Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: Living by the law

September/October 2021 California Bountiful magazine

Ranch life, scholarships yield satisfying career for attorney

Howard Sagaser credits Farm Bureau scholarships in large part with enabling him to earn his undergraduate degree and eventually become a lawyer.

Sometimes a little financial boost makes all the difference for a college kid. Such was the case for Howard Sagaser, a rancher's son from Kings County who figures he owes his legal career in part to the California Farm Bureau scholarships he received while attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In that career, he helps farmers and ranchers keep producing food and farm products by representing them in employment matters.

The Farm Bureau scholarship helped Sagaser graduate from Cal Poly with a degree in farm management (now called agricultural economics). After considering his options, he pursued law school. While attending the University of California Hastings College of the Law, he had the chance to work as an extern for California Supreme Court Justice William P. Clark Jr. Sagaser earned his law degree and now is a partner in a Fresno law firm, where he devotes most of his energy to practicing on behalf of agricultural employers.

"I jokingly tell people when they ask what type of law I practice, 'I represent endangered species,'" Sagaser said. "When they ask why, I say, 'It's California employers—I think they are almost an endangered species.'"

Ian Wieland, one of Sagaser's law partners, describes his colleague as "very aggressive, but also well-mannered," adding, "You're never going to out-prepare Howard Sagaser. Over the years, he's been a workhorse. Doesn't matter if it's for a hearing, for an arbitration, for a trial—he's always thoroughly prepared. He knows the case inside and out."

Sagaser grew up on a ranch in Avenal, an experience he says gives him empathy for farmers and their employees.

How did growing up in agriculture help set the course for your life? I grew up on a small cattle ranch, where we also raised dryland barley, about 9 miles southwest of Avenal, which was an oil town at the time. My high school was so small, we really didn't have any FFA or the normal agricultural classes. It wasn't until I went to Cal Poly that I really was around a lot of agricultural students, but the experience of growing up on a ranch—I worked every weekend, every holiday. The work ethic that my parents instilled in me, I'm thankful for it.

How did the Farm Bureau scholarship help with your education? I was receiving scholarships from Cal Poly, but toward my junior and senior years, I received the Farm Bureau scholarships as well. Those scholarships were very important to a kid who was working. Our family didn't have a lot of money. … Because of the scholarships, I didn't have to work part time. I was also serving part time in the National Guard, so I really didn't have that extra time. And the scholarship did free me up. I've always been thankful and tried to help out—give speeches at Farm Bureau or work on cases. It was help at the right time.

How important is it to understand farming in your practice? I think understanding the industry is very helpful, because some laws are tailored to agriculture, but agriculture is subject to a lot of laws that every other business is, too. I have a lot of empathy for the farmers and what they're going through. I also have empathy for the farmworkers, because I've done everything, whether it was pick cantaloupes, work in feedlots—I've built more barbed-wire fence than I like to think about. I really do believe that everything I did helped me appreciate both ends of the spectrum.

What is the most interesting agriculturally oriented case you've worked on so far? I look back to my dad; I remember early on in my career, I told him, "I really want to win this case." And he said, "You think you do? How about the guy that's paying you?" I never forgot that. I think they're all important.

Is there anything else California Bountiful readers should know? One question I was asked by a client was, "What do you think is the most serious problem facing California agriculture?" I thought a bit, and I said, "I don't know where the next generation of farmers is going to come from." I still think that's a valid question and answer. It's a different lifestyle. It requires a lot of hours.

Kevin Hecteman

Scholarships pay it forward

Want to help the next generation of farmers and other agricultural professionals get through school?

The California Farm Bureau Scholarship Foundation maintains a number of scholarships for California residents pursuing degrees in agricultural fields of study.

For more information, including how to contribute or apply, call 916-561-5500 or visit

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