Spotlight on the Animal Legal Defense Fund – Because animals have rights too!

aldf-logo-burgundyThe battle for animal rights is one often one that people don’t think about, especially if they are not a pet lover/animal enthusiast. It is because of this that an organization like the Animal Legal Defense Fund is so necessary and to get an insight on what the ALDF does I talked to Joyce Tischler, general counsel of the ALDF to fill Progressive Lawyer in on the great work this organization does.

Progressive Lawyer: Please introduce yourself and describe your role in the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Joyce Tischler: I am Joyce Tischler, co-founder and general counsel of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. I served as ALDF’s first executive director for 25 years. For the first few years of the agency’s existence, I was the CEO, litigator, legal secretary, fundraiser, administrator, conference organizer, and facilities manager. In other words, I did everything that needed to get done, but not very well! Each time, someone has taken over a piece of my original job, I feel very successful! One of the things I’m grateful for is that my role in ALDF has been able to change and adapt as the agency has grown. Currently, I advise the CEO about internal legal matters, and handle transactional legal issues (contracts, HR issues, etc.). I also write, publish, speak and teach on a wide variety of topics related to the growing field of animal law. For additional details, here is a link to my website bio:

PL: Why was your organization started? What issues does it confront?

JT: ALDF was started to address the legal needs of a large segment of society that lives in the shadows: nonhuman animals. Most humans consider animals as interesting, in some cases, fascinating, cute, cuddly, dangerous, etc. But, they rarely view animals as beings who are worthy of concern, or worthy of recognition of their inherent interests or needs.

We use other animals to meet a broad array of human needs and desires: we wear their body parts (fur, leather, wool, silk), eat them, exploit them in entertainment (movies, zoos, circuses), hunt and trap them, use them as companions, perform invasive medical research on them, and use them to test toxic substances, all without a lot of thought about the impacts these uses have on the animals. In fact, the negative impacts are widespread and extreme for the animals. In our society, 98% of animals live lives of frustration and pain. The largest number of animals and the greatest suffering occurs in CAFOs (factory farms). It is widely documented that, in the U.S. alone, we raise and kill ten billion animals per year. They live in horrible conditions, and are killed inhumanely. Most of us look the other way; we don’t want to know about the suffering.

ALDF was started to give animals a voice through the law; to bring their interests to the bargaining table. Over that past 36 years, ALDF has challenged a wide variety of the abuses. Please check our website for our current lawsuits and other legal projects:

PL: What services does your organization offer? Who is its primary clients/audience?

JT: ALDF offers four types of services, divided into four programs:

Litigation Program:

Criminal Justice Program:

Legislative Affairs Program:

Animal Law Program:

As part of the Animal Law Program, ALDF funds the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School, the world’s most comprehensive program for the study of animal law.

ALDF represents itself and other nonprofit agencies, and individuals in lawsuits. However, our primary clients are always the animals who we seek to protect. That may sound arrogant; critics sometimes ask how we know what is best for the animals. Our response is that we approach it humbly and ask ourselves what is in the best interests of the animals.

PL: How do you utilize the law to further your organizational goals?

JT: I think I’ve answered this in the links I sent you above but pretty much everything we do is focused on legal solutions to the problems. ALDF is the only animal rights/protection agency that focuses solely on the use of the law to protect animals and establish their legal rights. We sue civilly, work with prosecutors to assure more aggressive enforcement of anti-cruelty and other criminal animal protection laws, work to pass legislation that better protects animals, and build the field of animal law.

Joyce Tischler
Joyce Tischler

PL: What role do legal professionals play in your organization?

JT: Attorneys and legal professionals are involved in all four programs. ALDF self identifies as a legal organization. The involvement of legal professionals is central to all parts of our work.

PL: ADLF has a very active engagement with law students. Do you offer any internships or volunteer opportunities?

JT: You will find a wide range of opportunities for law students by checking the Animal Law Program section of our website. Also, see my answer to the question below.

PL: How would a legal professional pursue a career with your organization? What advice would you give to a law student or legal professional who would be interested in this type of law?

JT: Check this:

If you are a law student, the best way to approach ALDF is to take one or more animal law classes, join or form a Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter at your law school, apply for a clerkship or internship with or volunteer for ALDF, and/or compete in the annual Moot Court competition. A full list of the available resources, including clerkships with ALDF as well as other organizations, grants, scholarships and upcoming events is on the ALDF website:

If you are interested in working full-time in the field, I suggest that you join ALDF’s Animal Law Program, which will enable you to keep in touch with the latest developments in animal law. Check ALDF’s events and opportunities pages of the Resources section of the website: . You will find employment opportunities, fellowships, and events where you can learn more about animal law, and network with leaders in the field.

If you wish to be involved on a part-time or pro bono basis, there are many opportunities: get involved with your local animal rights group, humane society, or a national animal rights or protection group. Learn about the various problems faced by animals. Write an article about some animal law issue for your local newspaper, local bar journal, or animal law journal. Teach an animal law class and/or mentor law students. If you are with a firm, ask your firm to allow you and other attorneys to participate in pro bono animal law related opportunities. ALDF relies heavily on pro bono attorneys to handle or assist with our civil lawsuits. Contact ALDF directly if you wish to do pro bono work for us. Let the firm know of your interest in animal law early on; ALDF can help you to provide the pro bono coordinator with information on other law firms that are currently doing animal law pro bono work. For more ideas, visit ALDF’s Attorney Spotlight page on its website to see what pro bono work other attorneys and firms have done recently.

PL: You have an annual conference. What goes on at this and are law students able to attend?

JT: ALDF partners with the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School to host an annual Animal Law Conference. It is open to lawyers, professors and law students. Each year, there is a different theme, but we also cover recent cases and legislation, current theoretical debates, as well as practical issues.

Here are the agendas for the 2013 and 2014 conferences: ;

We are currently planning the 2015 conference; it will be held at Lewis & Clark, and the theme is international animal law.

PL: How do you balance your work life with your private life?

JT: To avoid burnout, I have learned to balance my time among work, rest and play. I have a loving family, and a close-knit community of friends, many of whom are not involved in animal protection. I meditate regularly, exercise, visit museums, tell dumb jokes, laugh whenever possible, have meals with loved ones, spend a lot of time outdoors, and participate actively in my local Unitarian Universalist congregation.

PL: Outside of your organization, what issues are you particularly passionate about?

JT: Protection of the environment and responses to climate change, protection of immigrants in the U.S., child slavery, gender equality, oppression of women in other parts of the world, civil rights, gun control, transparency in government, economic inequalities in the U.S., the list goes on…

PL: What do you think the role of law and lawyers should be in society?

JT: Lawyers can serve a wide variety of roles in society. I will answer that question for myself, only. I came of age in the 1960s, and I saw lawyers as change agents, serving as leaders in every major social movement. I became a lawyer to create broad based social change, and to help foster a society that is kinder, less violent, more nurturing and compassionate, and more inclusive of all of its members.

PL: Thank you so much for your time!

[Contains graphic material.] For more than a quarter-century, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has been fighting to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. Visit for more information.

Until next week!

Leave a Comment