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Adjunct professor Cheryl Leahy’s new class to educate students on animal law

Animal law

UCLA School of Law's new course on farming and agricultural law by adjunct professor Cheryl Leahy is funded by a 2004 endowment of $1 million received by the School of Law from former television host Bob Barker to fund research and education in the field of animal law. The course is expected to be offered once every three years.
Compiled by Erin Donnelly, Bruin senior staff.

By Alexia Boyarsky

Sept. 23, 2012 8:22 a.m.

Before she was out of middle school, Cheryl Leahy was giving presentations on animal law without even knowing it.

When the current UCLA School of Law adjunct professor decided to become a vegetarian at the age of 11, her parents took some convincing. But after three years of Leahy’s presentations and research on the benefits of vegetarianism, even they were convinced.

Since then, Leahy has pursued her passion for animal advocacy in a variety of ways, most recently by starting a new course on farming and agriculture law at UCLA that focuses primarily on factory farming.

Factory farming is the industrialized method of farming in which animals are raised on farms often in crowded conditions for the purposes of being slaughtered for food, Leahy said.

This class, one of several specialty animal law classes that have been taught at UCLA, is funded in part by a $1 million endowment the School of Law received in 2004 from former television host Bob Barker to fund research and education in the field of animal law, said Taimie Bryant, a UCLA professor of law who helped bring Leahy’s class to UCLA.

The endowment to the School of Law was one of eight donations to law schools across the country to promote animal law education, Bryant said.

Nationwide, this is one of the first classes to be taught focusing specifically on laws pertaining to factory farming and animals in agriculture, Leahy said.

“I hope that this class is among the first of what will become a trend,” she said.

Farming and agricultural law is difficult to explain because it does not fall under a specific legal field or practice, Leahy said.

UCLA already has an Animal Law course taught by Bryant that covers a broader scope of laws dealing with all animals, but the new class focuses solely on animals in agriculture. The course teaches ways to use established laws in various fields to enact positive change for animals in factory farming, Leahy said.

The class also attempts to show the many overlaps that animal law has with other fields and causes such as environmental law, human rights concerns and health and safety issues, she said.

However, despite the potentially broad reaching consequences that animal law can have, Leahy said it is only now starting to gain traction with more law schools offering some courses on the subject.

Even within the UCLA School of Law, some students do not realize that this type of law class exists, said Kelsey Rinehart, a current student in the class.

“There is a little bit of skepticism towards the field generally,” she said. “We have to fight to establish that we’re a serious form of law that is worthy of study.”

Another difficulty that students may face in this field is the lack of jobs that focus solely on animal law. Besides working for nonprofit organizations or teaching the subject, it is rarely a specialty for a lawyer, Rinehart said.

Fellow student Nathan Davis, however, said that regardless of what type of law you end up practicing, it is possible to also work on animal law issues.

“I think it might be difficult to land a job in which you’re only doing animal law, but I don’t think it would be hard to incorporate some aspect of it into whatever you’re doing,” he said.

Davis said that even though at the moment most of his classes focus on banking, he will try to incorporate animal law into his future career as well.

Although the class is currently one of the first in the field, Leahy said that she hopes that the field of factory farming law will continue to grow as it has done since she graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2006 when there were no classes on the specific subject available.

Because of the specific nature of the new class, Bryant said it is unlikely that it will be offered more than once every three years or so because of the turnaround in students that is required to maintain interest in the course. However, for students that are interested in animal law, she said the law school may organize other specialized courses.

“The direction of this field is not yet clearly defined,” she said. “What we do know is that people are becoming more aware of these issues and they are bringing new ideas, tactics and techniques to try to fight some of the worst problems.”

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