Since I’m often asked by budding young activists if I think going to law school is the best way to help animals, I’ve decided to take a little time now to share my response to this question.
So . . . is law school the best way to help animals? Maybe. It all depends on who you are, what your strengths are and what makes you happy. There’s no singular best way to help animals. I think that if law school appeals to you for reasons that have nothing to do with animals, then it may be the best way for you personally to help animals. But if you only want to go to law school to help animals, and little or nothing else pulls you in that direction, then there are probably better options out there for you.
Just as there are billions of animals suffering – ten billion land animals are killed every year for food in the U.S. alone – there are billions of ways to help animals. Being a lawyer is certainly one of them. But to be a lawyer, you have to go to law school, and law school is notoriously challenging – and expensive. The student budget for the law school I attended is $70,050 for 2009-2010. Multiply that by three years of law school, and you’re talking about more than $200,000 in expenses. Much, if not all, of that amount is paid for by loans. And that doesn’t even account for any undergraduate debt you might have. To be fair, some law schools have fantastic loan repayment assistance programs for graduates who go into public interest law, including animal protection. (And a couple law schools will even help you pay off your undergrad debt if you go into public interest work.) Still, going that deeply into debt merits some forethought.
So think about what it is that attracts you to law school. Personally, I was drawn to law school because I’m argumentative. I like challenging authority and I’m happy to dig into the nitty gritty details to do so, whether that means diving into my local municipal code to demonstrate why that parking ticket was unwarranted, or into the Internal Revenue Code to help my parents clean up their credit. Of course, it’s an added benefit if you’re working toward an end you care about, like proving the police wrong or helping your parents out. Or helping animals. But it’s best if you love the means too. Because if you don’t love the day-to-day researching, writing and arguing, you’re not likely to be happy, no matter how important the ends are.
That’s partly because legal victories can take a long, long time. For example, one of the cases I worked on before joining Farm Sanctuary, a challenge to the Ringling Bros. Circus’s treatment of its elephants, has been pending for nearly a decade. Even worse, legal efforts can fail altogether. Indeed, especially when you’re working in a field as groundbreaking as animal law, you can expect to chalk up a good number of losses. If you’re a mercenary, this isn’t necessarily an issue. And if you enjoy the fight and can take the long view, then the snail’s pace of legal justice can be tolerable. But if you’re the type of person who thrives on more immediate results, or if researching, writing and arguing aren’t really your things, then there are probably better ways for you to help animals – ways that will make you both happier and more effective.
If you’re still wondering what is the best way for you to help animals, just think about what you’re good at and what you enjoy. No matter what your skills and passions, there is a way you can use them to help animals. For example, I have a friend who is an accountant, and she does pro bono accounting work for five different animal protection organizations. And my colleague and fellow blogger Jasmin Singer tells a story about a woman who wanted to get involved in animal advocacy but didn’t know how. It turned out that she was a juggler. So at the next Walk for Farm Animals she walked around on stilts juggling, drawing in kids and their parents who had never before been exposed to farm animal issues. These are just a couple examples, but hopefully they underscore my point: There is a way for you to help animals that suits you. It may be law school, and it’s not my intention to dissuade anyone from going to law school. I’m glad I went to law school. My point is simply that you should really think through your reasons for going before you go.
Finally, a note to those of you who are already in law school and starting to worry about whether you made the right decision: Don’t despair. No matter what your reasons for going to law school, things can work out. Just think of law student extraordinaire and animal advocate Elle Woods in the film Legally Blonde, who initially went to law school to follow a boy. And even if you belatedly discover that law just isn’t your thing, the skills you gain in law school can help you no matter what you do. Literary giants Franz Kafka, Wallace Stevens and Robert Louis Stevenson all attended law school. John Cleese, Julio Iglesias, Tony LaRussa, and Geraldo Rivera are just a few more examples of law school graduates who are known for talents other than their legal prowess. Just imagine the contributions these individual could make if they committed themselves to animal protection.
Whether you’re a law student or a juggler, make sure to stay in the loop about different ways of using your personal strengths to help animals by joining Farm Sanctuary’s Advocacy Campaign Team today.