An environmental lawyer? It wasn't long ago that the idea would have seemed to have limited demand. Two in-house lawyers claim the same could some day be thought of their practice area - animal law.
Growth might be slow by way of law reform, but animal law is an emerging field in Australia that's steadily gaining interest in academic circles, and opening a limited amount of opportunities in not-for-profit organisations.
David Weisbrot, president of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), has labelled animal law the next great social justice movement in Australia. Earlier this year, he told a forum that the rise in animal law courses in Australian universities was proof enough that the area has seen unprecedented growth, one which "parallels a similar growth in environmental law courses a generation ago".
As with environmental law a couple of decades ago, the opportunities for work in animal law might be few and far between. Still, the passion of individuals working, studying and researching in the field is high and competition for the limited jobs that are available makes the field of work an even tougher one in which to find paid work.
Two lawyers who have found paid work in animal law - Dr Malcolm Caulfield, legal counsel with Animals Australia, and Sarah Kossew, a lawyer with Voiceless - did so by undertaking pro bono work with their prospective organisations then asking for fulltime employment.
For Caulfield law is a second career, following on from training as a pharmacologist and working in a medical school in Scotland. Working as a commercial litigator, his veterinarian wife who has a considerable interest in animal welfare, assisted him in undertaking pro bono work with Animals Australia.
Later, and jobless after a move to Tasmania, Caulfield contacted his pro bono client: "I
picked up the phone and asked Animals Australia if they wanted a lawyer," he says.
For Kossew, the job with Voiceless came a little more directly from university. She says she alwaysintended to use law to work for social justice and after landing a graduate position at Tresscox and undertaking pro bono work at Voiceless, she later landed a fulltime role with the organisation.
Both Caulfield and Kossew believe they've landed what could well be two of only a handful of fulltime legal positions in animal law - but both agree the field has faced dramatic expansion in just a few short years.
Caulfield says: "If we look back over the last five years, we've seen the establishment of
Voiceless by the Sherman Family, and the appointment of Katrina Sharman as their general counsel, and the emergence of several animal courses."
So for an animal lawyer, who exactly are the clients? Kossew says that much of her work at Voiceless is in some way similar to that of Tresscox Lawyers, only the clients vary dramatically. "With animal law, though, you've got completely different pressures, your clients can't ring you and say 'hurry up.'"
But much of the role, says Kossew, revolves around reform and education, work that may be very different to a day spent in a law firm. There are also plenty of reports the organisations works on, with extensive legal
While not prosecuting any cases, Kossew believes the legal work at Voiceless is just as effective. Currently, they're pushing for reform around food labelling to drive consumers to make informative choices about where their food comes from and, says Kossew: "hopefully there will be enough of a backlash to warrant the government doing something about it."
Still, Caulfield believes the area of law is still not getting the attention it deserves, and cites difficulties at the academic level as proof. "I'll be honest and say that a lot of the people who are trying to start law courses are finding that it's a real uphill struggle against faculty management."
And Caulfield isn't too optimistic about just what's available for those also looking to follow a similar line of work. "The blunt truth is that at the moment I would see virtually nothing in the way of legal careers out there, other than working for what I'd call the opposition," he says. "If you wanted to go work in a law firm for exporters you might get a few briefs. There are one or two firms who have cornered the market there, but that's not what I would call animal law."
It's possibly not what someone with a dedicated interest in animal law would necessarily be looking to do. While Caulfield says he'd like to see the court systems used more to tackle issues of law around intensive animal farming, he says: "The blunt truth of the matter is that litigation is an expensive and risky game and it's not one that many charities can afford to get involved in."
- Angela Priestley