School TiesNovember 30th, 2004
Yale Law School (Photos copyright Dave Breyer)
(New Haven, Conn.) Holding a conference on legal issues at the respected Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn., is like playing a concert in Carnegie Hall. It says you’ve made it.
So congratulations are in order for the animal law field. Thanks to a recent ALDF-sponsored conference, it has arrived.
This November, attorneys, law students and law professors from across the country came together at the Yale Law School for The Future of Animal Law, a conference exploring how U.S. law is evolving to reflect Americans’ changing attitudes about animals. Sponsored by ALDF and organized with the assistance of Yale’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapter, the conference drew 230 participants for three days of intensive discussion focusing on important animal law issues.
“I think the size of the conference surprised a lot of people — even I was surprised,” says law student Jennifer Sperling, president of Yale’s SALDF chapter and (along with fellow SALDF member Bonita Meyersfeld) a key organizer for the event. “It was fantastic to realize there are so many practitioners and academics engaging with these issues nationwide.”
One person who wasn’t surprised by the widespread interest in the conference was ALDF founder and general counsel Joyce Tischler.
“We’ve seen rapid growth in the number of animal law courses and SALDF chapters across the nation, so we know that animal law is gaining ground fast,” she says. “We’re tremendously pleased that a prestigious institution like Yale Law School would recognize that. Validation like that will push animal law forward even faster.”
“Animal law” can be defined as the body of statutory and case law related to non-human animals. It’s an ever-expanding field, as is demonstrated by the variety of topics covered in the conference’s keynote addresses and panel discussions: animals and trust law, judicial recognition of animals’ inherent interests, non-economic damages (i.e., pain and suffering) in lawsuits related to killed or injured companion animals and more.
According to Yale Law School Professor Harold Koh, who became the law school’s dean earlier this year, that wide array of dynamic issues — and the amount of serious attention they’ve been given both in academia and the court system — is what made an animal law conference so appealing to him and his colleagues.
“Animal law is a vibrant emerging field,” says Koh, who delivered the conference’s closing remarks. “Yale Law School [was] pleased to host this conference along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. As increasing attention is focused on the growing body of laws surrounding animal rights, practitioners and scholars [welcomed] this opportunity to discuss cutting-edge legal issues with the foremost experts in this field.”
Among the many leading animal law and animal protection experts who took part in the conference were Tischler; Steven M. Wise, author of Rattling the Cage and Drawing the Line; Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States; Paul Leonard, director of the Center for Animal Law & Advocacy and former lieutenant governor of Ohio; David Wolfson, adjunct professor of law at Harvard Law School; David Favre, professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law; and Josh Marquis, district attorney of Clatsop County, Ore. Also on hand were a number of ALDF staff members, including President Steve Ann Chambers, Law Program Director Steve Wells, Anti-Cruelty Division Director Pamela Frasch, Director of Legislative Affairs Stephan Otto and Staff Attorney Dana Campbell. In addition, ALDF presented three papers on animal law topics at the conference: one exploring the impact of felony animal cruelty laws, another providing comprehensive guidance to prosecutors handling animal abuse cases and a third offering a broad overview of state animal laws across the country.
“This was the most informative and best-organized conference I’ve attended,” says attorney Jennifer Dietz, a founding member of the Florida Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee. “The panels, the speeches — it was all without comparison. I definitely feel like I learned how to practice animal law better.”
Yale Law's Dean Koh addresses the conference crowd
For attorney Bruce Wagman, who teaches courses in animal law at Hastings College of Law, UC Berkeley — Boalt Hall and USF Law School, one speech in particular had special meaning.
“I was excited to hear Dean Koh discuss animal law and endorse it as a verified and important new area of the law deserving of further exploration, education and exposure,” Wagman says. “That was the highlight of the conference for me.”
Attorney Patti Bednarik, on the other hand, picks a different set of highlights from her conference experience: the many opportunities she had to meet, greet and pick the brains of like-minded animal advocates.
“The networking opportunities were wonderful,” says Bednarik, who started the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee. “It was really helpful to learn what other attorneys are doing in other states to promote favorable animal legislation and case law.”
According to ALDF Animal Law Program Director Steve Wells, providing those kinds of networking opportunities was one of the prime motivations behind the conference.
“Journals, newsletters and e-mail lists are all fine ways to disseminate ideas, but nothing can compete with face-to-face meetings,” he says. “There’s a special magic that can be sparked when you bring people together — you have people not just sharing information, but forming friendships and strategic partnerships. I think we’ll be seeing dividends of that from this conference for a long, long time.”
What we’ll also see for a long, long time is the continued growth of animal law. As the Future of Animal Law demonstrated, the field has a bright future indeed.
“The turnout for the conference, the enthusiasm of everyone involved, Yale Law School’s support — I think it all sends a message,” says Tischler. “Animal advocates aren’t on the fringe. We’re on the cutting edge. The rest of the legal world is catching up, and that’s a wonderful thing to see.”
To view a complete schedule for the conference, as well as background information on the array of speakers and special guests, click here.