Monday, January 5, 2015
I just left the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting this morning. I came back to a flat tire at the airport, but let's not dwell on that . . . . The conference was a good one, as these zoo-like mega conferences go.
I presented at the conference as part of a panel that focused on teaching courses and topics at the intersection of animals and the law. (Thanks for the plug, Stefan!) Yes, although it is a little known fact, I do teach courses involving animals and the law. Regrettably, it is a somewhat rare thing for me, since I always have to teach these courses as an overload. However, I also am the faculty advisor to our campus chapter of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and UT Pro Bono's Animal Law Project (which compiled and annually updates a Tennessee statutory resource used by animal control and other law enforcement officers, as well as other animal-focused professionals, in the State of Tennessee). In addition, I coach our National Animal Law Competitions team. These non-classroom activities give me ample time to teach in different ways . . . .
I will not rehash all of my remarks from the panel presentation here. In fact, I want to make a very limited point in this post. While my calling to legal issues involving non-human animals is rooted in large part in being the "animal mom" of a rescue dog and rescue cat, I also participate in educational efforts in this area because I see it as my professional responsibility as a lawyer--and in particular, as a business lawyer.
Paragraph 6 of the Preamble of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct instructs us as follows:
As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession. As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority. A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Therefore, all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel. A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the bar regulate itself in the public interest.
I will not take the time to engage each aspect of this paragraph independently. Rather, I will just note here that (in no particualr order):
- the interests of non-human animals are under-represented (and often unrepresented) in the U.S. legal system;
- the legal status of non-human animals is ambiguous and evolving;
- people often believe that non-human animals are treated unjustly in our legal system;
- non-proft organizations (most of which are organized as charitable corporations) do much of the heavy lifting in protecting animals from a legal and practical standpoint; and
- non-profits also are under-represented (and sometimes go unrepresented) in the U.S. legal system.
I teach and mentor students about legal issues involving non-human animals in and outside the classroom at The University of Tennessee College of Law and College of Veterinary Medicine to alert them to these circumstances and needs, which impact the operation of our legal system and its impact on the administration of justice. I aim to inspire students to "devote professional time and resources and use civic influence" to ensure better access to justice for all in matters involving non-humans. Most specifically, in highlighting the need for practitioners skilled in legal issues relating to animals who are willing and able to work with non-profits, I hope to generate student interest in supporting animal welfare through legal work with non-profit organizations.
So, as part of my course offerings involving animal law, I introduce students to the law of non-profit business organizations and offer them examples of how these organizations can help assure legal justice for our non-human neighbors. This legal work involves, in many cases, becoming well-versed in local ordinances, state civil and criminal law, as well as business associations law. For this purpose, I have sometimes used a simulation exercise involving a client desiring to start a bunny rescue organization.
In this way, "animal law" (a label I do not wholly endorse--but it is admittedly short and to the point) is business law. And business law is animal law. Hence, this post.
In closing, it seems important to note that the broad reach and flexibility of the law of business associations, of which animal issues are only a small illustration, are also value propositions important to students in a standard Business Associations course. Accordingly, at the beginning of the semester in my basic Business Associations course, I make this observation by showing students that business associations impact (create, sell, etc.) almost everything around us on a typical day in a typical classroom. The suggestion that business law can be used to promote animal welfare is perhaps less obvious--yet often, but not always, more powerful and provocative.