The Animal Legal Education Initiative

The Animal Legal Education Initiative (ALEI) is dedicated to developing Animal Law as a stand-alone legal discipline that is fully integrated into the legal academy. ALEI works to develop animal legal education; hosts and sponsors events and conferences; supports scholarship; creates courses and programming for students; provides opportunities for local, regional, national, and international faculty and students to collaborate on the development and integration of a comprehensive body of Animal Law; and increases the capacity for, and rigor of, Animal Law teaching.









Academics & Projects

What We Do

Blue elephant with animal law words written in it


ALEI provides an exceptionally broad range of events, resources, and advocacy, including:

  • Educational and practical opportunities for law students through the Animal Law program, including:
    • Teaching
    • Experiential opportunities
    • Pro Bono and Networking opportunities
    • Externship/Field Placement
    • Events and Conferences
  • Animal Welfare Project - pro bono services and support to the District of Columbia government, humane organizations, and community groups working to strengthen the welfare, rights, and protection of animals
  • Webinars, resources, committees, and programming addressing important intersections through the Animal Law and Science Project
  • Work focused on aquatic animals through the Aquatic Animal Law Project and World Aquatic Animal Day
  • Coordination among animal law academics, scholars, and programs through the Council on Animal Legal Education
  • Education and support for animal law-focused education for high school and college students, including the ALEI x Coolidge High School Project
  • Increasing students’ ability to successfully find employment within the Animal Law field

About ALEI

The purpose of the Animal Legal Education Initiative (ALEI) is two-fold. First, to be the catalyst for the work required to fully incorporate Animal Law into the legal academy as a core, stand-alone discipline with synergies and benefits both to and from already existing disciplines. Second, to be the leader in developing innovative animal legal education initiatives through scholarship, curriculum development, improved access, and policy.
In addition to the teaching, scholarship, curricular development, and faculty training that will benefit GW Law students and faculty, ALEI will also be a resource for others engaging in these endeavors.

Visit the Animal Law program page for more information on the Animal Law academic offerings.

Animal Law matters for many reasons. First, of course, it leads to the protection of the animals with whom we share the planet and who we use for a variety of purposes: entertainment, research, education, companionship, food, etc. Second, without healthy animals, the environment is harmed and humans also suffer as a result. Third, positive and appropriate human relationships with animals supports the well-being of both. Fourth, Animal Law is an evolving area of scholarship and practice. Due to the ubiquity of the presence and use of animals, almost every area of the law also includes elements of Animal Law. To be a competent attorney or scholar one must understand the areas of overlap and be able to address them.

Because Animal Law is important, teaching and learning about Animal Law is necessary. In addition to learning about Animal Law specifically or as it relates to other areas of law (contracts, property, torts, constitutional law, evidence, administrative law, wills and trusts, environmental law, international law, criminal law, wildlife and natural resources law, law of the ocean, etc.), students who study Animal Law also benefit from an overview of how the law operates, how it evolves and changes, and when it doesn’t work well. This type of specific and structural overview is great preparation for the bar exam.

An Animal Law course also helps students consider intersectionality in the law, vulnerable populations, trauma, law reform, structural change as it relates to social consensus, and many more important concepts. Because animals are present in our everyday lives, the topics are very accessible, always relevant, and never static.

ALEI is a unique endeavor in legal education. While there are two centers focused on improving law teaching generally, and a handful of Animal Law programs, there is no program focused on the development of a discipline that comprehensively addresses Animal Law scholarship, curriculum development, and policy. ALEI is designed to fill this void—focusing on Animal Law scholarship, education, and the development of an Animal Law discipline more broadly, while simultaneously providing opportunities for students to learn and practice Animal Law. ALEI will not compete with existing Animal Law programs, but instead includes them in a collaborative consortium – the Council on Animal Legal Education.

In 2019, Kathy Hessler, concerned about declining support for animal law courses in the U.S., hosted an Animal Law Summit at Lewis & Clark Law School, where she was the Director of the Animal Law Clinic and the Aquatic Animal Law Initiative. The goal of the Summit was to consider the role of animal law in legal education, assess whether there was declining institutional support, and consider strategies to improve its sustainability and growth. Stacey Gordon Sterling, one of the faculty members who attended the Summit, was also concerned about the lack of support for animal legal education. Stacey became the Director of the Animal Law Program at the Animal Legal Defense Fund and worked to gain financial support to develop a new program. She consulted with Kathy who suggested a program focused on the integration of animal law within the legal academy.

Stacey and Kathy worked with Joan Schaffner to partner with The George Washington University Law School, building on the school’s twenty-year history of offerings in animal law. They then also worked with Iselin Gambert and others at GW Law to help guide the program to approval.

ALEI was approved by GW Law and supported by ALDF in 2021. GW Law conducted a national search for an Assistant Dean to lead the Animal Law program and direct ALEI and selected Kathy Hessler.

The first ALEI event was co-sponsoring the Fall 2022 Animal Law Symposium with ALDF. Sadly, Stacey passed away in December 2022 after a mighty and courageous battle with cancer. She is greatly missed, but her work to create ALEI lives on and will result in the support of students, programming, scholarship, curricular development, collaborative academic efforts, and the improvement of the lives of countless animals.

Upcoming Animal Law Events


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ALEI Director

Kathy Hessler

Assistant Dean, Animal Law Program; Director, Animal Legal Education Initiative; Co-Director, Animal Law & Science Project; Director, Aquatic Animal Law Project; Director, Council on Animal Legal Education; Director, ALEI x Coolidge High School Project

ALEI Faculty Directors

Joan Schaffner

Joan Schaffner

Associate Professor of Law; Faculty Co-Director, Animal Legal Education Initiative; Director, Animal Welfare Project

Iselin Gambert

Director, Fundamentals of Lawyering Program; Professor, Fundamentals of Lawyering; Faculty Co-Director, Animal Legal Education Initiative

More ALEI and Animal Law Faculty

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