Are you interested in a career in animal law, but don’t know how to get started? This guide is for you! Animals need all the legal help they can get, and working as an animal protection lawyer can be an incredibly meaningful and rewarding career path.
There’s no one path to becoming an animal lawyer, but this guide offers some tips and guidance to help you along in your journey—whether you’re still in high school, or already a practicing lawyer hoping to put your skills to use for animals.
What should I study in my undergraduate degree?
Law schools accept applicants from all backgrounds. Whatever you choose as your major, it’s worth taking a variety of classes from different disciplines to broaden your knowledge base. Consider studying political science, history, communications, philosophy, sociology, zoology, biology, economics, statistical methods, anthropology, and other fields that help you understand animals, how they exist in society, and how social and legal change occurs.
What law school should I attend?
It helps to pick a law school that offers an animal law class, and bonus points if a school has faculty members interested in animal law. Professors can often be a rich source of knowledge and connections in the field of animal law. But if your school doesn’t offer animal law, don’t worry. You can still take other law school classes that relate to animal law. Many upper-year law classes offer students the chance to research and write papers, which you can often write about animal law topics.
You may also wish to consider location. It can help to attend a law school in a city with a vibrant animal protection scene, which may offer volunteer and advocacy opportunities while you’re still studying.
Canadian students often ask whether it’s worth studying law in the United States, where several law schools have a wide selection of classes on animal law topics. This can be a good way to become fully-immersed in animal law, but keep in mind that if you study at a foreign law school, becoming qualified to practice in Canada is a lengthy process and can be costly. You may be less familiar with Canadian law at the end of the process than had you studied at home. You’ll also miss out on building a network in Canada, which can offer important career opportunities.
What are my job options after I graduate?
Full-time animal lawyers typically work at non-profits or in private practice. At non-profits like Animal Justice, lawyers might work in legal, policy, or campaign roles. Lawyers at non-profits often litigate animal law cases, research animal law and policy, push legislators to pass stronger animal protection laws, and advise on exposing hidden animal suffering behind the closed doors of animal-use industries. Lawyers working with SPCAs and humane societies assist with investigations into animal abuse and neglect, seizing animals in distress, and encouraging the broader community to take animal protection seriously.
Some lawyers choose to do similar work in private practice, and even start their own animal law firms. Many lawyers also do part-time or pro bono animal law work, even if it is not their full-time focus. Lawyers in private practice may assist non-profits with their animal protection work, file lawsuits on behalf of clients, defend people charged with offences for advocating on behalf of animals, and much more.
There are also opportunities to practice animal law in government, such as working as an advisor to a politician, in a government policy role, or as a prosecutor of animal cruelty cases.
Most recent law graduates find they aren’t able to focus full-time on animal law work right away, and that’s okay. Articling positions in animal law are incredibly rare. It’s a smart move to have a back-up area of law that interests you and helps you get experience as a lawyer, while you work toward building an animal law practice.
How can I get experience in the field?
It’s never to soon to start! Identify animal advocacy organizations whose work interests you, and sign up to volunteer with them. Attend meetings and events hosted by groups working on animal protection issues. Look for local lawyers who practice animal law, and ask them if you can volunteer or join them for an internship or summer position. You can also join an Animal Justice student club while you’re in law school to get hands-on experience. The most important thing is to make connections and figure out how you can best plug into the animal law community in a way that fits your interests, and lets you use your unique skills on behalf of animals.
You may also be interested in enrolling in the Animal Justice Academy—a free, six-week online advocacy bootcamp that will help empower you to make a better world for animals. The Academy will teach you how to become an informed, vibrant, and effective champion for animals through political engagement, effective communication, media, lifestyle, public outreach, resilience-building, and influencing your own unique communities and social circles. You’ll gain a solid grasp on a variety of animal issues and potential solutions.