There are numerous professional paths for an attorney. Early on, Susan Petrovich chose to advocate for the farmers, ranchers and winemakers of the Central Coast. Through her three decades in practice, she has steadily navigated these entrepreneurs through the challenges of regulations, transactions and everyday business.
An Army brat, Petrovich moved frequently and saw a good part of the world as a child. Her family lived in Virginia, Venezuela (on an armed compound), Louisiana (during the segregated South), Kansas, Hawaii, Maryland and finally Santa Barbara, where she finished high school.
She attended UCSB and earned a bachelor’s degree, then worked as a secretary for three years.
“No one was hiring women in the late 1960s, so my options were very limited,” she said.
But Petrovich wanted her mind to be engaged and challenged. She decided to go against the societal grain and attend law school at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.
Upon graduation, she found only two places were hiring female attorneys in Santa Barbara — the District Attorney’s Office and Hatch & Parent, which later merged with her current firm, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck LLP. She came on board at the firm in 1975 and never left.
Petrovich found unlimited opportunity to grow professionally by developing a niche within real estate that she says others didn’t want. She learned the ins and outs of easements, wrap-around deeds of trust, and numerous other land and water use intricacies. She also built early relationships by helping farmers keep their property taxes low via the Williams Act.
Today she has a particular emphasis on state and federal permitting, inside and outside the California Coastal Zone and agricultural law, including vineyards and wineries, the agricultural preserve program, conservation and rangeland easements, agricultural leasing and agricultural land purchases. Petrovich also offers real estate services to her clients, who mostly consist of those wanting large ranch properties throughout the Central Coast. With both legal and real estate experience, she can handle the entire transaction seamlessly.
Petrovich says she enjoys the varied nature of her job.
“Every day is new and interesting,” she said. “I’m never bored.”
Through her varied client base, she has learned about geology, biology and hydrology. For example, she talks about the experimentation local flower producers are doing to make their production more efficient and therefore more competitive with international sellers, who have government subsidies.
“One day I’m discussing the benefits of solar and wind power for farmers, and the next day I’m advising a rancher on a land easement,” Petrovich said.
Over the years, Petrovich has seen the rise of the grape and strawberry industries in Santa Barbara County and recalls when Santa Ynez nearly went to land developers before horse breeders rode in to secure the land. After tax benefits ended for breeders, farmers such as Dean Brown, a client of Petrovich, began experimenting with growing wine grapes in the region. His visionary idea took hold and began what is now a thriving industry that she has largely structured from the legal end.
Petrovich has taught various classes through both UCSB and the Cal State system. She enjoys teaching and mentoring upcoming associates at the firm, which has more than 200 employees across 12 offices nationwide. She advises those looking for an agricultural or land use attorney to have 100 percent confidence in their council selection.
“They need both passion and integrity to carry your flag,” she said. “And do your best to find a specialist so they can anticipate all the potential issues that arise and address them in advance of conflict.”
Petrovich serves on committees for the Santa Barbara County Regional Conservation Strategy, Santa Barbara Montessori School and the Santa Barbara County Cattlemens Association. She holds board positions for the Chapel of Grace for Women in Prison and the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance.