Student News

Photograph by Gordon Schmidt

A fair number of students arrive at law school knowing they want to be an attorney, but not what kind. Through classes, mentors, clerkships, and such, they gravitate in one direction or another.

Not Rachel Snead, L’19. She knew where she wanted to make a difference well before she decided that law was the best career for doing it: animal welfare.

“I wanted to be a veterinarian for a long time,” she said. When she took the necessary prerequisites as a VCU undergraduate, she discovered that the relevant sciences weren’t her strong suit. Plus, a thought kept nagging at her: “I realized that I didn’t want to be responsible for an animal’s day-to-day welfare.”

Enter law school, which ticked many of the same boxes for her. With a little research, she discovered that Virginia — with its animal law unit in the attorney general’s office — was a good place to pursue a career in animal welfare. And Richmond Law — with its animal law course and student-organized Animal Law Society — was the right place to do it.

Next year, Snead takes over as the Animal Law Society’s president. She puts its membership at around 30 students, with 10 or so very active in organizing and running events. One recent event — a CLE charmingly called FURisprudence — drew strong attendance, she said.

Animal law is “intersectional,” touching on family law (e.g., divorce disputes over pets), criminal law (e.g., abuse cases), wills and trusts (e.g., pet care after death), and so on, she said. “Animal law intersects with any areas of law you can think of.”

And, like in some other areas of law, the needs of those who benefit from this advocacy are great.

“You’re representing a group that is voiceless,” she said, analogous in some ways to representing young children or people with severe disabilities or who are incapacitated. “The difficulty in animal law is that animals are not recognized under the law as anything more than property.”

And so Snead helps organize and advocate on their behalf at the student level in preparation for a career trajectory she has chosen because, as she tells those who ask, she expects to find it deeply fulfilling.

“It’s an answer most people aren’t satisfied with,” she said. “If you’re interested in protecting animals, that kind of compassion usually correlates to other areas. Compassion of one kind leads you to be compassionate for anyone and everyone. I want to leave the planet better than I found it, and I think this would be a really awesome way to do that.”

The Animal Law Society is one of three dozen student organizations at Richmond Law, spanning interests from service to affinity groups and practice areas.