Firm Overview

Conservation Partners is dedicated to promoting the preservation of land. Conservation Partners specializes in advising, negotiating, and drafting agreements to protect agricultural lands, natural habitats, and open spaces. The team has successfully completed a vast array of transactions involving conservation easements, land acquisitions and sales, and carbon projects; we have also successfully resolved stewardship issues that arise post-transaction. The work of Conservation Partners has resulted in hundreds of thousands of acres of land being conserved for the benefit of the public and in some cases for public use.

Conservation Partners’ practice ranges from legal services to consulting to mediation services. We excel in providing our clients with strategies that are creative, economically feasible, and result in the long-term protection of land. Our strategies include assisting land trusts in securing funds from outside sources to pay for professional fees and stewardship endowments.

Conservation Partners’ principals are Ellen A. Fred and Misti M. Schmidt, with William T. Hutton consulting as Of Counsel.

Team Profile

Ellen A. Fred

Partner

Summary

Ellen’s experience in the fields of tax, real estate, nonprofit governance, and alternative dispute resolution allows her to counsel her clients in all aspects of their work. Prior to beginning her legal career, Ellen worked for several nonprofit environmental organizations, including serving as founder and Executive Director of the Humboldt Watershed Council.

Ellen Fred is licensed to practice both in California and Michigan and actively practices in both states and nationwide. Ellen is also a certified mediator. Prior to establishing her solo practice and becoming Principal at Conservation Partners, Ellen was with the San Francisco law firm of Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, LLP, where she practiced for four years in its land conservation section. While in law school, Ellen externed for the Honorable Marilyn Patel, Chief Judge for the Federal District Court, Northern District of California, and Justice Carlos Moreno of the California Supreme Court, and prior to joining the Coblentz firm, she served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Melvin Brunetti of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Reno, Nevada. For several years before attending law school, Ellen worked in the environmental movement in Northern California, including co-founding the Humboldt Watershed Council and acting as its Executive Director; serving on the board of directors of a local land trust; producing educational materials; and participating in environmental and property rights litigation.Raised in Traverse City, Michigan, Ellen returned to the area in 2008 after beginning her legal career in California. Ellen lives on a small farm with her husband, Bob, and their son, Jack, where they raise dairy goats and chickens and tend fruit trees, a vegetable garden, and a small vineyard. Her family and their land partners donated a conservation easement on the farm to the Leelanau Conservancy in early 2009. Despite living in Michigan, Ellen visits California on work-related matters at least quarterly, with special trips as needs arise.

Education

J.D., summa cum laude
University of California, Hastings College of the Law (2003)

B.A., high honors and distinction
University of Michigan (1993)

Ellen graduated with high honors and high distinction in Russian and Eastern European Studies from the University of Michigan in 1993. In 2003, Ellen earned her law degree, summa cum laude, from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, where she was elected to the Order of the Coif and the Thurston Society. She also successfully completed Hastings’s Tax Concentration Program and received the 2003 Arthur Andersen Prize in Taxation.

Honors and Awards

Ellen has served on numerous boards and councils, including the Land Trust Alliance’s Conservation Defense Advisory Council, and the Boards of Directors of the North Fork Trinity River Land Conservancy, Crosshatch Center for Arts and Ecology, and Great Lakes Children’s Museum, where she was named Chair.

Insights

Ellen has been a frequent presenter on myriad conservation law topics since 2004, including for the Land Trust Alliance and the California Council of Land Trusts.

Misti M. Schmidt

Partner

Summary

Misti focuses her practice on conservation easements and regularly provides guidance to property owners and land trusts regarding the structuring, negotiating, and closing of conservation transactions. She has particular experience representing landowners with respect to the myriad legal issues arising for rural land holdings, and representing land trusts with respect to tax exemptions.

Misti spearheads the Carbon Working Group for the California Council of Land Trusts and is a contributing author to the firm’s blog, which provides insights into conservation and charitable contributions. Her recent articles include:

Misti is admitted to practice law in California and Washington. She is Editor-in-Chief for the California Real Property Journal, which is published by the State Bar’s Real Property Law Section. She is a member of the San Francisco Bar Association’s Real Property and Environmental Law Sections, the Land Trust Alliance, and the California Council of Land Trusts. Prior to law school, Misti served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader at Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Kansas City, Missouri.

When she is not wearing her lawyer hat, you’ll find Misti gardening, indoor rock climbing, or playing the harp.

Education

LL.M., Taxation
New York University School of Law (2019)

J.D., Environmental Law Certificate
University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (2007)

B.A., cum laude, Philosophy and English
Louisiana State University (2002)

Misti received her B.A. from Louisiana State University (2002), where she graduated cum laude and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She received her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (2007), where she received a Certificate in Environmental Law, was Associate Editor of Ecology Law Quarterly, and was a member of the Moot Court Board. While at Boalt, Misti received the American Jurisprudence Award for Academic Excellence in The Law of Hazardous Waste: CERCLA, RCRA and Common Law Claims, and the Prosser Award for Academic Excellence in Animal Law.

Misti recently completed an LL.M. in Taxation from New York University School of Law.

Honors and Awards

Misti was selected to receive the California State Bar Real Property Section’s 2016 Morning Star Award for young lawyers who have shown “early promise in real property practice and dedication of service to the State Bar and the highest ethical standards.” She’s also been honored many times for her pro bono legal services. She was awarded the Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service Award (2009, 2010, and 2012 – 2018) by the San Francisco Bar Association Volunteer Legal Services Program.

Insights

Misti’s publications and speaking engagements include:

  • Frequent Speaker at the Land Trust Alliance annual conference and the California Council of Land Trust Conservation Law Forum, in topics such as “Carbon Credits in Conservation Easements,” “Recent Court Cases Affecting Land Trusts and Donations,” “Interactive Roundtable on Advanced Tax Issues and Case Update,” and “Practical Pointers on IRS Form 8283 and Contemporaneous Written Acknowledgement” (2016 – present)
  • Speaker, “Anatomy of a Conservation Easement,” Sustainable Economies Law Center legal retreat (September 2016)
  • Editor-in-Chief and Issue Co-Editor, California Real Property Law Journal, Issue 1, Volume 34; Issue 3, Volume 33; Issue 2, Volume 32; Issue 4, Volume 33; Article Editor, Issue 1, Volume 32, Issues 1, 2, and 4, Volume 31, and Issue 4, Volume 30 (2012 – present)

William T. Hutton

Of Counsel

Summary

Bill Hutton is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the tax and financial aspects of land conservation transactions, and is widely recognized as an expert in nonprofit and tax law. He acts as counsel to both national conservation organizations and to local and regional land trusts. He also advises individuals and corporations on the full range of income and estate tax consequences of conservation transactions, as well as on the tax and legal issues that confront nonprofit charitable organizations and their directors.

Bill has advised in conservation easement transactions in California (including representation of the Irvine Company and the Hearst Corporation), Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, New York (Suffolk County), North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, and Vermont.

Bill’s representative conservation easement transaction clients have included The Energy Foundation, The Conservation Fund, The Garden Conservancy, The Hearst Corporation, Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation, Maui Coastal Land Trust, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Montana Land Reliance, Pacific Forest Trust, Peconic Land Trust, Rocky Mountain Institute, Tides Foundation, and The Trust for Public Land.

In addition to his work for the firm’s clients, Bill is a professor of law emeritus at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. He has previously served as a member of the tax faculty at New York University School of Law and as a visiting professor at the University of Virginia and Stanford University law schools.

Bill was a founding board member of Conservation International and has served on the boards of The Forest Trust, CoEvolution Institute, Schools of the Sacred Heart, and Community Action for Legal Services. He presently serves on the Board of Directors of Ecotrust. Bill is a past chair of the California State Bar Taxation Section.

Bill graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College (1961) and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law (1964) and his LL.M. in taxation from New York University (1965).

Education

LL.M.
New York University (1965)

J.D.
University of Michigan Law School (1964)

A.B., summa cum laude,
Dartmouth College (1961)

Honors and Awards

Pacific Forest Trust Sequoia Award, for achievements representing national conservation organizations and local and regional land trusts (2013)

Best Lawyers’ San Francisco Lawyer of the Year: Tax Law (2010), continually listed in The Best Lawyers in America in the Tax Law category

California Council of Land Trusts Poppy Award for service to California’s conservation community (2005)

American Bar Association’s Section of Business Law Outstanding Academic Nonprofit Attorney Award (2002)

Taxation Section of California State Bar Association V. Judson Klein Award for outstanding service to the profession and to the public (1991)

Listed annually as a Super Lawyer in Northern California

Insights

Bill has lectured at virtually every major national tax conference and has taught summer courses to attorneys at the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, and the U.S. Treasury.

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