Where Are They Now? Peter Brandt
In this continuing series of updates on former Student Animal Legal Defense Fund members, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is proud to spotlight graduates protecting animals through the legal system.
“If I had it to do over again, I would’ve spent more time on SALDF and less on trying to understand secured transactions.”
Where did you go to law school and when did you graduate?
Lewis & Clark, 2004
Current position and organization:
Senior Attorney, Farm Animals, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
How long have you been in your current position?
12 years, starting in February 2005
What do you do in your current position?
I oversee HSUS’s docket of farm animal protection litigation projects and supervise a small team of excellent farm animal litigators. We’ve been involved in a wide variety of farm animal protection lawsuits and administrative actions, and even assisted on some criminal matters. These range from tackling false advertising related to farm animals’ care to federal citizen suit actions against massive factory farms that not only cruelly confine thousands of animals but also threaten water supplies, pollute the air and make neighbors miserable due to overpowering stench.
Have you had any other work experiences in animal law (or animal protection generally) since graduating law school?
I’m just starting a four-month fellowship with Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Program, which involves researching and writing about the same issues I’ve focused on in my work at HSUS. I also teach the Animals and Agriculture: Law & Policy course at Lewis & Clark Law School.
When did you take an interest in helping animals?
I think I was always interested; it just took me a while to get organized. I can remember asking my mom when I was 4 or so why the robins flew away if I went near. I thought it was unfair that I couldn’t pet a robin because their entire species was (rightly) terrified of all of us.
What did you study in undergrad, and what school did you attend?
I went to Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. I was an English Literature major. Reading and writing were about my only college-level skills.
What got you interested in pursuing a law degree?
Life as a low paid temp in late nineties Seattle surrounded by 22-year-old millionaire programmers! Well partly that, but I just realized I could probably do something more useful and fulfilling if I went back to school. Law school seemed like the best option. I was always hoping to do legal work in the interest of helping animals.
When you were involved with SALDF, what position(s) did you hold and what sort of activities and events did you help with and/or spearhead?
Honestly, I wish I’d been more involved than I was, but I did always assist with events and projects. I was just a bit overwhelmed with law school and probably focused too much on just getting through the academics. Looking back on it, I think it would’ve been better for me all around to be more heavily involved with SALDF. It was great spending time with so many students committed to the same mission I went to law school to further. If I had it to do over again, I would’ve spent more time on SALDF and less on trying to understand secured transactions.
How did being involved with SALDF play a role in your education and career?
SALDF and Laura Ireland, founder of the National Center for Animal Law, helped me find summer internships, and one of those that Laura helped me line up directly lead to my getting my current job. And the morale-boosting intangible benefits of hanging out and working and joking with like-minded students played a bigger role than I realized in getting me through law school. In many ways law school can be like a non-invasive lobotomy; you learn how to write, think and communicate in a way that was very different from how you did all three of those things before law school. To counterbalance that process you need to laugh, or you will become somewhat Spock-like, and kicking it with Spock is no one’s idea of a fun Saturday night.
Any other noteworthy law school experiences, internships, etc.?
I spent a summer working for an environmental group in Boise, Idaho focusing on environmental problems with massive dairy and beef factory farms. That was a notably hot summer and I learned quite a bit hiding from the heat working away in my basement office. The work I did that summer continues to be relevant to my work today. I worked with some great attorneys. One recommended me to my boss at HSUS, and that was probably the key reason he hired me.
What do you hope to accomplish in your work for animals (and/or is there an accomplishment thus far you are particularly proud of)?
I really enjoy projects that highlight that the type of personalities that are callous or affirmatively cruel to farm animals are the same sorts that will not hesitate to endanger their neighbors, their workers, fresh water, and air quality. My favorite work is projects that highlight that overlap, and which help people, farm animals, forests, wild animals, and promote clean air and rivers.
What advice would you give law students who are considering a career in animal law?
Go for it. There are not enough attorneys to do all the important work. And if you do take the plunge and go to law school, definitely take any chance you can get to engage in actual legal work, over the summers and part-time during the school year. And in those internships or jobs, work as hard as you can. The world of public interest lawyering is very small, and a lawyer in Idaho you may be working for over the summer will likely know the lawyer in D.C. or Los Angeles that may want to hire you once you graduate.
Anything else you’d like to include?
Keep your sense of humor and your sense of the absurd. It’s not a luxury. It will help you as a lawyer (and on Saturday nights). You may not regularly need to be hilarious in court or in a brief but being able to recognize absurdity buried in bland language is an under-rated skill in litigation. And as Mark Twain put it, “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”