provide an overview of the ways legal aspects of agricultural production and agribusiness differ significantly from other industrial enterprises.

August 21, 2017

Agriculture has long been an important part of Arizona’s economy. Thanks to a member of one of the Phoenix area’s most influential farming families, agricultural law will be taught at an Arizona law school for the first time this fall.

Richard Morrison, who for decades has practiced and taught law in Arizona and has overseen several prominent family-owned agricultural enterprises, will teach the agricultural law class at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. The course will provide an overview of the ways legal aspects of agricultural production and agribusiness differ significantly from other industrial enterprises. And it will fill a longtime void.

“This course fills a critical gap in our curriculum, and it’s something I’ve wanted us to offer for years,” said Troy Rule, faculty director of the Law and Sustainability Program at ASU Law. “The agricultural industry is a huge part of the state’s economy, so it’s great that we can finally educate students on the legal and policy issues surrounding it.”

Current and evolving regulations will be discussed in order to emphasize the fact that law becomes the embodiment of public policy, and policy often begins or changes in the context of proposed regulations. Professor Morrison said the class will highlight the unique agricultural applications of commercial, tort, natural resources and tax law.

The Morrisons were one of the first families to settle in the town of Gilbert, where they transformed small landholdings into one of the East Valley’s biggest farming operations, one of the nation’s largest dairy farms and one of Arizona’s largest ranching businesses. Morrison has worked throughout his life to make improvements for Arizona, agriculture and his community, including mentoring young adults interested in agriculture or civic leadership. This class will enable him to expose students with various educational backgrounds to the opportunities within agricultural law. While this course is on a trial basis, he would like to see it, or something similar, become permanent in ASU Law course listings.

“It is time for Arizona to support the next generation of agricultural lawyers, and this course will help us achieve that goal,” Morrison said. “Students will begin to see opportunities for employment after graduation in service of farmers, ranchers and the agribusiness sector. They will also have the opportunity to network with law students at other universities who are taking agricultural law classes. There are fewer than 1,000 members of the American Agricultural Law Association in the United States, and it is thus possible for each agricultural lawyer to feel a part of a unique community where everybody knows your name.”

Students will get to travel beyond the classroom to gain real-world experience and network with agricultural lawyers. One such opportunity will be the American Agricultural Law Association Annual Educational Symposium in Louisville from Oct. 26 to 28. Students who attend the symposium will hear from legal and policy experts who will address current issues in the industry, and recent case decisions in agriculture, natural resources, water, food, environmental and agribusiness law.

ASU’s Law and Sustainability Program is one of the most innovative in the country, and it is ranked No. 23 by U.S. News & World Report. Faculty experts research and teach in every major area of sustainability policy, including climate change, water, energy and environmental protection.

“This is an important addition because it expands the breadth of our program,” Rule said. “We offer courses covering a wide range of sustainability-related issues, and this was one of the last remaining areas where we lacked coverage.”

Morrison, who earned a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Houston in 1977, continued farming while beginning his law practice focused on water law, environmental law and issues facing special districts and agriculture. He became an expert in water law and was honored by having his biography published in Arizona’s Finest Lawyers. He has taught water resources management and agricultural law at ASU’s Morrison School of Agribusiness and Resource Management for many years. The school was created with a gift from Morrison’s parents and is housed under ASU’s prestigious W. P. Carey School of Business.

“Richard is the ideal instructor to teach this class,” Rule said. “He’s a brilliant scholar, lawyer and teacher, and he understands the agricultural industry in Arizona as well as anybody.”

To learn more about ASU Law’s Law and Sustainability Program, go to

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