An interview with Paula Sparks

Paula SparksPaula is an ALAW trustee and a Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, where she specialises in clinical negligence and personal injury litigation with particular expertise in inquests and human rights issues. She was recently interviewed for the Chambers and Partners newsletter, and the article is reproduced below with kind permission.

Practice law with the animals…

Young lawyers can help to nurture animal-orientated ethics from the grass roots, for example by joining the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare (ALAW). According to its website ALAW sees its role as:

“pioneering a better legal framework for animals and ensuring that the existing law is applied properly.”

One of its trustees, Doughty Street barrister Paula Sparks, told us that:

“it also has an educative role, teaching professionals and the public about the law.”

Members can be solicitors, barristers, trainees, pupils or legal academics. You can find out more about membership here. The organisation also has a relatively new student group, which helps to create the ALAW Journal.

What advice does Sparks have for the young lawyer with an interest in animal welfare?

“I would suggest exploring career opportunities with some of the larger animal protection groups who have in-house legal teams. For those interested in criminal law a career prosecuting cruelty offences may be of interest. Others – particularly those who have an interest in wildlife and the countryside – find that a career in environmental law can be rewarding.”

Specialisation, warns Sparks, is not often an option at an early stage: her own practice consists primarily of (human) medical negligence and inquest work.

“Many of ALAW’s members are lawyers who work in disparate fields who use their spare time to help with animal law related issues. There is always scope to use valuable legal skills for the benefit of animals.”

You don’t have to be anything resembling a one-trick pony. Just look at ALAW member Gwendolen Morgan. A solicitor at Bindmans, Morgan’s practice includes a broad range of public law and human rights cases, with animal welfare issues forming a significant part of the mix.

She’s acted for The Badger Trust in opposition to the badger cull as well as advising organisations like Secret World Wildlife Rescue and the Humane Society International. More recently she made headlines representing David Miranda (partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald) after his much-publicised detention at Heathrow.

One solicitor maintaining an animal-related practice is ALAW member (and former director) David Thomas, who works as a legal adviser to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).

Thomas deals with “all aspects of the law touching on animal welfare campaigning.” This includes “giving advice; taking test cases; intervening in cases brought by others around the world; using legal arguments to remove barriers to positive change and to achieve maximum protection for animals; using freedom of information laws to prise information from often reluctant governments, international institutions and other public bodies; advising on undercover investigations; drafting legislation and using various ‘soft law’ fora to ensure as level a playing field as possible for campaign messages.”

Thomas agrees that it can be harrowing to face up to widespread animal suffering. How does he cope?

“The trick, I think, is to try and channel such emotions into determination to do something to remedy the situation, with persistence and creativity. I don’t expose myself to more than needed to do my job properly.”

Like Paula Sparks, he advises interested students to “obtain as broad a grounding in law as possible and not to specialise too soon. No area of law is an island and to become an effective animal welfare lawyer one needs to understand and have experience of many other areas of law, especially public law.”

“Animal welfare law is not for the faint-hearted,” he continues. “It encompasses EU and other international law and can be very complicated, though intellectually stimulating.”

Despite the need to remain robust and “be prepared for many setbacks,” this is a job that can be “hugely rewarding – though not in financial terms! Successes can make a big difference to the lives of animals, indirectly helping humankind become more enlightened in its approach to the just treatment of weaker members of society.”

If you are a law student interested in animal welfare, please join us.