School Ties

Posted on November 30, 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

“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

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.

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