Building Bridges

Posted by Alexis Fox & Andrew Brighten, ALDF Summer Law Clerks on September 2, 2008

In June Andrew Brighten and I packed up our houses and our spouses and headed to Cotati, California for a summer litigation clerkship with the Animal Legal Defense Fund.  Andy traveled from Montreal, Canada; I flew from Portland, Oregon.

Andy and Alexis, ALDF's summer law clerksThroughout the summer we learned a great deal from attorneys Joyce Tischler and Matthew Liebman. Joyce lent us wonderful insight into where the animal protection law movement has been and where it is headed next. Matthew, a blue book king, ensured neither of us ever misplaced a comma when we cited cases, and exposed us to the way ALDF strategically builds cases against animal abusers.

Andy and I also taught each other quite a bit. We both ran our schools’ Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters last year. Soon after meeting, we discovered we had a lot to talk about regarding our SALDF chapters and our animal law courses.  At the conference table during lunch, in the car on the way to hearings and in our sunny corner office, we shared our experiences and discussed the common challenges we face. The lesson we learned is that animal law students need to be connected and stay connected.

Andy and I go to very different law schools when it comes to animal law. McGill University’s Faculty of Law is one of the first Canadian law schools to offer an animal law course, and its SALDF chapter is relatively young. On the other hand, Lewis and Clark Law School has a well established animal law program. We have an animal law journal, a clinic, and the school offers a few animal law classes each semester.  Nevertheless, our SALDF chapters face similar challenges. For example, both our chapters had internal debates about the role veganism should play in the group. Both chapters also struggled to find a balance between working with other student groups while also competing against them for students’ time and attention.

Another frequent topic of conversation related to what we should do for animals when we graduate. In Canada there are virtually no full-time animal lawyers and few obvious jobs waiting for students interested in animal law upon graduation. In the States the field is growing rapidly but there remain very few full time jobs for new attorneys in animal protection law. So, what should we do with our enthusiasm for animal protection and our education in animal protection law? For both of us, until graduation, this question will remain unanswered. Yet, I am sure we are not the only two animal law students holding our breath in anticipation. And, it is always encouraging to hash out ideas with another person in a similar situation.

In the meantime, our conversations did result in several concrete suggestions for meeting some of the challenges discussed over the summer. For instance, Andy showed me that internet social networking sites such as Facebook can be used to invite other students to SALDF events and to keep SALDF members connected over the summer and after graduation. I, in turn, suggested that members of McGill’s SALDF attend the Animal Law Conference at Lewis and Clark Law School, which will be Oct. 17-19 this year. The conference is the perfect time to meet other students, learn about a wide range of issues in animal protection law and hear from the leaders of the movement.

Andy and I learned how useful it can be to connect with another animal law student. We would like to encourage other students to reach out to each other. The animal law student experience is relatively new. Just seven years ago, there were only twelve SALDF chapters; now there are 125. To keep up the momentum that students before us created, we need to sustain a dialogue and support each others’ efforts to educate fellow students about animal protection issues, develop animal law programs at our schools and advance the interests of animals in the courts. Social networking sites and animal law conferences can help animal law students connect. Moreover they can encourage animal law students to stay connected. So, if you are a student, please consider going online to find other students interested in animal law, and come to the conference at Lewis and Clark this fall! We would love to meet you.