Recommendation: The Animal Law Course at HLS

By James Patton, Animal Law Society Treasurer

Last semester I enjoyed taking Animal Law with Professor Justin Marceau; it was one of my favorite classes I have taken in law school.  The class started out by covering the scientific and philosophical arguments supporting animal welfare and/or rights, such as the claim that animals can suffer and therefore humans should consider their welfare.  The class also, of course, considered laws concerning animals, such as animal cruelty laws.

However, much of the course was devoted to learning about and hearing from different animal welfare and rights groups.  Lawyers from the Nonhuman Rights Project spoke to the class about their legal efforts to secure Happy the Elephant’s release from the Bronx Zoo by filing writs of habeas corpus in New York State Court.  A representative from the Humane Society spoke about working with low-income communities to help people take care of their pets and keep them and avoid animal cruelty charges.  Wayne Hsiung, the founder of DxE, came and spoke about going into factory farms and capturing footage of the cruel conditions of animals there and rescuing animals in danger.  In other words, the class showcased the incredible people working in the animal law movement and their different thoughtful approaches to the issues surrounding animal welfare and animal rights.  Although the animal law movement has its issues, such as the harsh prosecution of animal abusers, the class gave me much hope for the future of the animal movement because of all the different, brilliant people involved.  I highly recommend taking Animal Law, whether with Professor Marceau, Professor Stilt, or another professor.

Why Animal Law?

By Andrew Stawasz, Animal Law Society Co-President

More than a few people have asked me why I have chosen to focus my academic and professional pursuits on animal law. As with anyone’s life path, the full answer is long and winding, but for a short version, three factors stand out to me: animal law is impactful, interesting, and fun.

Animal Law Is Impactful.

Whatever one’s views on animal ethics, certain ways that humans treat animals are widely agreed to be off-limits. In other words, we all believe that lines exist that people shouldn’t cross when they interact with animals—lines that are often denoted with terms like “cruelty,” “neglect,” and “abuse.” The law represents one tool to ensure (i) that people are not able to cross those lines easily and (ii) that appropriate consequences attach when they do.

While it is rapidly growing, animal law is still a small field. I’ve therefore frequently felt that my efforts, which might represent only modest contributions in more crowded legal spaces, palpably move the needle in this space, even this early in my legal career. Thus, I feel able to contribute quite a bit to efforts to keep people from stepping over those lines, which is a great motivator for me.

Animal Law Is Interesting.

Animal law presents a number of puzzles. As with many puzzles, I find them fun to solve. For example, some animal law cases present a question of whether an animal should have standing to sue or petition for certain rights. One cannot intelligibly answer that question without engaging in deep inquiries into what standing is for, what access to courts is for, what rights are for, and what traits are necessary or sufficient to grant each of those.

Similarly, most judicial opinions dealing with the question have categorized animals as “property” or “chattel” for legal purposes, but a good number of those explicitly express discomfort with that idea, even as they uphold it. As then-Texas Supreme Court Justice, now-Fifth Circuit Judge Don R. Willett memorably remarked, “Throughout the Lone Star State, canine companions are treated—and treasured—not as mere personal property but as beloved friends and confidants, even family members. . . . Even the gruffest among us tears up (every time) at the end of Old Yeller.” Strickland v. Medlen, 397 S.W.3d 184, 185 (Tex. 2013). Resolving this tension necessitates grappling with what property is, exactly, and how the law creates and assigns entities to legal categories.

What better way is there to learn about the law at a deep level than to engage with questions like that?

Animal Law Is Fun.

This last point is less about animal law itself and more about the amazing and thoughtful people who make up the field. As the field is so small, I’ve already been fortunate enough to cross paths with many animal lawyers at many levels. I’ve been absolutely thrilled to meet people who all chose this less-traveled path for one or another reason, which makes for a wonderfully vibrant community. From the members of Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Program to the many colleagues I’ve met in classes or at speaker events, conferences, internships, and externships, I could not think of a better way to spend my time as a lawyer.

This is why I came to and continue to love the animal law field.

Welcome to the new school year!

Welcome to the new school year! We are so excited to bring animal law events to our virtual community this fall. The best way to get involved is to join our email list. You can also explore this website for more information about our organization and our events!

First, we’d like to introduce our new board for the 2020-2021 school year! Please feel free to reach out to any of us if you’d like to learn more about animal law careers, classes, or the HLS animal law community!


Elizabeth MeLampy
Andy Stawasz

Vice President:

Michelle Kim


Jack Patton

Campus Outreach Chair:

Eric Macomber

Events Chair:

Caroline Graif

Communications Chair:

Rebecca Garverman

We are so excited to be serving on the ALS board this year!

Here’s a quick preview of our events for the semester. We are lining up an array of animal law experts to speak to our community throughout the semester, on issues ranging from farm animal welfare and litigation, to undercover investigations, to wildlife protection work. We are hosting virtual coffee chats with animal lawyers, so we can learn more about their careers in animal law and get advice for how to succeed in this field. We are hosting virtual vegan cooking classes, happy hours, and other social events, as well.

If you have any questions, or ideas, please reach out to, or individually to any of the board members. We hope to see you at one of our events soon!