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

  • George Washington Law and the Animal Legal Defense Fund Partner to Train Future Animal Law Teachers
  • Only a handful of law schools now have animal rights programs

(Reuters) – A new partnership between the George Washington University School of Law 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 professors 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 rights grows and there are more cases, we need lawyers,” said Stacey Gordon Sterling, director of the Fund’s animal rights program. “We need students who have taken animal rights in law school and taken a clinic so they can get down to business.”

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

At most schools, animal rights is an optional course taught occasionally by an adjunct, if offered at all, Sterling said. She said the George Washington program will develop curriculum and materials that will make it easier for more schools to offer classes on the subject.

“Anything a law school can do to spark interest in animal rights and help advance the field and scholarship is only good,” said Chris Green, executive director of the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy program at Harvard Law.

Animal rights, the protection of endangered species, and animal cruelty tend to get the most attention in practice. But animal law touches on 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 broad the field is, Sterling said.

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

“It will take some time for this initiative to work and to train enough teachers,” Sterling said.

Read more:

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Karen Sloane

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools and legal affairs. Contact her at

Nancy I. Romero