Where Are They Now? Jenni James

Jenni James is not your typical new lawyer. The oldest student in her class at the University of Chicago law school, she celebrated her 40th birthday in her third year of law school. Before attending law school, she gathered experiences that ultimately made her a more dedicated attorney. This includes years as a volunteer with the Marine Mammal Center, spending weekends sunburned and sandy, chasing down starving seal pups and rescuing sickly sea lions.

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Working with marine mammals, she noticed so many suffered injuries resulting from human origins—from anonymous entanglements to intentional shootings. Some of the most gruesome injuries came from “seal bombs.” These explosives are meant to deter sea lions from taking fish from fishermen. Unfortunately, some sea lions catch the explosives in their mouths, blowing their jaws off. These were the most haunting rescues, picking up bloodied disfigured animals knowing the best she could offer was a gentler death than starving at sea.

When she learned that seal bombs were permitted, she needed to know more. A fellow attorney assured Jenni she could forge a path as an attorney by working for a public interest organization. Now, years later, having acquired a position as an ALDF Litigation Fellow, she develops and manages her own cases under the supervision of ALDF staff attorneys. She’s drafted motions, pleadings, and discovery; argued motions in court; helped prepare ALDF attorneys for their own oral arguments; interviewed potential plaintiffs; been interviewed by the media on newsworthy cases; researched potential causes of action; worked with ALDF clerks to generate necessary research and with pro bono attorneys to manage cases. 

Jenni made the connection with ALDF through her school’s SALDF chapter. Thanks to the mentoring of her chapter’s founder, she soon served as co-president. With the help of SALDF travel grants and the generous funding of a local donor, she traveled to animal law conferences and participated in the National Animal Law Competitions. She also clerked at ALDF during her second summer and third year.

She loves the work she does with ALDF, even though the field of animal law provides real challenges. “In animal law there are three main challenges,” Jenni explains. “First, it’s difficult to find a way to make legal arguments on behalf of animals when the law so often favors their exploitation. Next, even after you have discovered a cause of action, you must find a plaintiff who has standing to bring the suit. Finally, often you need an expert to testify that the animals truly are suffering. Many experts in farmed or exotic animal welfare are unable to speak publicly without jeopardizing their professional positions.”

Jenni is especially known for her work with ALDF to help Lolita, the orca held at the Miami Seaquarium in violation of the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act. Her innovative and successful work on this issue includes a petition for coverage of Lolita under the ESA, to match the protection Lolita’s family receives. This huge step forward for Lolita was also a novel use of the law, as it was the first brought for a single animal under the ESA.

Jenni advises young lawyers to “think about what motivates you and find a place that can appreciate your passion. Participate in moot courts or writing competitions, attend conferences, take leadership positions, do targeted research. Be creative. There are many ways to make a contribution.”

Jenni still volunteers with the Marine Mammal Center, and now works at the main hospital in Sausalito, rather than on the beaches of San Luis Obispo. She lives in the North Bay with her husband and several adorable rescue cats, and is grieving the recent loss of a black polydactyl kitty named Monkey.

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