To follow up on my previous post on whether becoming a lawyer is the best thing you can do for animals, today I’m addressing a related question I’m often asked: Aside from going to law school, what should one do to get into the field of animal law? Sometimes this question comes from people interested but not yet enrolled in law school, sometimes from current law students, and sometimes from attorneys already in practice. No matter which category you fall under, there are two key actions I suggest if you’re interested in breaking into animal law (or, in fact, any professional field to work on behalf of animals): 1) work hard (but not too hard), and 2) network. Let me unpack these two recommendations a bit.
Work Hard (But Not Too Hard)
When I say work hard, I mean that no matter where you are – whether it’s getting your undergrad degree, attending law school, or working at a law firm – I suggest that you commit to being the best lawyer you can be. If you’re in law school, you’re probably sacrificing a lot of time and money to be there, so make sure you get everything you can out of the experience. Learn the law, learn how to do research, and learn how to write well: after all, that’s what you’re there for. If you’re already practicing law, no matter what type of law, continue to hone your skills through practice, and seek out the best supervision, feedback and mentoring you can find.
As artist Sue Coe has recognized, the animals need good lawyers. There’s no room for perfunctory, tepid legal work in this field. If you’re finding this advice hard to take, it may be that your heart’s not in animal law – which is okay. But if that is indeed the case, I urge you to find another way to help animals. If you’re in it for the long haul, though, focus on perfecting your lawyering skills.
At the same time, don’t overdo it. Work hard, but not too hard. We all have our limits, and as Jasmin astutely recognizes (but still needs to be reminded herself from time to time), it’s important to remember to respect your own animal rights. So be sure to avoid over-committing yourself, and create time and space for the activities, people and animals that fortify your spirit.
Taking these steps to avoid burnout will ensure you have the reserves needed to do the challenging, innovative work animal law demands, and to build connections to those already doing the work you want to do – to network. As a relatively new (though rapidly growing) field, animal law can seem hard to get into. But if you start seeking them out, you’ll find opportunities all around you. These opportunities may not be precisely what you want – if you aspire to a paid, full-time position practicing animal law, for example, that’s probably not going to fall into your lap. If that’s what you really want, you can make it happen, or create it for yourself – but it will likely take time, and certainly a lot of hard work. For the moment, though, think about what opportunities are within your immediate reach, because you can build on those opportunities, one step at a time.
Can you spare some volunteer hours (without, of course, over-committing yourself)? Volunteering for an animal protection organization is an excellent entry to animal law. For example (a totally non-self-interested example, of course), Farm Sanctuary relies on the generous pro bono efforts of law students and lawyers alike (and I would be thrilled to hear from you if you’re interested in volunteering for us). There may also be local animal protection organizations in your community that could benefit from your skills.
If your bar association has an animal law section or committee (find out here), that’s another excellent way to get involved in animal law. As a first year law student, I joined the Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals. It was probably the best thing I ever did for my career. I met amazing individuals doing exactly the work I aspired to do, and found phenomenal mentors who are now colleagues. If your bar association doesn’t have an animal law committee or section (or even if it does), get involved with the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee – and then start a committee yourself within your state or local bar association.
So…there you have it. Want to break into animal law? Work hard, but don’t forget to respect your own animal rights. Network by volunteering for Farm Sanctuary (or another animal protection organization), and getting active in (or starting) an animal law committee. I look forward to working with you!