Horse Sense

Julie I. Fershtman brings legal knowledge to the equine industry

Published in 2016 Michigan Super Lawyers — September 2016

Julie I. Fershtman began taking riding lessons when she was 8. By the time she was 10, her father had bought her a horse of her own, and she spent her summers and weekends riding that “kind of ugly, but absolutely loveable horse.”

“I graduated law school 30 years ago, and never did the law schools anywhere at that point teach equine law,” says Fershtman, an equity shareholder at Foster Swift Collins & Smith in Farmington Hills. “I never even knew that a person could merge a law practice with a passion.”

In the early ’90s she became curious about the possibility of doing just that. Fershtman spent weekends in libraries looking up everything she could find on equine law, using card catalogs to unearth articles in obscure magazines and legal encyclopedias. She wrote articles for publication, and, in 1996, self-published her first book on the practice area: Equine Law & Horse Sense.

Now, Fershtman is working on her third book, and she speaks on equine law around the country. She estimates there are probably 200 attorneys in the United States who practice some form of equine law—an area that encompasses a range of practice areas including personal injury, administrative, intellectual property and tax law. If it involves the horse industry and legality, it’s covered under equine law.

Aside from lawyers in states like Kentucky, which has firms with teams dedicated to equine law, in most areas attorneys practice it in conjunction with other fields. Fershtman works on horse-injury cases, contract disputes and insurance law. When someone insures a high-dollar horse and legal problems arise, she represents the insurance companies.

“In the horse-related industry, it’s surprising that people don’t often use written contracts for transactions; it’s almost mind-boggling why that happens,” she says. “I litigated a case several years ago involving a $400,000 stallion that was sold on a handshake. Can you believe it? It’s surprising.”

The initial transaction went smoothly. Three years later, however, the buyer sued, claiming the horse had lameness. Fershtman represented the sellers. “In discovery, I asked about all the equine insurance that was ever procured on this horse,” she says. “I learned that the owner had filled out applications, year after year, telling the company the horse was sound, and never mentioning lameness.”

In a confidential meeting, Fershtman told the other attorney that, as she saw it, he had two options: He could tell the jury the horse was lame and admit insurance fraud, or he could “reconsider.” 

“Within a matter of hours,” she says, “the case went away.” 

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