IT MAY NOT HAVE BEEN UNTIL 2017 THAT CORPORATE COUNSEL
named the team behind People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals Inc. one of the best legal departments, but the
award is decades in the making. After all, that’s about as long
as it took to bring down a nearly 150-year-old institution, the
fabled Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
As if that win weren’t enough, PETA also recently defeated
Sea World San Diego’s request before a California regulator to expand its orca tanks, forcing the tourist attraction to
announce that it will no longer breed orcas, a David-and-Goliath battle whose outcome was far from certain.
Regardless of one’s opinion of PETA’s crusade against
Ringling Bros. and Sea World, it would be difficult for even
their fiercest opponent to ignore that it was the activist
group’s attorneys’ tough legal minds that have fundamentally
shifted the animal law landscape in this country.
PETA and its operations are supported by the separate
PETA Foundation, the 19-attorney legal department of which
handles all legal issues for the world’s largest animal rights
organization. While that work includes groundbreaking litigation and other action to enforce or extend legal protection
to animals, it also includes what most legal departments do—
protect intellectual property, ensure compliance, negotiate
property acquisitions and sales, and other corporate functions.
And for a group whose activist-members are at times militant and provocative—think protesting the American Kennel Club’s annual Westminster Dog Show dressed in white
sheet-like clothing designed to evoke the Ku Klux Klan—its
lawyers are down-to-earth and genial, motivated by a fierce
love of all animals.
“I’ve worked for a lot of major movements, and the animal rights people are the nicest,” says PETA’s chief outside
counsel, Phil Hirschkop, the famous longtime civil rights
litigator perhaps best known as one of the attorneys who successfully defended the Loving couple in the landmark 1967
U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down Virginia’s ban on
“They care about animals, but they care about people, too.
BY KRISTEN RASMUSSEN
A lot of lawyers I work with just say, ‘Go win.’ But [PETA Foun-
dation lawyers] truly care about the people they work with.”
This abundance of heart that led to the historic decisions
about orcas and the circus, as well as to more than a dozen
other significant developments in animal law and cutting-
edge animal-free science, made the PETA Foundation legal
department a clear choice for Best Legal Department of 2017
honors—only the second nonprofit and first animal protec-
tion organization to receive the award since Corporate Coun-
sel bestowed its inaugural one in 2006.
PETA FOUNDATION’S LANDMARK LITIGATION LEADS TO BANNER YEAR
BEST LEGAL DEPARTMENTS 2017