Defending Animal Rights: Law Schools Increasingly Embrace a “Small but Burgeoning Field”

By Alexandra Beane — January 30, 2013

Law students who want to put their degree to use to help animals, whether as a full-time career or on a volunteer basis, are being offered ever-increasing opportunities to study animal law. Over a hundred U.S. law schools, including some of the most prestigious in the country, now have courses, seminars, and even entire programs devoted to this emerging field, compared to just nine schools in 2001. This article looks at some of these law schools, exactly what “animal law” encompasses, and some of the groups and people instrumental in supporting the study of animal law – including a celebrity benefactor who has donated millions of dollars.

While animal law includes the traditional areas of law, it also presents its own unique set of issues and challenges. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), founded by attorneys over thirty years ago, has fought for increased penalties for animal abusers, worked for anti-cruelty legislation. and brought litigation against companies and groups on behalf of animals. ALDF has racked up a series of impressive victories. They have also worked to bring animal law programs into law schools. “Our goal is to get animal law taught in every accredited law school,” said Joyce Tischler, ALDF co-founder.

Grockit, a company that prepares students for standardized college and graduate school testing, including the LSAT, has listed the law schools with the Top 10 Animal Law Programs. More information on each of these schools’ animal law curricula can be found at Grockit. They are:

  • Georgetown
  • Harvard
  • Lewis & Clark
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • Stanford
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Virginia

Lewis & Clark Law School, located in Portland, OR, offers a wide variety of classes related to animal law. Their Center for Animal Law Studies, in partnership with ALDF, is “an animal law think tank and the umbrella organization of the nation’s premier animal law program.”

Seven law schools in Canada offer at least one course or seminar in animal law. They are Dalhousie Law School in Halifax, NS, McGill University in Montreal, University of Alberta, University of Quebec, University of Toronto, University of Victoria, and the University of Windsor.  A full list of U.S. and Canadian law schools offering animal law classes, seminars, and/or programs can be found on the ALDF website.

Animal law is not limited to North American law schools. Several law schools in the UK, for example, offer animal law courses:  Northumbria University, Liverpool John Moores University, and Leeds University

What is Animal Law?

ALDF describes animal law as a “combination of statutory and case law in which the nature – legal, social or biological – of nonhuman animals is an important factor.” These include companion animals, wildlife, animals used in entertainment, animals raised for food, and those used in research. In addition to dealing with include anti-cruelty laws, animal law can encompass things such as veterinary malpractice cases, damages involving the wrongful death of an animal, housing disputes involving pet policies, and animal custody determinations in divorce and separation cases.

ALDF’s Animal Law Program works with students, faculty and administrators to advance the emerging field of animal law. The ALP has participated in the development animal law courses and has helped students to form Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters. It also helps develop animal law volunteer opportunities at law firms.

Come on Down, Bob Barker!

Former television game show host Bob Barker, who famously signed off each episode of The Price is Right by asking viewers to spay or neuter their pets, has donated a significant amount of money to establish endowment funds on animal rights law. The law schools at Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, Stanford, UCLA, and the University of Virginia have each received million dollar endowments.

Undergraduate students at Barker’s alma mater, Drury University in Springfield, MO now can earn a minor in Animal Studies thanks to his donations. Since 2008, Barker has donated $2 million to establish the Drury University Forum on Animal Rights and the Dorothy Jo Barker Endowed Professorship of Animal Rights, named after his late wife. My whole object is to make it a better world for animals,” said Barker. “To improve life for animals, we must have more stringent laws to protect them and more effectively enforce the laws already on the books.”

Animal rights foes have taken notice of the increase in animal law studies. The National Association of Biomedical Research (NABR), which advocates for animal use in research, has referred to the “potentially disruptive and rapidly growing area of animal law.” They say, “Animal rights advocates are using increasingly sophisticated and coordinated legal strategies in an attempt to incrementally change our laws as they relate to animals”. The NABR even has a page on their site devoted to “Bob Barker’s Donations to Law Schools.”

At the beginning of this year, ALDF awarded scholarships to nine law students who are members of SALDF chapters across the country “for their outstanding work in the growing field of animal law.” The scholarships were awarded “based upon commitment to ALDF’s mission—to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system.”


Courtesy Images: Animal Legal Defense Fund

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