WHAT WE DO

The Animal Law Clinic begins in Spring 2013. This clinic will provide opportunities to learn skills in three different areas of animal law practice.

Government Practice Externships. The first area of practice involves a rotation through both the Harris County Attorney’s Office (civil) and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (criminal). On the civil side of the rotation, students will address issues relating to civil seizures and regulation of dangerous dogs and wild animals. On the criminal side of the rotation, students will address issues relating to prosecution of the various cruelty provisions in the Texas Penal Code, such as animal cruelty, neglect, abandonment, and animal fighting. The governmental practice rotation will help students develop advocacy, litigation, and legal research and writing skills, as well as the opportunity to see the interrelatedness of county-level civil and criminal work.

Research and Writing Development. The second area of practice involves working with private animal law practitioners. Through connections with the State Bar of Texas and the Houston Bar Association Animal Law Sections, the clinic will take animal-related issues submitted by practitioners for distribution to students. Students will research and analyze the issues, write supporting memoranda, provide advice to the practitioner, and provide any follow-up assistance to the case. Students will also participate as editors for the Texas Animal Law Journal, a publication of the State Bar of Texas Animal Law Section, by editing practitioner articles and writing short updates on important cases and statutory changes. The research and writing development part of the clinic will expose students to the diversity of issues that a private practitioner faces, including those related to companion animals, livestock and other commercially used animals, and help students develop research, analysis, writing, and interviewing skills. Because on-site presence is not generally required for this type of work, this area provides opportunities to part-time students who might otherwise be unable to participate in the clinical program.

Shelter and Rescue Assistance. The third area of practice involves assistance to the needs of local animal shelters and rescues. Often unrepresented because of lack of funds, shelters and rescues can seek representation through the clinic on a variety of issues, including cost recovery for animal maintenance, replevin actions, contract drafting, and creation of 501(c)(3) status, as well as request advisory opinions on Texas law. Shelter and rescue assistance will help students develop advocacy, litigation, legal research and writing, and drafting skills.

Students in all three areas of this clinic will work under the close supervision of full time faculty and supervising field attorneys to develop lawyering skills, professional wisdom, and judgment.

WHY WE SELECTED THIS CLINIC
South Texas College of Law has created the Animal Law Clinic to address both a growing interest among students and an important need in the community. South Texas currently provides students instruction in animal law in three courses—an animal law survey course is an advanced writing seminar, which address issues relating to companion animals and livestock, and a natural resources law course, which covers regulation of wildlife and habitat. Although each course includes problem-based analysis, and the seminar develops academic writing and oral presentation skills, other skills-related projects are limited.

The Animal Law Clinic also fills a pressing need in the community. As the largest county in Texas, Harris County faces a great number of cases involving animal cruelty and regulation, but often does not have the funds to fully meet its needs. Non-profit shelters and rescues operating under constrained budgets are often unable to find pro bono legal representation as well. Student assistance from the Animal Law Clinic—the first Animal Law Clinic in Texas—will help to fill this need while offering the students additional skills training in a broad practice area that includes topics in administrative law, criminal law, family law, estate planning and property law, among others.

WHO’S INVOLVED

 
   
Fran Ortiz
Professor of Law
 
 

ORGANIZATIONS / PARTNERS

The Animal Law Clinic will work in conjunction with the Harris County Attorney’s Office, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the Animal Law Sections of the Houston Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas, the Houston Humane Society and other private shelters and rescues, and various city and county animal control authorities.

FUTURE PLANS
With contacts at the local, state, and national level, South Texas College of Law has a unique opportunity to provide its students with a well-rounded learning experience. Current plans involve expanding its government practice area to include externships with the United States Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG), the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD). Working with the USDA-OIG will expose students to federal animal law issues under the Animal Welfare Act, including animal fighting and compliance with laws relating to animals used for research. The USFWS and TPWD will expose students to issues relating to regulation of wild animals, including endangered species and hunting and fishing laws.

The scope of the research and development portion of the clinic will also be expanded to include research assistance to governmental organizations for which an externship has not yet been created, such as with the federal entities above as well as similar state agencies. Plans for assistance to rescues and shelters include incorporating additional skills training such as conflict mediation.

A fourth area of practice involving long-term case management and litigation may also develop through the assistance of the Animal Legal Defense Fund as opportunities are presented.