December 22, 2023

15 Years of Advancing Legal Progress for Animals

This year commemorates the 15-year anniversary of the Center for Animal Law Studies’ founding. In honor of this milestone, we reflect on the remarkable growth of animal law education since CALS opened its doors in 2008 and some of our key achievements.

Lewis & Clark animal law students volunteering at Green Acres Farm Sanctuary with Professor Joyce Tischler and Animal Law Program Coordinator Danielle Lopez. Photo by: Makenna Susman

By Lewis & Clark Law School 2L and CALS Law Clerk, Mei Brunson

The Humble Beginnings of Animal Law and Its Education

The robust field now known as “animal law” traces back to the 1970s, when a handful of lawyers, including Joyce Tischler, who is now a Lewis & Clark Law School Professor of Practice, began experimenting with the American legal system to advance animal protections. While the nascent field began to grow, a lack of formal educational opportunities in animal law persisted for decades. The first animal law course was taught in 1977 at Seton Hall University School of Law, yet by 2000, there were still only nine animal law classes offered across the entire U.S.

The limited learning opportunities forced early advocates to creatively draw from their experience and education in varied fields such as constitutional law, criminal law, and environmental law to improve animals’ legal status. Professor Tischler reflects on that time as one involving “a very tight knit group of lawyers who were passionate about helping animals and who felt a strong sense of community with each other. We were friends, as well as colleagues.” Yet, this time period was also marked by a lack of institutional and societal support for animal law.

In the year of CALS’ founding, Professor Tischler published the first of two journal articles that provide an in-depth overview of the field’s growth. These articles are entitled The History of Animal Law, and appear in the Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy: Part I (1972–1987) and Part II (1985–2011).

Lewis & Clark Law School Responds to the Need to Institutionalize Animal Law Education

The emerging animal law movement recognized the need to expand animal law education and meet the growing demands of passionate lawyers eager to leverage their legal skills to protect animals. Lewis & Clark Law School rose to the challenge and, in 2008, founded CALS in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

CALS was launched as a first-of-its kind comprehensive animal law program with the goal of educating the next generation of animal law advocates, expanding and refining animal law curriculum, and advancing progress for animals through the law. The earliest practitioners had started with a blank sheet and filled it to the best of their abilities. The time had come to educate the next generation of animal lawyers in large numbers.

Lewis & Clark Law School had already established itself as an innovative hub for animal law education at a time when it rarely existed. In the 1990s, passionate law students led on-campus initiatives to introduce an animal law curriculum. In 1993, a small contingent of students founded the first Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter in the nation and initiated what would later become the annual Animal Law Conference, now in its 32nd year. In 1995, students also published the first issue of Animal Law, the nation’s premier (and longest running) law journal dedicated exclusively to scholarly animal law issues. Lewis & Clark was among a handful of law schools that offered one course in animal law. It thus made perfect sense for CALS to find a home at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Since its founding 15 years ago, CALS has helped extend animal law’s reach around the world and fostered a robust community of students, faculty, alumni, and supporters dedicated to animal justice. Just a few of our key achievements include:

  • CALS offers the most robust animal law curriculum in the world (with a diverse offering of more than 25 individual animal law courses!).
  • In 2012, CALS launched the world’s first Animal Law LLM program. Attorneys from across the country and globe were eager to pursue an advanced degree in animal law, and they were welcomed to Lewis & Clark’s campus in Portland, Oregon. Among the inaugural cohort were both freshly graduated JDs and mid-career attorneys, most of whom lacked formal opportunities to study animal law when earning their initial law degrees.
  • In 2013, CALS entered into a formal collaboration with ALDF to present the Animal Law Conference. The conference continues to showcase cutting-edge legal work and scholarship in animal law, drawing hundreds of attendees each year.
  • In 2021, CALS extended animal law education’s influence even further. Eight years after welcoming the first cohort of LLM students to study in person at Lewis & Clark, CALS expanded the LLM program to include an online, part-time option. Now, mid-career lawyers from anywhere in the world can earn their advanced animal law degree while maintaining their professional and personal obligations. Whether already working in animal advocacy or aspiring to shift towards their passion, lawyers can hone their expertise in wildlife law, companion animal law, farmed animal law, and more.
  • In 2022, CALS significantly increased accessibility to animal law education by launching the nation’s first advanced legal degree in animal law for non-lawyers: the Animal Law MSL. The program is offered in-person and online.
  • In 2023, CALS announced the Animal Law SJD, the world’s first and only animal law doctoral program. The equivalent of a PhD in legal education, the SJD is designed to equip LLM degree holders with the advanced research skills, program structure, academic rigor, and experiential opportunities necessary to become the next thought-leaders, educators, and scholars shaping animal law and public policy.

Animal Law Education Today

Whether through developing curriculum and degree programs, organizing events, training animal advocates, or collaborating with other emerging law school programs, CALS’ innovative efforts over the past 15 years have contributed to the growing acceptance of animal law and its education among lawyers, scholars, advocates, and society at large.

Through focused vision, hard work, and diligence, CALS has built an animal law epicenter, where today’s students can more readily study animal law during law school, hear about and attend numerous animal law conferences and symposiums, gain relevant practice and experience, create networks to enhance their job opportunities, and, after graduation, channel their passion for animal protection and rights into careers devoted to improving the lives of animals.

As we mark our 15th anniversary, we are grateful for the tireless work of animal lawyers and advocates everywhere who have made this progress possible. We are proud of our 80 advanced degree alumni from over 28 countries, in addition to our JD students who call Lewis & Clark Law School home because of the rich opportunities it affords animal advocates. Reflecting on the years since CALS’ founding, the field of animal law is certainly no longer the fringe practice area it used to be. Our animal law community is stronger than ever because of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and we cannot wait to see what the next 15 years will bring for animal protection and CALS.


Mei Brunson (pictured with Cupcake) is a 2L at Lewis & Clark Law School passionate about leveraging the law to advance animal, environmental, and social justice. Her interest in holistic food justice led her to intern with Farm Sanctuary during her 1L summer, and she is eager to continue expanding her legal knowledge and experience to improve her advocacy. She is a law clerk for the Center for Animal Law Studies, working with CALS’ Associate Director, Megan Senatori.


The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) was founded in 2008 with a mission to educate the next generation of animal law advocates and advance animal protection through the law. With vision and bold risk-taking, CALS has since developed into a world-renowned animal law epicenter. CALS’ Alumni-in-Action from over 25 countries are making a difference for animals around the world. CALS is a nonprofit organization funded through donations and grants.