Jeff Kerr, general counsel and senior vice president of corporate affairs, leads the legal team at the PETA Foundation.
Kerr has been with the group since 1993—just 13 years after
it was formed. Given PETA’s role as an activist organization
“with all sorts of ideas and plans,” the PETA Foundation
legal department is “vital” to the group’s success, says Ingrid
Newkirk, PETA president and co-founder.
“We are attacked constantly by our opponents, who are
rather well-heeled, and we need protection,” she says. The
PETA Foundation lawyers “do an admirable job digging into
the research and giving us solid advice. They are very commit-
ted [advocates] who care about the cause and are determined
to leave no stone unturned to give us the advice we need.”
The PETA Foundation’s legal department has two divi-
sions—the 15-attorney animal law division, which includes
the captive animal law enforcement team, and the four-attor-
ney corporate division. While most of the lawyers went to
school with the aim of practicing animal law, they are well-
rounded attorneys with experience in a number of areas, Kerr
says. Their backgrounds run the gamut and include former
prosecutors, other nonprofit or in-house lawyers, longtime
Big Law litigators with sophisticated practices, and graduates
of the PETA Foundation’s one-year fellowship program in
animal law that launched in 2009, he adds.
The commonality, Kerr says, is a strong commitment to
working for animals, which often includes not only legal work
but volunteerism in other PETA areas as well. It’s not uncommon, for example, for a PETA Foundation lawyer, donned in
costume, to hold a sign at a circus demonstration, to deliver
goods at any time of the day or night to dogs chained outside,
and man PE TA’s 24/7 national animal cruelty hotline, he says.
The PE TA Foundation’s headquarters are in Norfolk, Virginia, but Kerr says most of its lawyers work in the group’s
Washington, D.C., office, which is a collaborative, open-space
environment that houses a “collegial close team” and, naturally, welcomes animals.
Kerr says he tries to keep most of the work in-house,
although he does outsource specialty matters and some litigation. In addition to Hirschkop, the department has a good
relationship with Zuckerman Spaeder in Washington, D.C.,
and uses Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu for IP work and
K&L Gates for some litigation. These outside legal services
generally are provided pro bono or at a reduced rate, Kerr says.
PETA’s top lawyer describes his department’s mission in
just a few words: pushing the legal envelope.
We aim to “establish appropriate fundamental legal rights
for animals in their own right and not in relation to their utility to human beings,” Kerr says. To do so, he adds, PE TA’s law-
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DIEGO M. RADZINSCHI/ALM
From left: Katherine Beasley, Emily von
Klemperer feeding Billy, John Seber
(seated in background), Brittany Peet,
Corey Mishler and Jeff Kerr