Animal Lawyer Career Profile

Lawyer with dog
Animal lawyers focus on animal rights and welfare. PeopleImages/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Animal lawyers are involved with legal cases and disputes related to cases of animal cruelty, tainted pet food products, veterinary malpractice, pet custody, and other animal related legal concerns.

Duties

Animal lawyers are concerned with defining legal protections for animals. Animal lawyers may be hired by individual clients or animal welfare organizations. Casework for animal lawyers may include veterinary malpractice, wrongful deaths, animal welfare legislation, suits against companies that engage in negligence or cruelty towards animals in their care, dog bite defense cases, landlord-tenant disputes, discrimination, purchase disputes, estate planning, and constitutional issues.

Animal lawyers have many duties.  Depending on their area of practice they may research cases, advise clients, prepare and review legal documents, file class action lawsuits, argue cases in court, conduct depositions, and create pet trusts. Most lawyers tend to work long hours in an office setting, though some travel may be necessary to gather research for cases or to conduct meetings with clients.

Animal law professionals may publish case studies journals dedicated to the study of animal law. Such publications include Animal Law Review, the Journal of Animal Law, the Journal of Animal Law and Ethics, and the Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy.

Career Options

Animal lawyers can work for a variety of clients including animal protection groups, conservation organizations, pet service providers, or private individuals. The overwhelming majority of animal lawyers work in private practice, though some are employed full time by welfare organizations.

Education & Training

Lawyers usually complete a four-year undergraduate degree to prepare for law school. Students may choose from a wide variety of undergraduate majors, but popular choices often include government, communications, and other related areas. Law school requires students to complete an additional three years of rigorous study.

Upon graduation, the law student will have earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.

After completing their seven years of formal education, lawyers must pass the bar examination to be eligible to practice in their state. Most states require their attorneys to complete continuing education requirements to keep their legal licenses in good standing.

Lewis & Clark Law School (in Portland, Oregon) was the first law school to establish a complete animal law specialty program. The school hosts a major annual animal law conference and publishes animal law journals. Animal law courses are now taught at most major law schools including Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Georgetown, NYU, and UCLA. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, over 141 law schools in the United States and Canada have offered animal law programs to their law students.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has more than 160 student chapters that offer member students the opportunity to take clerkship positions either with ALDF, the Center for Animal Law Studies, or animal lawyers in private practice. Internships are a great way for future attorneys to gain practical experience in the field. The ALDF also offers a variety of project grants, scholarships, and other forms of support to law students seeking to pursue careers in the field of animal law.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for all lawyers was $114,970 ($55.27 per hour) in May 2014. The bottom ten percent of lawyers earned less than $55,400 while the highest ten percent of lawyers earned in excess of $187,200.

Animal lawyers frequently perform a portion of their animal law work pro bono, so they face a loss of income for any work performed on this basis.

Lawyers who own their practices, or are partners in a practice, tend to earn higher end salaries than those who work solely as employees. Salary can also vary widely based upon the attorney’s level of experience, their specific area of practice, their geographic location, and the number of billable hours that the position can provide.

Career Outlook

Interest in this field is currently outpacing available opportunities, so students may not be able to go directly into animal law practice after graduation due to the keen competition for positions.

Many new attorneys interested in animal law must do pro bono work in the field, or include it as a smaller portion of their overall legal practice.

The field of animal law has shown considerable growth over the past decade, and that trend is expected to continue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job opportunities for all lawyers will increase at a rate of 6 percent over the decade from 2014 to 2024, the same as the average for all professions.