The Animal Legal Defense Fund would never be able to use the law to advance the interests of animals without the support of legal professionals nationwide. In this continuing series of spotlights, ALDF’s Animal Law Program salutes attorney Nicole Roth.
You’d think a busy attorney would be satisfied that her standard work load and untold pro bono hours were enough. Not Nicole Roth. As a securities litigator at the San Francisco office of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, Nicole represents a wide variety of interests in securities class actions, shareholder derivative actions and regulatory investigations. Her passion, however, is animals, so not only has she worked on six animal-law cases in just two years at Orrick, but Nicole began fostering cats. Lots and lots of cats. Over five years, Nicole says she and her husband fostered 70 cats. “Once we got a yard, we moved on to dogs,” she says. “We adopted the first two dogs. We have now fostered over 50 dogs and have found homes for all of them.”
With this kind of devotion to dogs and cats, it’s little wonder Nicole helped ALDF write an amicus curiae brief for the Vermont Supreme Court advocating for emotional damages when a guardian loses a companion animal. “Companion animals are generally worth market value in the legal system,” she explains. “Thus, if someone kills your dog or cat, your damages are only the animal’s replacement value — for example, the $50 you would spend at an animal shelter to get another dog or cat. Courts do not take into account the emotional bond you have with that animal.”
Although she finds it rewarding saving animals one at a time, Nicole believes it is also necessary to change the way society systemically treats animals. “I love the personal interactions I have with the animals I save individually, but I also want to change the legal system to protect all animals,” she says. “For example, I cannot save the billions of animals in the food industry through fostering. We need to expose the practices through legislation, ballot initiatives and litigation in order to save these animals from suffering. Through one case, I can change the lives of billions of animals. I could never accomplish that degree of change in any other profession.”
Nicole served as president of the SALDF chapter at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, and she recently co-authored a book with Northwestern Law students Annie Wallis and Kathleen Sanderson. ALDF is working with them to publish the tome — a how-to guide for establishing an animal law clinic. Such clinics provide students with real-world experience using litigation, legislative and regulatory efforts advocating for animals. “Animal law is a great subject area for clinics for a number of reasons,” Nicole says. “First, animal law is a very diverse field, covering civil, criminal, contracts, torts, constitutional, wills and trusts and administrative law. Also, it is an underserved area of the law. And finally, animal law addresses larger societal issues, because there is a strong connection between violence toward animals and violence toward humans. We hope to encourage law schools across the country to establish animal law clinics.”
Unlike most people, Nicole made the connection between animal suffering and the food on her plate at an early age. That’s when, at six years old, she went fishing with her father for the first time. “After we caught our first fish and I saw it swimming in the bucket, I asked my father what we were going to do with it. I started crying when I found out that we were going to eat it. My father, the compassionate businessman that he is, made a deal with me. He said that he would let the fish go if I would stop sucking my thumb. I have not sucked it since.” Nicole’s father was hardly surprised when she went vegetarian at age seven and became a vegan seven years ago.
Nicole believes the field of animal law is wide open, and she encourages students to be just as broad in their thinking about careers. “You can advocate on behalf of animals in many different ways in many different jobs,” she explains, noting that she never thought she’d be able to help animals by working at a law firm. “Of course, I do not spend as much time on animal law cases as I would like, but animal law non-profits like ALDF and the Humane Society of the United States need the resources of the big law firms to take on all of their issues. They do not have all of the resources and diverse skills needed to handle all of the cases. As well as helping animals through pro bono work, I can also use the money I earn to help animals. My husband and I are saving most of my salary to buy a farm and create an animal sanctuary.”
As if she weren’t busy enough, Nicole reveals another aspiration. “Someday I hope to head my own animal law clinic,” she says. “Stanford or Berkeley: are you interested?”
You can learn more about Nicole Roth and Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe at www.orrick.com.
To become a member of ALDF’s Animal Law Program and assist animals as
part of our pro bono network, please complete and return our Attorney Membership Application.