The Shape of Animal Law and Policy to Come: An Interview With Chris Green

by Omar Baig

From left: Gameshow host and philanthropist Bob Barker, then students Chris Green and Miguel Danielson, and HLS Dean Robert Clark, in 2001.

Chris Green is the Executive Director of Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program; the former Chair of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee; and previously was the Director of Legislative Affairs for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. In those capacities, Green persuaded the top three US airlines to stop transporting endangered animal hunting trophies, helped defeat Ag-Gag legislation in several states, and passed two ABA resolutions that recommended 1) outlawing the possession of dangerous wild animals, and 2) providing non-lethal animal encounter training to officers. He recently served on a National Academies of Sciences committee, which recommended that the Dept. of Veterans Affairs substantially reduce its use of dogs in biomedical research. Green is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the University of Illinois: where he created the college’s first Environmental Science degree. He also works in the fine arts, film, and music industries, producing several documentaries, including the film Of Dogs and Men about police shooting people’s pets.  

Congratulations on the news of a $10 million endowment for the Animal Law & Policy Program by the Brooks Institute. Could you discuss the Harvard Law School’s previous and ongoing collaboration with the Brooks Institute, like the Brooks Animal Law Digest

Four years ago, Professor Kristen Stilt, the Animal Law & Policy Program’s Faculty Director, and I met with the Brooks Institute’s Executive Director, Tim Midura. The two of us offered our knowledge and experience to help strategize how the greatest impact could be made. Kristen then became one of the Brooks Institute’s advisers––serving on its Executive Committee, Scholars Committee, and the Leadership Committee of both the Brooks Animal Studies Academic Network and the Brooks Animal Sentience and Cognition Initiative

We could not be prouder to have our work recognized in this manner and are honored that our Program will now bear the name of Brooks McCormick Jr.––who cared so deeply about the treatment of nonhuman animals.

In 2019, our Clinic Director Katherine Meyer highlighted that there was no place animal law practitioners could find all the latest developments in the field compiled in one accessible spot. The Brooks Institute then offered to fund a Fellow with in our Clinic to research and produce a weekly summary of animal law and policy updates that the Brooks Institute would then distribute and make available at no cost for the benefit of the animal welfare community at large: including practitioners, academic clinics and programs, and scholars. The Digest includes the latest developments in federal and state case law, new and pending federal and state legislative initiatives, federal regulatory actions, published scholarship, and international news related to animal law and policy.  

Harvard Law School established the ALPP seven years ago with donor funds, which must be used within the first five years to encourage transformational growth. In addition to running an animal law clinic, the ALPP now includes two faculty members, a lecturer on law, eight full-time staff, and over a dozen visiting fellows. How will this recent endowment support future transformational growth and were there any stipulations for its use?

Brooks McCormick Jr., a lifelong animal lover, philanthropist, and founding benefactor of the Brooks Institute for Animal Rights Law and Policy, who passed away in 2015.

While the $10 million figure is indeed eye-popping, and the largest gift ever given to an academic program in this space, it is being allocated to establish an endowment. The way endowments work is that the principal is invested and the annual interest that generates then provides the funds available for use. In our case, the current yearly budget for the Program is $600,000, and with Harvard endowments yielding around 6% each year that is how we arrived at the overall gift amount. Importantly, because the principal can never be spent, that essentially means that the Program is funded forever––guaranteeing that animal law and policy always will remain a part of Harvard Law School’s mission. I also should point out that this gift and endowment only covers the Program’s annual expenses. Our Clinic also has an annual budget of around $600,000 that we still need to continue fundraising each year to sustain.

Twenty one years ago, you took HLS’ inaugural course on animal rights, which led Bob Barker––the legendary host of Price Is Right––to help establish animal law programs at the top law schools in North America. What was meeting Bob Barker like and did you get to talk to him about his motivation to fund animal law programs?

Bob Barker was very gracious and deeply committed to animal protection issues. When he came to campus to announce the gift in 2001 we all ate veggie burgers with the Dean at the Harvard Faculty Club, which felt surreal at the time. I vividly remember seeing Barker interviewed on Larry King Live years before and talking about his vegan lifestyle. King kept trying to catch him out, asking things like “Well, you wear leather shoes, don’t you? You wear wool suits, don’t you?” etc. Bob calmly and deftly answered all those questions in the negative and affirmed his commitment to doing everything he could in his daily life to not harm other animals. King seemed dumbfounded that someone could be that ethical, which may say more about him than it does Bob Barker. For some who may not be aware, Bob famously ended every single episode of his popular daily game show by telling the audience to spay and neuter their pets. As an added inducement for him to renew his contract and continue the show, Barker’s production company offered to donate $500,000 in his honor to the charity of his choice. 

When Bob decided to direct those funds to create the first ever Endowment for the Study of Animal Rights Law at Harvard Law School (later increased to $1 million), he caught a ton of flak from sheltering organizations and other animal protection groups. They couldn’t understand why he would give that money to an already wealthy Ivy League school, while they all were financially struggling to survive. His response was that a large shelter likely could blow that sum in a single year just on dog food and cat litter, and at the end of those 12 months, nothing would have changed. However, by creating the endowment at HLS (and later doing so at 7 other law schools), he ensured they always would offer future courses in animal law. The attention generated by those gifts also elevated the profile of animal law and helped validate the field as a legitimate and unique discipline. When I last spoke with Bob Barker on his 95th birthday, he said that setting up those animal law endowments, “was the smartest thing I ever did.”

Are there any other prominent donors or advocates in the field of animal law you would like to acknowledge or highlight?

We would not be here discussing this unprecedented endowment without Brad Goldberg’s foresight to believe in animal law education and provide the $1 million founding gift that established our Animal Law & Policy Program (when Professor Stilt arrived at Harvard Law School). Brad and his philanthropic Animal Welfare Trust similarly funded the creation of an Animal Studies minor program at New York University. Bob Barker’s $1 million endowments yielded around $60,000 a year, whereas Brad wanted to jumpstart transformative change and so required that both gifts had to be spent within 5 years as an incentive for rapid growth. By encouraging such expansion, the Program would have a host of achievements at the end of the term that could attract the attention of other donors interested in sustaining that work. 

When I met Brad for the first time at the end of my initial year as executive director of the Program, he exclaimed, “Holy (blank) Chris! In just 12 months, you all have accomplished what I wasn’t expecting until at least Year Three.” He even turned to David Wolfson to make sure everything in our first annual report was true. Brad was so overjoyed that he then started evangelizing on behalf of the Program and telling fellow philanthropists how much we had exceeded his expectations. Brad’s plan worked exactly as he had envisioned and just a few months later, Charles Thomas made another $1 million gift that provided us several years more funding and enabled us to grow even further. Since that time, we have been incredibly fortunate to receive additional supporting gifts from other individuals and foundations such as the Stray Dog Institute.

What was your own path like from studying animal law to running the most prominent animal law program in the country?

Back in those early days, the field was still very nascent and there weren’t many employment opportunities. But I wanted to turn the 3rd year paper I was writing for Steve Wise’s class into a more substantial piece of scholarship. So, after finishing my coursework in the fall of 2001 I spent the next 6 months back on the road as the tour manager for one of the Metallica guys. That then funded my spending the next 18 months hibernating at the University of Illinois’ law library and vet library for 13 hours a day writing a several hundred page treatise on the role of veterinary malpractice liability in the debate over the legal value of companion animals––which had emerged as one of the hottest topics in the field at the time. The Animal Law Review published an abridged version in 2004 and the attention it generated really helped launch me into the field. However, following in the footsteps of David Wolfson––who has had a major impact in animal law while working for and now directing a major Wall Street law firm––I liked the idea of keeping my passion pure and doing something completely distinct for income. So, while I continued to write and frequently taught or lectured on animal legal issues, I spent the next decade continuing to work in the music, film, and fine arts realms: producing several award-winning documentaries, managing bands, and owning the touring exhibition of a series of video portraiture I produced for the artist Robert Wilson. 

In 2013, I came to the realization that with all these other endeavors, animal law was only receiving the table scraps of my time. After speaking at a conference for the first time in a while, and reconnecting with colleagues, I resolved to pursue my primary passion of animal protection. Magically that very week, the Animal Legal Defense Fund posted for a new position to create and direct their Legislative Affairs Program. I was fortunate to be hired and thoroughly loved engaging in that direct advocacy and policy work. I envisioned staying there for many years, but in 2015, Kristen decided she needed a partner to help build and run the Harvard program. Being one of only 3 HLS alumni who had worked in the field, I actually felt a duty to come back to Cambridge (and took a significant pay cut to do so). We initially started out with just Kristen, myself, and our first Academic Fellow, Delicanna Winders. I still am amazed at how much we’ve grown and accomplished, and how many wonderful people have passed through our Program as Fellows, staff, faculty, and students.   

Outside of Harvard Law School, what are some developments in other animal law programs, either domestically or abroad, which excite or inspire you?

There is just so much amazing growth in the field right now. In 2018, NYU launched its Center for Animal and Environmental Protection with a $5 million endowment. The next year, Yale Law School established its Law, Ethics & Animals Program, which brings even more academic heft and attention to these issues. Most recently, in September, Vermont Law School hired our former Fellow Delci Winders to create a new Animal Law Program as well. These new programs, including our own, owe a tremendous debt to Lewis & Clark Law School’s pioneering work inaugurating the first academic program focused on animal law––now known as the Center for Animal Law Studies, and formerly the National Center for Animal Law. For over 25 years they have held an annual Animal Law Conference and continue to publish the field’s first scholarly journal, the Animal Law Review. The still relatively new annual Canadian Animal Law Conference (now in its third year) also has emerged and includes a dedicated Scholars Track devoted to highlighting academic issues and speakers. 

The Brooks Institute has engaged and supported each of these other programs and further fosters additional development and collaboration through its Brooks Animal Studies Academic Network (BASAN). BASAN is a network of academics and their institutions with the mission of advancing scholarly knowledge and academic opportunities in animal law, policy, and related animal studies. The goal of BASAN is to facilitate interdisciplinary research and collaborations across member institutions by providing annual grants specifically earmarked for such purposes.

Do you have any favorite philosophers on the moral status of non-human animals?

Obviously, Peter Singer and Tom Regan were pivotal figures in building the foundation for modern animal rights theory, inspiring generations of both scholars and advocates. Currently, I very much appreciate the work of Lori Gruen, Dale Jamieson, and Jeff Sebo who continue to carry that work forward through the present.

How about legal theorists or law professors?

Professor Justin Marceau at the University of Denver is producing some of the most thoughtful and provocative animal law scholarship today. His book Beyond Cages really challenges the animal protection movement to re-examine its reliance on incarceration and other punitive measures to address animal cruelty. He points out that nearly every other social justice movement is now working to reduce mass incarceration and the disparate racial and economic impacts of the criminal justice system––making the animal protectionists seem like outliers in an increasingly intersectional world. Justin is a Harvard Law School alum and took the Animal Law course here on a whim his 3L year when it was taught by David Wolfson. That class ended up changing the direction of Justin’s career and he now holds the nation’s only endowed chair in Animal Law. He is still deeply engaged in practice and led the groundbreaking lawsuits that successfully invalidated several state Ag-Gag laws for violating constitutional speech protections.

How would you encourage current or future law students to pursue careers in animal law and policy, instead of something more lucrative like corporate law?

I honestly think the movement is broad enough to incorporate and benefit from any manner that talented individuals may contribute. While folks can make a substantial impact by devoting their careers to animal protection, ALDF has something like 1500 attorneys in traditional law firms who provide time and services through its pro-bono network. Contributing to these issues does not necessarily need to be a binary either/or option, and even within the advocacy movement there are a broad range of roles, from litigating, to doing legislative work, to leading organizations, to being an academic administrator like myself. One may even have a massive impact serving in government or working in the private sector assisting the burgeoning plant-based and cellular agriculture industries. And by the end of this year there will be two openly vegan judges sitting on federal U.S. Courts of Appeals. There is just no way to quantify the potential impact all of this might have, or which of these particular paths might be most impactful.

Finally, do you have any recommendations you would like to share (e.g., links to articles, books, works of art, films, etc.)?

I very much enjoyed the recent International Vegan Film Festival which provided visual and narrative perspectives on a whole range of animal protection issues, including one of our Clinic’s ongoing cases trying to protect the Tule Elk in Point Reyes National Seashore.