On someone’s car last week I saw a paw print-shaped magnet with the words, “Who rescued who?”
I’ve been struggling with law school these past few months. Will being a lawyer make me happy? Even if being a lawyer doesn’t make me happy, am I morally obligated to become a lawyer if that means I can use more tools to help animals? My grappling has centered around this essential question: Animals mean the world to me, so shouldn’t I be willing to sacrifice a little career happiness to help them out?
When I say this out loud, or write it down, it sounds silly. There are many ways to help animals, and many individuals and organizations around the world help animals in myriad capacities every day. But that’s not the aspect of my struggle I want to focus on right now. I had an epiphany at a “NALC” practice session this past weekend. The National Animal Law Competition (NALC) is an annual inter-law school competition presented by the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark, in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The event is comprised of three separation competitions: Closing Argument Competition, Legislative Drafting & Lobbying Competition, and Appellate Moot Court Competition.
Lewis & Clark started something new this year. The school held competition classes for each category of competition. Professors taught essential techniques for each skill, followed by in-class competitions to demonstrate our newly-learned skills. Two students were then selected from every class (four students for Moot Court) to represent Lewis & Clark at the national competition, this year being held in Los Angeles. I have the honor this year of representing our school in both the Closing Argument and the Legislative Drafting & Lobbying Competitions.
Had someone told me five years ago that I would not only be willing to stand up and orally advocate for animals, but able to do so decently, I would have told this person that he or she was flat out wrong. Ten years ago, I probably would not have said anything at all. Instead, I would have stared at the floor in silence hoping the person would stop talking to me, replaying over and over in my head the dialogue I wished to say, but didn’t have the courage to speak out loud. I was shy –painfully shy– for as long as I can remember. In middle school I picked up the clarinet and flute, and I learned to make my instruments my voice. By college, I got more serious about singing, and forced myself to sing solo in small chamber ensembles and for juries. Still, my singing was bashful, and my heroic voice teacher spent countless hours teaching me to at least act confident when I walked on stage. My second year of college was, hands down, the worst year of my life. You couldn’t tell from looking at paper records from that year: my grades were better than ever; I was teaching my own sixth grade Hebrew School class for the first time, after redesigning the curriculum; I performed in more musical groups than I have fingers on both hands; etc etc etc. Despite my outward accomplishments, though, I spent almost every second wanting to hide. I was fortunate enough that summer to intern in Hong Kong at Animals Asia Foundation, and my experience there changed my life.
It is funny the first time I felt like I belonged – in an office on the streets of Sheung Wan, a town bustling with sidewalk sales of preserved (and potent!) sea products. Perhaps it was the striking juxtaposition of the streets reeking of dead animals, emblazoned with bicycles carrying hundreds of skinned chickens, and the friendliness of my new coworkers genuinely asking if they could see pictures of my dog; I felt at home in Animals Asia. Traveling to Hong Kong by myself for a summer was my first time to a non-Western country. I couldn’t, to this day, be more different than the majority of people I saw every day during those months. I dress differently, I talk differently, and I have a very difficult time eating rice and soup with chopsticks; but being in an organization with people who have devoted their lives to helping non-human animals just felt right. I was particularly enchanted by the prospect of helping animals through a broader means –through the law– rather than rescuing only individual animals. This gets me back to my recent struggle: If animals mean so much to me, and I truly believe I can best help them through the law, shouldn’t I sacrifice a little happiness to pursue that goal? The answer came to me in my NALC practice.
Advocating for animals is, in our legal system, advocating on behalf of the voiceless. Animals are property in our legal system; they do not possess legal rights, or have standing to bring a suit to enjoin their suffering. (For more information on nonhuman animals’ status as property and how that could or should(n’t) be changed, read about Professor Steve Wise’s Nonhuman Rights Project, or David Favre’s “A New Property Status for Animals: Equitable Self-Ownership.”) Animals are depending on the animal law movement’s well-known heroes –Joyce Tischler, Mariann Sullivan, Steve Wise, Rebecca Huss, and so many others– as well as today’s animal law students, to help improve their situation, property status or otherwise.
What I realized during my NALC practice was that, through learning to speak up for the voiceless, I have found my own voice. I have never been prouder or more excited to share what I am hoping to do than when I speak about my animal law training. I readily admit that I do not, try as I might, enjoy every second of studying or clerking; but my question of sacrifice was completely wrong. I am not sacrificing myself to help animals; in fact, quite to the contrary, they have helped me find myself, and find my voice. The paw print bumper magnet asked, “Who rescued who?” I think I know the answer.
Happy minds at work preparing for the Animal Law Review Symposium:
Hiking with friends in a place where everything stays green even as winter approaches:
The Fruit Loop! Apples galore around greater Portland:
Yesterday I got word that a dear friend of mine, whom I’ve known for 20 years, has a large brain tumor. She wasn’t feeling well last week, went for an MRI, and in that minute, her whole life changed. She is a beautiful, strong woman with two children and a loving husband. I look at this challenge in her life and think to myself, now that is adversity. But of course, my friend, the beautiful strong woman that she is, looks at this as an opportunity to learn to love and appreciate life better.
So why share this story? Because I am adjusting the lens through which I look at my life right now in law school. Law school is challenging. My plate is full, my brain is overstuffed, and my heart is heavy in reading daily about the injustices that our legal system seeks to mend. But every day, I am choosing both to be here and to be engaged. I think that from 1L to 2L year, what has changed is my level of engagement. On one hand, I chose all my own classes this year and I am engaged because I care deeply about each topic; I bring more background knowledge to the table than I did in my classes last year, so it is easier, at least for me, to engage. On the other hand, that age-old maxim that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know — it’s true. I have figured out how law classes work, I no longer panic about being called on; but, my 1L feeling of being overwhelmed with how much legal information there is to learn has only grown. Luckily for me, I get to keep learning.
A few highlights from this semester:
Lewis & Clark hosted the 19th Annual Animal Law Conference this past October. Serving as the student conference coordinator, I spent the last 9 months working as a team with Center for Animal Law Studies professors, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), and my fellow students, making sure every second of the three-day conference ran smoothly. The Conference sold out over two months before the event, and the waitlist had over 80 people. With 43 guest speakers from all over the world, there were many highlights of the weekend. My favorite talk was Friday night’s keynote by Animal Legal Defense Fund founder Joyce Tischler. Joyce empowered her audience to believe in tikkun olam, an old Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world.” There was not a dry eye in the venue when Joyce told us that she believes in us and our ability to repair the world for animals.
Animal Law Review hosted our first-ever Symposium. We invited four renowned animal law scholars from across the country to write articles for our journal, and speak about their topics in international animal law at an afternoon Symposium. I am excited that the Symposium was so well-received, it will become an annual tradition at Lewis & Clark. Animal Law Review is the oldest animal law journal in the country, and the leading of the five existing animal law journals. It is entirely student-run, with financial support from ALDF, and I take great pride in what we as students are able to put together.
I am clerking for the ALDF Litigation Department. I have the honor this year of clerking remotely for ALDF’s national litigation director Carter Dillard. Clerking is exhilarating in that I apply what I have learned in classes to real life to make a real, tangible difference for animals. However, clerking has also opened my eyes to the reality that much of legal work is persistence — spending days reading through cases, hoping to find caselaw that supports my premise. When I find something that works, my excitement (and relief) knows no boundaries.
There’s an amazing phenomenon that law school creates. It’s this time warp where days go slowly, but weeks keep whizzing by. Finals are in three weeks… Thanksgiving is next week. I am grateful for many things, but for now, I am most grateful for my new lens. I am stressed about finishing up work in the next two weeks and preparing for finals; but, I have a strong network of people around me who both share in my stress and help alleviate it. I am choosing to be stressed by choosing to be engaged. Looking at this month’s anxiety that way, I can start to take a step back and realize that my stress is, in a strange way, a gift.
On a lighter note, I came to another realization this week: my dog is in fact smarter than I, and all this time, I wasn’t clever enough to admit it. Case in point: Last night, I said, “Ebony – Down,” and she stood there and cocked her head at me in apparent confusion; then I said, “Ebony – want some lettuce?” and she ran to the fridge. All this time I thought she didn’t know what “down” meant; yeah, right. I never even tried to teach her the word lettuce. (Ebony loves lettuce. She is not vegan, but all the tablescraps are, so she has learned to love her veggies.)
Below is a picture of Ebony and me at the Portland Walk for Farm Animals. Our Lewis & Clark Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) team helped raise almost $1,500 for Farm Sanctuary through this Portland walk, which was organized by two of our SALDF members.
Well, I’ve been meaning to blog for the past month, but summer school has been much busier than I anticipated! I’ve had a very enriching summer in the classroom. I finished administrative law, and am SO glad I took it this summer. It’s brought a whole new level of understanding to my animal and environmental law classes. The highlight of my summer though has been taking two-week animal law intensives. My first animal law course (ever!) was Transactional Animal Law, a course that essentially delve into all the ways animal law affects regular, every-day people: animals in wills and trusts, service animals, animals in federal housing, breed restrictions, etc. It was actually a great review of many of my 1L courses, as it incorporated a lot of property law, torts, and bits and pieces from other classes. I was relieved to find that I remember what I learned from my 1L classes! (I just hope I can remember it in two years for the Bar….)
This summer has been a little bit of an emotional roller coaster. The good news: I’m coming out of it smiling, and gripping a little less tightly….the part where after you go up and down and whirl in a loop, you rush toward the end and it’s exhilarating. (This coming from someone who REALLY enjoys roller coasters in the literal sense – especially the ones that overlook the water, like the Superman ride at Six Flags New England…but I digress.) It was tough to start intense summer classes only a couple weeks after wrapping up finals (even with a camping trip in between). Honing in on animal law in my first animal law classes forced me to reexamine the reality that animal law jobs are hard to come by, because animals aren’t plaintiffs, even if they had money. And the job market conversation in any field is an unhappy one at the moment for many people all over the country. I was really inspired though by my Farmed Animals professor Joyce Tischler, animal law luminary and founder of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). The more I thought about how nervous I am that I won’t find a job in two years, the more I realized that I have relatively little to be concerned about. When Joyce founded ALDF, she created a job for herself in a non-existent animal law economy. In doing so, she paved the way for a whole movement. Listening to her tell stories in class of her earliest cases on behalf of animals, I realized a huge appreciation for her perseverance and determination.
If you’re in law school, or about to be in law school, you are smart, you work hard, and it’s likely that you are often successful at achieving what you set your mind to. I think I take for granted that my working hard usually results in pretty immediate, if not instant, gratification. Thus, the thought of working hard through law school to not find the perfect job waiting for me at graduation is frustrating. I see now that I should reinterpret my frustration as motivation to persevere.
Thirty years ago, Joyce founded the Animal Legal Defense Fund, sharing her vision for animals with a few like-minded attorneys. Today, over one hundred law schools around the country offer at least one animal law class. Lewis & Clark Law School offers many animal law classes and a whole animal law summer program with the best animal law scholars from around the world. And as of last week, Lewis & Clark is the first school in the country to offer an Animal Law LL.M. I bet Joyce didn’t foresee this…but maybe she did, and that’s what kept her fighting.
As I reflect on the past couple months, I acknowledge that my brain is close to explosion with all the substantive law I learned. But more importantly, I have a newfound patience, and a faith that I CAN make a difference, if I keep working at it, and I accept that I won’t be successful at every turn. I think back to my first blog post, about seeking a greater perspective; I feel as though I’ve come full circle. In the last 12 months, I have learned more facts, more rules, and more law, than I ever thought possible. I started out this journey wanting to help animals, and wanting to always remember why I am in law school. A lot of trees later, I think I’m seeing the forest again.
- Before you leave on an impromptu camping trip, you should check how cold it is going to be at night.
- If you have never built a tent before, it may be a good idea to try to do so before it is nighttime on a fairly empty campground. The good news: there is a steep learning curve. Even if it takes you four hours the first night, it will only take 10 minutes after that first time.
- Hiking and tenting trips are a great way to celebrate the end of a school year.
I always find the end of a semester anti-climactic. I miss the days of elementary school, where the class celebrated the last week of school (let alone the last day) by communally cleaning desks, watching movies, eating food, and signing yearbooks. That communal end-of-the-year ritual came to an abrupt end in college, where people are stressed and grumpy during the last week of classes, and then everyone quietly disappears after they finish their last final. Or worse: they finish their last final before you do, and then you don’t want to see them celebrate without you. Law school seems to be much like college in this regard, with the exception of finals with our pods. Even though I knew in the back of my mind that I am competing with my classmates on the curve, I appreciated the comeraderie of scheduled exams, where the whole pod was in it together. Our last exam was criminal procedure – and then we were all done at the same time. But the anti-climactic feeling was much the same. All semester people buzz about finals, reading period hits and people frenetically cram (ahem, I mean, they review the outlines they made over spring break), and then finals are just over, and everyone disperses.
I filled my first weekend of freedom with activities, in an attempt to fill the gaping void that no-more-studying left. Among the highlights, I recommend a visit to the rhododendron garden (about 20 minutes from Lewis & Clark), watching a film at the IMAX theatre (about 15 minutes from Lewis & Clark), and if you are here on the right weekend, participating in the Oregon Humane Society Doggie Dash (in downtown Portland).
This funny guy was also hanging out in the rhododendron garden:
The Doggie Dash raised over $315,000 for the Oregon Humane Society.
Oh, and a super fun food cart on NW 23rd. I got the Thai PB&J. Vegan, and it actually tastes like Thai food. So good.
After my busy weekend, I returned to school to do some non-class-related work, but by Friday, I was desperate for a brief change of pace and scenery. So I bought a tent, and Ebony and I set out to the San Juan Islands for our first-ever camping adventure. (It was about a 4 1/2 hour drive north of Portland, and then just $53 to drive onto the ferry to get to the Islands. Then once you are on the islands, going east is free.) Evenings were quite cold, but I celebrated the lack of rain, although the sun was still hiding; all in all, it was a peaceful trip away from my computer and books. Most excitingly, I saw about a dozen bald eagles at different points in my trip – my first time seeing these magnificent birds out of captivity. Ebony had her first face-to-face encounter with a deer while we were hiking Mt. Constitution – it is a toss-up who was more unnerved, her or the deer. We saw foxes and seals and sea otters, and we even went on a whale watch (Ebony included!).
Success at last!
The view from atop Mt. Constitution:
A treat to see:
Ebony’s First Whale Watch:
End of the trip:
I’m back in Portland now, genuinely rejuvenated from my week away, and ready to start summer classes tomorrow. I plan to make these trips a tradition. Next time to someplace different, and keeping it very low-budget, but making a point to set aside time for simplicity and reflection.
Stay tuned to hear about summer classes!