Animal rights group wants to build advocacy pipeline with law school program

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REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

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  • George Washington Law and the Animal Legal Defense Fund are teaming up to train future professors in animal law
  • Only a handful of law schools now have animal law programs

(Reuters) - A new partnership between George Washington University Law School and the Animal Legal Defense Fund aims to transform animal law from a niche specialty into a widely taught discipline by developing a cadre of faculty trained in the subject.

The Fund has already raised money to hire an executive director for George Washington’s new Animal Legal Education Initiative and hopes to have the program up and running in the fall.

“As animal law grows and there are more cases, we need attorneys,” said Stacey Gordon Sterling, director of the Fund’s Animal Law Program. “We need students who took animal law in law school and took a clinic so they can hit the ground running.”

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Yale, Harvard and Lewis & Clark are the only law schools with robust animal law programs, she said, while the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Vermont Law School are building up such programs. The University of San Francisco School of Law also launched an animal law program in 2020.

At most schools, animal law is an elective taught occasionally by an adjunct, if it’s offered at all, Sterling said. She said George Washington’s program will craft a curriculum and materials that will make it easier for more schools to offer courses on the subject.

“Anything any law school can do to foster interest in animal law and help further the field and scholarship is only a good thing,” said Chris Green, executive director of Harvard Law’s Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program.

Animal rights, endangered species protection and animal cruelty tend to draw the most attention in the practice. But animal law touches everything from criminal law, family law, agricultural law, contract law, and constitutional law to property law and torts, Sterling and Green said. Legal educators may be more open to adding law courses if they understand how expansive the area is, Sterling said.

To that end, she said the George Washington program aims to help law faculty incorporate animal law into courses on other subjects. But she acknowledged that will take time.

“It's going to take a while to get this initiative functioning and to get enough faculty trained,” Sterling said.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at