The horse world has been slower than others to embrace the importance of effective legal services and documents. In many transactions, a handshake is the closest thing to a contract, even in big dollar horse deals. Polly Hey Panos and Randy Hey of Hey & Hey Attorneys at Law LLP, in the Bay Area’s Redwood City, are working to change that outdated modus operandi in the equestrian scene. As veteran horse people, they bring first-hand experience and knowledge to the task of protecting their clients from the risks that can arise in any equestrian endeavor.
Polly grew up on the hunter/jumper circuit and continues to compete in the Adult Amateur Hunter and Equitation divisions. Her father Randy is one of Northern California’s most experienced litigation attorneys. Since they joined forces in 2003 to focus on equine law, Polly and Randy have found their family’s collective experience to be a key asset in serving their clients effectively. Perhaps most importantly, their place as insiders in the sport makes them approachable to all, including those who might be intimidated by their first foray into the complexities of obtaining legal protection for their business or personal interests.
Hey & Hey’s clients range from owners of high-end competition horses, boarding stable proprietors and trainers, to backyard horse owners. They are equally at ease creating an enforceable liability release in a few hours time, fulfilling the demands of a lengthy litigation case and handling any issue in between.
The end goal for Hey & Hey’s clients, of course, is to never need to go to litigation. “A lot of cases can be avoided and people can save a lot of money and headache if they do things that would be standard for a transaction in any other business,” observes Randy. “Even though you might do several horse deals or other transactions without a contract, sooner or later, doing business that way is going to come back to bite you.”
Polly Hey and Randy Hey
The Attorney Advantage
Although some clients took some nudging to lose their handshake ways, most of Hey & Hey’s trainer clients are now in the habit of picking up the phone or e-mailing Polly or Randy before they arrange for the sale or lease of a horse. “With the technology that’s available between cell phones and e-mail, it is now pretty easy and quick to put a written contract together,” Polly notes. “It’s not like it used to be where the attorney would visit the trainer and they’d have to have all their ducks in a row at the same time.”
The perception that engaging legal help implies a lack of trust prevents some from availing themselves of such services. Polly acknowledges that this is a hard transition for some, but she emphasizes that a sound legal agreement protects all parties involved. “Some people are not used to having an attorney involved,” she says. “But I explain that, in the process of protecting my client, the other side’s interests are also protected because it’s written out for everyone to know what the transaction entails.” Most often, the other party winds up pleased that an attorney was involved, she adds.
Many horse people have taken the medium step of using “boiler plate” legal forms from books or the Internet. Liability release forms are the most prevalent of these widely available legal documents. It might seem like a move in the right direction, but using generic forms is one of the firm’s 17 “most costly” mistakes to be made in the horse world. “Many people think there is some statute that indicates what you have to have in a liability release form, but there is no law that contains that,” Polly clarifies. “Instead there is a body of case law with judges’ decisions in various liability scenarios that gives you an idea what should be in there.”
Polly Hey. Photo by Deb Dawson
Release forms for California businesses must be very technical, and also must be understandable to a lay person. “It’s almost an art form to write them,” notes Randy. The pair have yet to see a generic release document that they feel would hold up when challenged in court. Polly’s specialty is on the problem prevention side, writing such documents. Each is customized for their client’s situation, but her familiarity with the industry and the fact that she creates them so often equals a quick turnaround for her clients, and thus a nominal bill. “I am not re-inventing the wheel every time,” Polly observes. Conversely, an ineffective or non-existent liability agreement could easily lead to a settlement large enough to wipe out a defendant’s professional and personal assets many times over.
For most of their trainer or stable operator clients, Hey & Hey recommends liability insurance in addition to release forms.
Escrow services are a new and popular offering from Hey & Hey. “We created this after having several people come to us with costly problems that arose in a sales transaction,” Polly explains. “On top of that, having been in the horse world for 30 years, I’ve seen my share of horse deals
Escrow accounts are most often used in high-ticket horse transactions and are equally valuable in deals between friends and strangers, and domestic and international sales. As in a real estate deal, the purchase price money and any deposits are held by Hey & Hey in an escrow account until all the details of the transaction are finalized. In a recent case, a client reached a deal to buy an expensive horse. After agreeing to the terms, it became known that the horse in question was owned by two people who wound up in dispute over distribution of the sale proceeds.
Hey & Hey’s client, however, had upheld her end of the deal by putting the purchase money in escrow. As such, the client was able to take full ownership of the horse, even though the dispute between the two sellers took almost a year to resolve. “If the money had not been in escrow, there would have been lawsuits and many costs and complications,” Randy explains.
Polly and Randy welcome any issue related to horses and the horse business. Specific areas of expertise include drafting contracts for bill of sale, liability, boarding, leases and employment, contract, sales, lease and insurance disputes, immigration law and advice, the formation of partnerships, corporations, LLCs and LLPs, property liability, zoning, representation in disciplinary matters involving the USEF, and trainer and breeder liability and disputes.
Although the firm’s main aim is to prevent lawsuits, they are fully equipped to fight when needed. Randy’s extensive background includes awards and recognition for his work in the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office. One of his proudest accomplishments is successful prosecution of a large corporate chain of nursing homes for elder abuse and neglect. The typical cases brought to their office today involve personal injury and injury to a horse through negligence.
Given the exorbitant costs of litigating in California, Hey & Hey typically tries to dissuade nine of 10 clients who inquire about taking that path. Often they recommend such cases to small claims courts, even though there is a $7,500 limit in damages awarded in that system. A client with a $15,000 dispute will typically come out better in small claims court than they would in regular court after fees are accounted for, Randy notes.
As a matter of principle, Polly and Randy will decline a case unless they believe there is a reasonable chance of financial reward for their client. “We will not take on a case in which it’s likely that the entire settlement will be used to pay attorneys’ fees,” Randy explains.
Legal issues can be intimidating for many whose main business is horsemanship. Polly and Randy are an ideal bridge between these two very different worlds. Their business has been built up largely by word of mouth initiated by happy customers. In the interest of helping their whole constituency, Hey & Hey’s website includes many helpful articles, including 17 Costly Mistakes that Force Horse Owners, Breeders and Trainers into Court. They also provide a free consultation and legal resources, and regularly send out e-mail updates to subscribers.
Competing actively until becoming pregnant with her recently born twins, Polly is a familiar and friendly face on the Northern California show circuit. Her willingness to answer questions for friends and acquaintances has been the catalyst for many to seek standard and affordable legal protections that could save their businesses. Randy may have more years in the courtroom, but at Hey & Hey’s equine law division, “Polly is definitely the senior partner,” he says.
Both enjoy attending the National Equine Law Conference in Kentucky every year to stay abreast of relevant law changes. Polly is a member of the American College of Equine Attorneys and she also attends yearly immigration conferences sponsored by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
As for rewards of their work, Randy is a natural born problem solver and Polly loves helping new and established horse professionals set up or continue their businesses in a way that ensures they can focus on horses and people, not legal issues. They are both gratified to see more horse people seeking their services before problems arise, an indicator that Hey & Hey’s mission is coming to fruition
For more information on Hey & Hey
Attorneys At Law LLP, call 650-216-6012, or
visit the firm’s information-packed website
Polly and her husband Jeff’s newborn twins,
Ellie and Timmy.