Chicago Students Place in National Animal Law Competition

Three University of Chicago Law School students earned honors in a national legal competition focused on questions of animal law.

Molly Wiltshire, ‘12, placed second in the closing argument competition of the 2012 National Animal Law Competitions at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law. A team comprised of Lily Becker, ’12, and Alejandro Herrera, ’13, took second place in the appellate moot court competition. Heather Mapes, ’13, who was unable to make the trip, wrote the team brief with Becker.

The competition was presented by the Center for Animal Law Studies, based at the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. From Feb. 24 to 26, more than 70 students from 23 of the nation’s top law schools came together to gain knowledge about animal law and strengthen their oral and written advocacy skills. They wrote briefs, legislation, and oral arguments based on cases of animal welfare and cruelty.

The Chicago students are part of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter here at the Law School. It was started four years ago by student Vince Field, ’11, who also lobbied successfully for the addition of an animal law course.

At the annual competition, “There’s a lot of very passionate people who go and really love animals,” said Becker, who also placed second in 2010, in the legislative drafting and lobbying division.  Becker, who owns cats Hermione and Neville, has a clerkship set up after graduation in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, but hasn’t ruled out a career in animal law in the future.

This year, Becker and Herrara argued a fictional animal rights case in appellate court. In the case, an animal activist trespasses in a factory farm to take photographs of mistreatment and posts them on the Internet, interfering with the farm’s business. The students had to argue both sides of the case.

Arguing for the government, and against the animal activist, “was tough,” Becker said, “but it was a legal argument, so you don’t need to necessarily believe in it as a moral matter to make the best argument you can make.”

The final round of the moot court competition took place in front of actual judges: D. Brooks Smith from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and Lee H. Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Wiltshire said the event was a great learning experience and a lot of fun. She was one of 16 students in the closing argument competition, where she was given a trial record off which to draft a closing argument.

“It was exciting to get such positive feedback from attorneys working in the criminal law field,” she said. “One of the judges thought that I had worked in a prosecution clinic before.”

Six other Chicago students traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the competition. They are: Sarah Weinraub, ’12, Jenni James, ‘12, Vicky Ortuondo, ’13, Kara Harrington, ’14, and Stephanie Gratton, ‘14. Randall Johnson, ’12, served as coach of the first-year students.

Chicago students interested in animal law will have several opportunities to learn more in the days ahead. The Student Animal Legal Defense Fund is observing Animal Law Week, with  events planned for April 2 – 4. All events are in Room V.

On Monday, Michigan State Law Professor David Favre presented, “CITES: A Mess or Just Stumbling Along for Endangered Species?” CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

On Tuesday, from 12:20 to 1:30 p.m., David Wolfson, an Adjunct Professor at New York University Law, Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School, and Partner at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, will present, “Modern Developments in Farmed Animal Law.”

On Wednesday, from 4 to 5 p.m., Joyce Tischler, the co-founder of the Animal Rights Defense Fund, will speak on “The History of Animal Law.”