Animal Law 101

What is Animal Law?

It’s a combination of statutory and case law in which the nature – legal, social or biological – of nonhuman animals is an important factor. It encompasses companion animals, wildlife, and animals used in entertainment, research, and raised for food.

It permeates and affects most traditional areas of the law – including tort, contract, criminal, trust/estates, family, environmental, administrative, and constitutional law. Examples of this intersection include: animal custody disputes in divorces and separations, veterinary malpractice cases, housing disputes: “no pets” policies and discrimination laws, damages cases involving the wrongful death or injury to a companion animal, enforceable trusts for companion animals, and criminal law issues, encompassing domestic violence and anti-cruelty laws.

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The Growth of Animal Law

The dynamic field of animal law is emerging and being taught at some of the most reputable and respected laws schools throughout the country. In 2000, 9 law schools had animal law courses. In 2015, 151 law schools offered the course. Check out the premier casebook on animal law, Animal Law Cases and Materials. To learn more about the history of animal law, watch ALDF Founder Joyce Tischler’s lecture on the subject.

Additionally, a growing number of student animal law groups are rapidly appearing across the country and around the world. In 2000, there were 12 Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters. In 2015, there are 205 chapters.

Growth in the field is also reflected in legal publications and other career-focused news items. In 2008, ALDF launched the Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) at Lewis and Clark Law School. CALS provides essential programs and services for law students under the guidance of experienced animal law professors and ALDF attorneys.

For a good overview of animal law’s expansion, see “The Rise of Animal Law” in Science Magazine.

What Do Animal Lawyers Do?

They can volunteer for national animal protection groups like ALDF or a local group or humane society, do pro bono work at a large firm, be a solo practitioner, government attorney, or staff attorney for a nonprofit organization.

Check out our resources on the subject:

What Other Ways Can Attorneys Get Involved?

Attorneys can join their regional or state animal law bar section or committee, or join or start an independent animal law group. Examples include Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection, Texas Humane Legislation Network, and Attorneys for Animals in Michigan. Attorneys can write articles for local bar journals, local papers, or animal law journals, and mentor students.

What Does ALDF Do?

For more than thirty years, ALDF has been fighting to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. There are several organizations dedicated to helping animals but ALDF is unique in that our main focus is using the law to improve the lives of animals. Watch This is Who We Are, a video that highlights the difference between how we would expect U.S. laws to work to protect animals vs. how the laws actually operate in practice.

ALDF strives to meet its mission through its primary programs:

  • The Legislative Affairs Program, which monitors and supports key legislation that impacts animals at the federal, state, and local levels.
  • The Criminal Justice Program, which works with law enforcement and prosecutors to seek maximum penalties for animal abusers.
  • The Animal Law Program, which fosters the field of animal law among legal professionals and in law schools nationwide.
  • The Litigation Program, which files lawsuits to stop the abuse of companion animals and animals abused in industries (including factory farming and the entertainment business.)

ALDF’s groundbreaking efforts to push the U.S. legal system to end the suffering of abused animals is supported by more than 1,600 dedicated volunteer attorneys and 110,000 members.

What are Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) Chapters and How Do They Help ALDF?

SALDF chapters are law student organizations that share ALDF’s mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. Many chapter members are ALDF law student members.

They take on many different projects which are supported by ALDF through project grants. To see examples of the great work SALDF chapters do, check out the SALDF Spotlights. They also attend conferences and competitions, like the Animal Law Conference and the National Animal Law Competitions, which are wonderful educational and networking opportunities for students. ALDF’s grants program provides support by helping with travel costs.

SALDF chapters can spread their message widely to their law school by collaborating with other student organizations, such as:

Every year, SALDF chapters take part in Speak Out for Farmed Animals Week, a yearly event dedicated to raising public awareness nationwide about the lack of meaningful laws that protect farmed animals from cruel treatment. Chapters also participate in National Justice for Animals Week, a week that ALDF dedicates to raising awareness about how to report cases of animal abuse, and how to work locally to strengthen animal protection laws and enforcement.

Law students have the opportunity to clerk in ALDF’s Litigation and Criminal Justice Programs. There are also Litigation Fellowships for graduates. ALDF also supports its student chapters through the Advancement of Animal Law Scholarships.

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