Law schools are getting serious about fighting for animal justice.
$36,000 per person worth of serious.
Six students have started training for the very first Master’s in Law (or LL.M.) degrees in Animal Law conferred in the United States at Lewis & Clark Law School. One of them, Mandiey Winalski, said she is getting the degree because “there was just no question – I had to do this.” She says that ”for years, I had been trying to help animals as best I could,” but she realized that she “really needed the formal education and clinical experience to back” up her passion.
Another new student, Martha Claire Howe, felt the same way. She wanted to be “as effective an advocate as possible,” she says, and she felt that getting a master’s would help her do that.
There are many opportunities for these new LL.M. graduates. Some animal lawyers practice solo or in small firms across the country; others work for organizations like the Animal Legal Defense fund (ALDF) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). These larger groups have many active cases at any given time, offering a wide variety of subjects and venues to keep lawyers busy.
Lawyers at HSUS, for example, are currently involved in a petition to “prohibit public contact with big cats, bears and primates under the Animal Welfare Act,” and a lawsuit to stop hunting and trapping of wolves.
At ALDF, lawyers are suing Judy’s Farmily Farm Organic Eggs for falsely advertising that its chickens “are raised in wide open spaces” and live natural lives; suing Indiana for waving through a proposal to open a canned hunting facility with no regard for applicable regulations; and suing the U.S. government for renewing the license of a flagrantly abusive roadside zoo, as Care2 has reported.
Despite all this activity, there is still much for new animal lawyers to do. “[W]hile laws have improved and grown, there is still a disconnect between what animals deserve and what protections they get,” said Pamela Frasch, Assistant Dean of the Animal Law Program and Executive Director of the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark.
One of these disconnects is the law of standing. A person can’t bring a lawsuit if she does not have standing, which means that she has a genuine dispute that violates a law. Since the law usually treats animals like property, they don’t qualify for standing any more than furniture does, so they cannot sue on their own behalf. A human can’t sue on their behalf either. This means that in most cases where a person is harming an animal, animal activists can’t go to the courts for help. Perhaps a new generation of lawyers with special expertise will be able to open the courts to more kinds of disputes involving animals — in fact, Howe says getting standing for animals is one of her professional goals.
In the meantime, there are many situations where courts already can play a role in animals’ lives, like the HSUS and ALDF cases described above. Winalski plans to advocate for animals in the courts, but some of the new LL.M.s are thinking of working outside the courts in the legislative and administrative realms where they can change policy. Howe wants to see the federal government require humane education in schools “in order to foster a more compassionate, critical thinking, and aware society.” She notes that thirteen states already require humane education, but says the laws are not well enforced.
Whatever facets of animal law they choose to pursue, these soon-to-be lawyers and their successors are poised to be powerful advocates for animals.
Photo credit: Zoonar