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Finding an animal lawyer

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An animal law attorney? Why would I need one? Well, consider this scenario: You’re in the park with your dog. Perhaps on this particular day he’s more rambunctious than usual, tugging at his leash and trying to socialize a bit too aggressively with passersby. When someone tries to pet him, he reacts defensively and bites her – and it’s more than a little nip. The injured party sues you for significant damages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Whom do you turn to for help?

The circumstances in which you may need legal advice and representation in connection with your pet are not limited to dog bite cases. Pet custody issues in divorces, landlord-tenant disputes involving pets, and veterinary malpractice are examples of other situations in which sound legal advice and representation are crucial. But just how do you go about finding an attorney knowledgeable in the rapidly expanding and ever more complex area of animal law?

Know the resources

Fortunately, finding a lawyer with the expertise you need is a manageable task – provided you know where to look. A good place to start is the Web site of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). Although the ALDF does not itself provide a lawyer referral service, it is an excellent source of information about a broad range of legal issues pertaining to pets and contains many links with practical, up-to-date information. The more informed you are about the legal issues involved in your particular situation, the better able you will be to evaluate the qualifications of attorneys to whom you may be referred.

Two organizations that do provide lawyer referral services are the American Bar Association (ABA) and the legal publisher Martindale-Hubbell, which maintains the lawyers.com Web site, where you will find a list of animal law attorneys by state and city. The ABA maintains findlegalhelp.org, which contains state-by-state listings of lawyers and can be searched according to legal specialty.

The bottom line

Once you have done some research and located a qualified attorney, don’t hesitate to ask some pointed questions: “Have you handled these sorts of cases before?” “How much is this going to cost?” And bear in mind too the important but often-overlooked element of “chemistry”; the lawyer-client relationship is a special kind of relationship. It has to feel right. So, in short: Do your research, ask questions, and trust your instincts.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas,V.M.D.
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