What Does an Animal Lawyer Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
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. They often represent animal rights organizations, veterinarians, pet owners, or anyone in a legal dispute that involves animals.
Animal Lawyer Duties & Responsibilities
This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:
- Conduct research.
- Analyze relevant legal questions.
- Stay informed about animal rights issues.
- Interpret laws and previous rulings.
- Advise clients.
- Present facts verbally and in writing.
- Prepare legal documents.
- File legal documents.
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.
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.
Animal Lawyer Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track salaries specifically for animal lawyers, but the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) reports that attorneys starting out as animal lawyers should expect to earn about $50,000 annually. The numbers below are for all lawyers.
- Median Annual Salary: $120,910 ($58.13/hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $208,000 ($100.00/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $58,220 ($27.99/hour)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Education, Training, & Certification
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, law students will have earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.
- Education: Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, established the first 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.
- Certification: After completing seven years of formal education, lawyers must pass the bar examination to be eligible to practice in their state. Most states require attorneys to complete continuing education requirements to keep their legal licenses in good standing.
- Training: The 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.
Animal Lawyer Skills & Competencies
In addition to the knowledge and experience necessary to earn a law degree and pass the bar exam, there are several soft skills that can help attorneys be effective at the job.
- Research skills: Most legal cases involve extensive research into relevant precedent cases. Attorneys need to work diligently to find previous rulings and opinions that best support their clients' cases.
- Analytical skills: Every case is different with unique factors that attorneys must be able to weight against the law and precedent cases.
- People skills: Being an attorney involves dealing directly with clients, negotiating with other attorneys, and sometimes making arguments before judges and juries. It's important for lawyers to have the law on their side, but good people skills can get others to care about why it might be important.
- Empathy: Representing animal rights requires genuine care and concern for the well-being of animals in society.
Job opportunities for all lawyers are projected to increase by about 8% for the decade ending in 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is slightly better than the 7% projected for all occupations. There frequently is considerable competition for jobs in the field with more than 1.3 million lawyers actively practicing law in the U.S., according to the American Bar Association, as of December 2017. More law school graduates pass the bar and join the ranks every year, increasing that competition.
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.
Lawyers typically follow regular business hours, but it's also common for them to work more than 40 hours per week. The job often involves extensive research and paperwork in addition to meeting with clients or taking part in court proceedings.
How to Get the Job
Be prepared for the types of questions asked during job interviews.
Being active in animal rights organizations can be a source of job leads.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in being an animal lawyer also might consider one of the following career paths, listed with median annual salaries:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018