By Neil H. Shah
Via The Harvard Crimson
Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic will enter a new chapter after the departure of its director at the end of this semester.
From an ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding its laboratory inspection policies to successful advocacy efforts to allow plant-based milk alternatives to be labeled and sold as “milk,” students and staff at Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic have been hard at work over the last few months.
The Animal Law & Policy Clinic has also campaigned in recent months to change policies governing the treatment of nonhuman primates in research.
The clinic co-authored an open letter to the National Institutes of Health in February, urging the agency to defund a Harvard Medical School lab over its animal research. Last month, the clinic won a lawsuit in Maryland District Court challenging the USDA’s denial of a rulemaking petition that called for improving standards for the treatment of primates involved in research.
Since its establishment by the Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program in 2019, the clinic has aimed to improve the treatment of animals through policymaking, litigation, and other forms of legal advocacy.
Professor Katherine A. Meyer, the Animal Law & Policy Clinic’s founding director, announced last December that she will be stepping down from her position at the end of the 2022-23 academic year. The search for Meyer’s successor is still ongoing.
Meyer guided the clinic through a rapid rise to prominence, mentoring students as they pursued lawsuits against the USDA and U.S. National Park Service, as well as petitions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
According to Law School professor Kristen A. Stilt — the faculty director of the Animal Law & Policy Program — the decision to launch the clinic was partly motivated by a “great need for really rigorous advocacy” to complement the program’s scholarly work. She also cited student interest in a clinic dedicated specifically to animal law.
“There’s no substitute for this very intensive work in-house, supervised by a clinical faculty member in this incredibly academically rich setting,” Stilt said.
The Animal Law & Policy Clinic represented Harvard Law School’s foray into what Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 called a “burgeoning field” of legal advocacy at the time of its launch.
Meyer, the outgoing clinic director, said the process of starting the clinic was “kind of easy,” as years of experience in animal law at a public interest law firm left her with a plethora of potential policy projects and litigation. As a result, she was ready to get started immediately.
“At my interview — I think — with Kristen Stilt for the job, she said, ‘What’s your vision for the clinic?’ and I pulled out a legal pad that had like 55 project ideas,” Meyer said. “I was like, ‘Go, go, go.’”
Chris Green, executive director of the Animal Law & Policy Program, said the Animal Law & Policy Clinic has sought to differentiate itself from other legal clinics — taking on heftier work than typical student projects and supporting amicus briefs.
“A lot of law school clinics — not just in the animal realm but just generally — they often will just piggyback on other work in the field,” he said. “We really didn’t want to do that.”
Green compared the Animal Law & Policy Clinic to major animal advocacy organizations, though he added that the clinic often has more freedom in choosing its projects.
“Even at a lot of the major animal protection groups, they have such broad donor bases and they have to please a lot of folks that it sometimes keeps them from being as progressive as they might otherwise be,” Green said. “Whereas we have a much smaller donor base and all of our donors really want us to have the complete liberty to swing for the fences.”
The clinic sees its role as an “incubator for new ideas,” Green said, adding that the clinic’s resources and “nimbleness” allow it to pursue its own cases and policy projects with relative freedom.
When choosing projects for the clinic to pursue, Meyer said she tries to ensure that the clinic diversifies its initiatives, as its clinicians pursue a wide variety of academic and professional interests.
Meyer stressed that she did not want the clinic to become too focused on certain areas of animal advocacy and that she instead wanted it to take on a broader scope of issues.
“I wanted to make sure this clinic was not just concentrated on advocacy to make animals be persons,” she said. “My position is there’s a lot of other work that can be done under existing laws to protect and advocate for animals.”
“I wanted to make sure that we were advocating on behalf of animals both in captivity — so research animals, zoo animals, animals used in entertainment — but also animals in the wild,” Meyer added.
Green highlighted another element of the clinic’s approach to animal law: its media strategy. The clinic — unlike some others at the Law School — has a full-time communications director.
“When Kathy first arrived, she was saying how media is such an important part of her litigation strategy,” Green said. “Often, you may actually not prevail in court, but the public attention that is generated about a case that you file is so massive that you sort of achieve the same ends anyway.”