Cleveland State University College of Law recently launched the David H. Braff Animal Law Center and Clinic. The Center is the first of its kind at an Ohio law school. In addition to a dedicated Animal Law Clinic starting in January 2024, the Center will offer academic courses, public programming, externship opportunities and scholarships.
“We plan to build an animal law program that will be among the finest in the country, providing students with excellent practical learning opportunities, and providing justice for animals,” said CSU|LAW Dean Lee Fisher.
The Center was spearheaded by David Braff, a graduate of Cleveland State University’s Criminal Justice Program and The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. He serves as Of Counsel with Sullivan and Cromwell in New York City, where he has practiced for nearly four decades. Braff joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund board in 2021. He has always been particularly interested in animal welfare, stemming from his family’s love for dogs and horses, and time spent on their 30-acre farm in Pennsylvania.
To mark his retirement from fulltime practice, Braff wanted to find a way to give back to his alma mater. For him, establishing the CSU|LAW Animal Law Center met the dual objective of giving back and serving a critical broader societal need. He intends to be actively involved in the Center’s activities and to volunteer as a senior clinical advisor for the Clinic.
“The unjust treatment of animals—whether domestic animals, farmed animals raised for food, or wildlife—has proliferated and has been exacerbated by the climate crisis,” explained Braff. “Having practiced law for 40 years, I know firsthand the power of the law and our legal system to bring about justice and lasting change. And through my involvement with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, I have seen time and time again how the legal system can bring about lasting justice for animals.”
The work of the Animal Law Clinic, which will serve as a tentpole of the Center, will be wide-ranging, with a focus on justice for animals, including the prosecution of domestic animal abuse cases; curbing puppy mills, dog fighting and roadside circus abuses; and fighting against wildlife, exotic and farmed animal abuses.
“Students will receive practical, hands-on training on being effective advocates for the humane and ethical treatment of animals,” explained Senior Clinical Professor of Law Carole O. Heyward, who will serve as the Center’s Faculty Director. “They will learn about and engage in a variety of advocacy efforts including litigation, legislative and regulatory initiatives, and community education and outreach.”
Taylor Waters recently joined CSU|LAW to serve as the Supervising Attorney and Director of the Animal Law Clinic and Center. Waters has promoted animal law as an animal litigator and recently through the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Pro Bono program. Over her career, she litigated against puppy mill brokers using the Ohio Consumer Sales Protection Act and fought tirelessly for companion animals injured due to veterinary malpractice. Waters completed her LL.M. in Animal Law from Lewis & Clark Law School’s Center for Animal Law Studies.
“I really love experiential learning and finding a home for animal law in educational settings,” said Waters. “It is so rare to find an opportunity like this – to be part of a new Animal Law Center and introduce students to animal law cases and skills. Law schools, especially schools like CSU, are such incubators for working on Capital-J justice, and the passion that students bring is infectious!”
For Waters, there was never a question about where to focus her legal practice. Her undergraduate major at Western Washington University was in “Law, Diversity, and Justice: Animals.” She hopes to convey that excitement to current and future law students and show that there are careers available in animal law.
“If students leave this Clinic feeling like they worked on something that mattered and that they made a difference, that’s a win,” Waters continued. “If we can support the law toward being more animal friendly, that would also be a big win. If students can develop transferable skills, understand the careers available within animal law, and walk out with tangible work product, that is a great success for us as well as the students!”
The inaugural class of students will join the Animal Law Clinic for Spring semester this January. The Clinic will work with community partners to find clients and intends to accept publicly submitted cases.
Waters feels the depth of experiential learning, the transferability of skills, and being able to join an international community of animal lawyers will make this clinic an attractive option for students. With most facets of animal law still emerging, a lack of clear precedent cases can make for exciting opportunities. The passion that many people feel about this area of the law and the related cases can not only be exciting, but also offer skill development that can set them apart as attorneys.
“Animal law is unique in that it is a dimension to almost every practice area, but is also singular on some issues,” explained Waters. “Students will be able to learn client communication skills that are unique to animal law. Most clients don't understand why their pet, if injured or killed by someone's negligence, isn't treated with the respect and care that a human family member would be under the law. When I was applying to jobs out of law school--and I have heard this from other animal lawyers as well--it’s the animal experience that makes a candidate interesting. It shows potential employers that the students care, are passionate, and may have a unique insight into communicating with clients.”
A dedicated Advisory Council has been established for the David H. Braff Animal Law Center to provide ongoing support and guidance. The Council is comprised of highly accomplished individuals and alumni including senior law school leadership, experienced animal law practitioners, and representatives from the Cleveland Metro Parks, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the federal judiciary. The Center will develop relationships with community based and national animal welfare organizations, as well as law enforcement and other public agencies.