by Elizabeth MeLampy J.D.’21
Coming to law school, I knew I cared about animals, but I had only a vague idea what “animal law” meant. The fact that HLS had an Animal Law & Policy Program was part of why I chose to attend law school here, but I had no understanding what a practical career would actually look like. I took the Animal Law course my 1L year, and interned at an animal advocacy organization my 1L summer, but still felt like animal law was an opaque area that I couldn’t quite get my hands around. The Animal Law & Policy Clinic, which I enrolled in my 2L year, has offered me an unparalleled practical and educational experience in the field.
In my three semesters in the clinic, I have written memoranda, motions, briefs, and petitions. I have sent a letter urging the Biden Administration to rescind policies that restrict the government from considering the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on animals under the Endangered Species Act. I have learned about substantive statutory schemes including the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and others. I’ve worked on projects related to captive animals, farmed animals, wildlife, oceans, and climate change. The variety of the Clinic’s work has been engaging and fulfilling, providing students with new opportunities every semester.
The Clinic also encourages students to work directly with our clients, who are generally nonprofit organizations advocating for animals. I’ve met dozens of lawyers and advocates through my semesters in the Clinic. Learning about the breadth of animal law—from wildlife law, to farm animal protections, to researching animal regulations—from such a wide array of attorneys has been invaluable as I think about beginning a career in this field.
As I move rapidly towards graduation, I have been reflecting on the many hours I have spent advocating for animals in the Clinic. Most days of law school, the work that has felt the most important to me was not class reading or running a student organization, but my clinical work. When captive animals are being treated inhumanely every day—living in their own waste, drinking out of algae-filled bowls, suffering injuries and illness without veterinary care—based on a regulation, how could I prioritize anything other than working on our petition to change the regulation? When hundreds of chickens are killed every second, how could I not prioritize a brief in a case challenging the lack of humane handling regulations for poultry at slaughter? These problems feel real and urgent, with the potential to make a significant impact for the animals suffering under poor regulations and laws. I know many students feel this way about their clinical experiences. Hands-on work like this that matters has been the best learning experience of my time at law school.
Importantly, the Clinic does not leave students with a rosy view of animal law. We often are fighting uphill battles, where the case law is either unclear or unfavorable, and we have to think creatively to use statutory and regulatory schemes to our advantage. Litigation is a long process, and trying to amend administrative rules and regulations is similarly drawn out. Even as I feel a compelling urgency to work on these issues, the law itself can be frustratingly slow-moving and deliberate. Having patience with the legal process while also remaining staunchly impatient about the change we want is a lesson in and of itself.
To advocate is literally “to speak for”—lawyers often fill the role of speaking on behalf of their clients in court, in filings, or in negotiations. I am motivated to speak for animals. Animals communicate in ways foreign to our legal system, yet are subjugated and mistreated under it daily. They need translators and advocates who can wade through the morass of regulatory schemes and industry propaganda to understand the daily lives of animals, and work for change that matters. I have met many such advocates over the course of my semesters in the Clinic—and I hope to continue this work for a long time.