March 08, 2024

Opening Doors for Women Lawyers

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating Professor Joyce Tischler and the pivotal role women play in the animal protection movement.

Photo by We Animals Media, Unbound Project

Women have played a prominent role in the contemporary animal rights movement since its inception in the late 19th century, spearheading early animal welfarist and anti-vivisection efforts in the United States and United Kingdom. Today, women constitute an estimated 70-80% of the animal protection movement. Still, despite women’s significant and historical contributions to advancing animal protections, their representation in leadership roles remains disproportionately low. Women are a crucial driving force to building a more just world for animals, yet they are not calling the shots as often as they should be.

Professor Joyce Tischler is an inspiring exception, with a forty-year legal career that underscores how the inclusion of women in the legal field, and specifically in leadership in the animal protection movement, strengthens advocacy. Joyce disrupted the status quo by bravely entering the legal profession when she was one of few women, and, at the same time, helping launch the modern animal law movement by co-founding the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) in the late ’70s.

But she didn’t just break the proverbial glass ceilings for herself. Throughout her career, she has actively mentored women lawyers to lift them up with her.

Trailblazing “Mother of Animal Law”

When Joyce graduated from law school and entered the legal profession in the late ’70s, the field was predominantly composed of men. As a fresh graduate, she worked at a law firm as its first woman attorney on staff. All of the other women in the office worked either as paralegals or secretaries. Law was not a very welcoming space for women then.

In contrast, women were very much actively engaged in animal advocacy (as they long had been). Yet these women and the animal rights movement were still struggling to gain legitimacy at a time when society often dismissed their efforts as feminized and overly emotional (“old ladies in tennis shoes”). It was in this environment, in 1979, that Joyce co-founded ALDF before presiding as its Executive Director for 25 years.

Joyce found herself challenging stereotypes about women on two fronts. During her early years litigating for animals, there was widespread acceptance of neither women in law nor the concept of animal law. She had to overcome a multitude of biases in both the legal profession and the animal protection movement, requiring her to carve out her identity as an attorney, a woman, and an animal advocate. Although she admits that her perspective has evolved over time, at the time she felt obligated to conform to reductive tropes and tout “logic,” professionalism, or, in her words, becoming a “robot lawyer,” to be taken seriously as a woman fighting for animals in the courts.

Affectionately recognized today as the “Mother of Animal Law,” Joyce distinguished herself through a thoughtful and strategic approach to advocacy and inclusion. Her efforts not only advanced animal rights, but also elevated the role of women in both the law and animal protection leadership. But she didn’t close the door behind her. She has actively supported the inclusion of women within the animal justice movement over the past four decades by mentoring other women and supporting their assumption of leadership positions.

Mentoring Fellow Women Animal Advocates

Joyce took the extra step of mentoring fellow women throughout her career at ALDF, and has continued that role since joining CALS in 2019. She is always eager to support the women in CALS leadership, including Pamela Byce, CALS’ Assistant Dean and Executive Director.

Before their time together at CALS, Pamela worked with Joyce for 15 years. In 2003, Joyce hired Pam as ALDF’s Animal Law Program Director when there were only nine animal law courses across the country. During her time at ALDF, Pamela focused on expanding animal law in academia and legal practice. The work was both rewarding and challenging but Pamela relished the support and guidance she received from Joyce, who was always there to mentor and counsel. Pam says: “When I was in law school, there were very few animal law offerings and Joyce’s career and passion offered inspiration to budding animal lawyers like me that the field could grow. It was like a dream come true when I then got to work with Joyce at ALDF, and she took me under her wing and invested in my success, and that of so many other women lawyers. More than 20 years later, Joyce continues to inspire me as my mentor, colleague at CALS, and friend. The world is a better place because of Joyce Tischler.”

Today, Joyce continues her commitment to mentor, support, and inspire not only the CALS team, but also the next generation of animal law advocates. She teaches Animal Law Fundamentals, an introductory course that provides students with a foundation upon which to delve into specialized animal law studies. But Joyce is most passionate about protecting farmed animals, teaching our Industrial Animal Agriculture Law class. Some of the most exploited animals in the world are the billions of female farmed animals. The Mother of Animal Law educates and inspires her students to fight for all animals, but she has a special soft spot for advocating for these animal mothers.


Four decades ago, Joyce helped kickstart the now burgeoning field of animal law, setting in motion a global movement aimed at advancing protections for animals through legal systems. In doing so, she has also inspired and empowered countless women to confidently advocate for animals and to pursue leadership positions in the movement.

Joyce’s story therefore demonstrates the positive ripple effect of inclusion. As more women occupy leadership positions, it becomes easier for others to envision themselves in similar roles and step into them with confidence.

An inclusive movement also strengthens our animal advocacy by incorporating a diversity of perspectives which, in turn, resonates with a broader audience. It enables us to more meaningfully work towards our shared vision of a more just world for all—animals and women included. With the guidance and inspiration provided by influential women leaders such as Joyce, women continue to play a pivotal role in advancing animal protections and, more and more often, they are also calling the shots.

About the Authors

Megan Senatori is the Associate Director of the Center for Animal Law Studies where she helps CALS achieve its organizational mission to educate the next generation of animal law advocates and advance animal protection through the law. She is an integral member of the leadership team with a focus on key organizational goals, priorities, and innovations to support and facilitate the growth of CALS. She is also an Adjunct Professor teaching in the online advanced degree program.


Mei Brunson (pictured with Cupcake) is a 2L at Lewis & Clark Law School who is 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.


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.