so you want to be an animal rights lawyer.

Well, you already sound petty cool. Here are some answers to questions I field from law students and future law students.

where should i go to law school?

You can go to law school anywhere in Canada and get a stellar legal education with relevant training, but here are some schools that have professors who are specifically interested in animal law--these professors may teach animal law classes and oversee major research papers. Note that many schools will allow students to create their own courses, so look into that option as well! And this list may not be exhaustive, so please double check my work and let me know who I'm missing. 

From west to east:

Maneesha Deckha is an associate professor at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include critical animal studies and animal law. She's super cool and super smart.

Peter Sankoff is a professor at the University of Alberta. Check out his website to get a flavour of the kinds of interesting stuff he's researching and teaching as well as his accessibility. I want to take his class every day.

Lesli Bisgould is the only one on this list who is a practitioner, but I had to include her anyway--she wrote the first Canadian textbook on animals and the law, was the country's first animal rights lawyer, and is all kinds of enlightened and wonderful. She taught me animal law at the University of Toronto.

Daphne Gilbert is an associate professor at the University of Ottawa. Check her out back in 2008 in the Globe and Mail citing animal law as an up-and-coming area of law. Sure is!

Wendy Adams is an associate professor at McGill University. Her research interests include post humanist approaches to animal-human relations. She published a scholarly article on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is definitely the coolest non-animal-law trivia tidbit I know about anyone on this list.

Vaughan Black is a professor at Dalhousie University. I think he's Canada's longest-serving animal law professor, which means he's influenced maaaaany people to take animal rights seriously. It takes a metric tonne of brilliance and critical thought to adopt a research area well before anyone else.

Also look into Katie Sykes, assistant professor at Thompson Rivers University, because although she doesn't currently teach an animal law class, she may soon and she may also be able to oversee research papers. Oh please start teaching animal law soon, Katie! She's the best. 

what classes should i take?

Animal rights law is mostly theoretical at this point. To help animals, you need to gain skills and knowledge in related areas and creatively use that to help animals. Obviously take any animal law courses that your school offers, and encourage your school to create new ones.

You probably have to take contract, tort, and criminal law, which is great.

  • Contract law is useful for all kinds of issues you may face helping animals through non-profit work or in private practice. I draft and review contracts all the time and find basic principles of contract law extremely useful.
  • Tort law (the law governing civil wrongs, which is most lawsuits) is useful especially for anyone in private practice. And looking down the road, practicing civil litigation is probably the best way of sharpening your skills as a lawyer so you can take on strategic litigation to advance animal rights.
  • Criminal law is useful if you'd like to defend animal defenders, i.e. if you'd like to represent activists who have been charged with criminal offences related to their activism or civil disobedience. You'll also find it useful to understand how our criminal laws work so you can make sense of our nonsensical and outdated criminal animal cruelty provisions.

You may find it useful to take intellectual property law. Issues relating to copyright and trademark frequently arise, both in the non-profit animal rights sector and in disputes between animal-use industries and the good guys. ;)

If administrative law isn't required, take it. So much of strategically advancing animal rights law involves making use of administrative processes. It's good to have a sense of how these processes work and what some of them are.

You can take advantage of paper-based courses to explore animal rights issues. For example, I wrote about regulating meat using tobacco as a template for a course in public health law, and the rhetoric of morality in criminal animal cruelty cases for a course in social justice law.

how can i get a job in the field?

This is probably the question I get asked most and it's the hardest to answer, because so much depends on your talents and interests, and of course on what's available in what can be a slim job market. But here's some thoughts:

  • Be really good. Yes! That's really important. Being an excellent lawyer involves at least some of the following: writing well, speaking well, analyzing complex material, an intuitive understanding for what is convincing, an intuitive understanding for principles of fairness and law, creativity, and a knack for problem solving. In addition, being an excellent animal rights lawyer involves understanding the animal rights movement, a double dose of creativity, the ability to seek and exploit opportunity. Be willing to work hard and well.
  • Know people. So much of any career is relationships. It's hard to hire good people; if someone is trying to fill a unique position, the first thing they're going to do is think about whether--and and ask their associates if--they know anyone great. You want to come into that person's mind as someone who is dedicated, smart, and hard-working, and the type of person someone would want to spend many hours working closely with (read: nobody wants to work with someone who is unkind or inconsiderate). Volunteer, be active on social media, join boards, go to events, and always say hello--you don't have to do all of these things, and I generally endorse doing what is naturally enjoyable for you, but do at least some of them.
  • Keep an open mind and a broad perspective. You may not immediately land a job as counsel for an animal rights organization, which is perfectly fine--you can work into that, or not. There are many ways to practice animal law; for example, environmental lawyers work on protecting wildlife and the environmental effects of intensive agriculture. On the flip side, you may not work directly as a lawyer, but may use your knowledge in another capacity directly for an animal rights organization; as a trained lawyer, you'll be well positioned to work in public policy, communications, management, and so forth.
  • Consider becoming a civil litigator. As a general civil litigator, you'll be building your skills as a lawyer, and positioning yourself to be able to take on pro bono cases for animals. Eventually, you may transfer laterally to a more animal-oriented environment--or not, because by bringing animal rights law to your firm, you're helping to broaden the scope of the movement.

tell me something else useful about being an animal advocate in law school.

Simply being a credible person interested in animal rights is good for animals. You can use your position of influence to write articles for your school paper, bring in speakers on animal rights, and lobby for vegan catering at events. Your law school classmates are your future colleagues and network; eventually they'll be the judges and politicians that are going to free the animals, so seize opportunities to expose them to animal rights.