Rising Stars 2014, by Andy Peters
Daniel Crook learned that it’s not easy to grow organic vegetables when he recently tried his hand at planting a garden at his Savannah home, where he lives with his wife, Molly, and their young son.
His own horticultural experiment got him thinking about the growers he had met at local farmers’ markets and the challenges they face. Crook decided he’d try to help them with the legal work of forming their own businesses, acquiring real estate and navigating the rules for claiming organic status.
“They encounter all types of issues,” Crook says. “How do they lease the land? How do they go through the organic certification process? How do they ensure they won’t lose the land that they’ve spent all this money on?”
Crook, a partner at HunterMaclean in Savannah, now has generated a new facet to his legal practice. Through word of mouth, he’s developed a reputation as the attorney most familiar with the area’s burgeoning organic agriculture industry and with how to help farmers deal with employment, environmental and tax-related legal issues.
“He’s helped us review our budgets, make decisions regarding taxes and how to look at the land in the long-term, as far as financing and how to maintain it,” says Rafe Rivers, owner of Canewater Farm in Darien. “We’re lucky to have him.”
Crook advised Rivers on several matters in the development of his business, of which Crook says, “I expect he’ll be one of the major organic farmers in Georgia relatively soon.” Rivers acquired a former sugar cane plantation near Darien and now sells his organic produce to high-end restaurants in Savannah, St. Simons Island and Sea Island.
It’s mostly the business side of law that appeals to Crook, he says. An economics major at Georgia Tech, the Norcross native knew he wanted to pursue some career related to economics or finance. He later obtained his law degree and an LL.M. degree in taxation from Northwestern University. After a stint at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan in Atlanta, he joined HunterMaclean in 2010.
While Crook developed his organic agriculture practice on his own, most of his time is spent on transactional work for privately owned businesses in South Georgia, as well as commercial real estate deals that flow out of those businesses. Many of his clients are involved in distribution and logistics businesses tied to the Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah. He’s also represented a large hospital in Savannah in developing joint ventures.
Crook says he sees himself as the outside general counsel to these companies, many of which aren’t large enough to require a full-time in-house lawyer.
“I enjoy working with business owners, helping them find practical solutions to their problems and finding cost-efficient ways to run their business,” he says. “I generally work directly with the owner of a company and we always have to have an eye toward what makes the most financial sense.”