Auckland lawyer Danielle Duffield considers herself an "activist" – "if by 'activist', you mean someone who works to further a particular cause or to advance social change".
The co-founder of the New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) likes to steer clear of the term's "strong political connotations", however. While undertaking legal work to advance animal welfare does involve engagement with the political process through submission writing, the real reason Ms Duffield was inspired to start the NZALA charity was her desire to make a positive and practical contribution to the lives of animals in Aotearoa.
NZALA was launched in October last year and already boasts more than 200 members made up from various corners of the legal profession, from Whangarei to Timaru, who work to "improve the welfare and lives of animals through the legal system".
"Law regulates almost every facet of life," Ms Duffield says.
"As such, lawyers are able to use their skills to identify deficiencies in laws affecting vulnerable and marginalised individuals, and to propose amendments that better protect their interests."
And, depending on your degree of anthropocentrism or thoughts on the fairness of the biological "food chain", animals might be considered some of the most legally marginalised individuals in our society.
"Animals have no voice in our legal system," Ms Duffield says. So it's up to lawyers and others to advocate on their behalf.
Interested in animal welfare since her teen years, Ms Duffield says her passion grew at law school, which was a good fit for a secondary school student who enjoyed writing and debating issues.
At Otago, Ms Duffield set up the Otago Student Animal Legal Defence Fund, a local chapter of the United States-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, through which she organised submissions on law reform, lectures on animal law, and animal law awareness raising weeks. She even convinced her law school faculty to offer an animal law paper to undergraduates.
Seeing how the group enabled her and other students to use their legal training to further animal welfare, Ms Duffield decided to establish NZALA, with the goal of further developing the field of animal law in New Zealand and improving animal welfare through the legal system.
She now works full time as a solicitor for Kensington Swan.
Recently, the NZALA launched a pro bono project, providing the Auckland SPCA with legal advice in relation to its animal welfare prosecutions, Ms Duffield says.
The work involves completing initial file reviews of relevant facts and evidence, and writing legal opinions advising on whether an animal welfare prosecution should be pursued, depending on evidential sufficiency and public interest.
Dog rescue trust
The NZALA also recently assisted the establishment of a charitable trust for dog rescue and rehoming, called "K9 Rescue and Rehoming".
Ms Duffield says an NZALA member solicitor was able to draft the original trust deed and constitution, have the trust registered as an incorporated charitable trust, apply to have it registered as a charity under the Charities Act 2005, and advise on various other aspects of setting up and running a charitable trust.
"By completing the work on a no-charge basis, the new charity was instead able to redirect its limited funds toward its important work rescuing and re-homing abandoned animals."
She says pro bono work enables lawyers to contribute positively to social change.
"This may be for vulnerable individuals and groups who may not otherwise be able to access justice, or for non-profit organisations working to further positive social change.
"The most marginalised groups in our society rarely have the funds to pay for lawyers to work for their causes full-time, so undertaking pro bono work for such groups as they require it, or organisations working to further their interests, is one way in which lawyers can promote positive social change."
"In my view, being admitted to the bar confers upon lawyers a privileged status, and with that comes an obligation to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
"As lawyers, we are particularly well placed to effect positive change, and doing so is immensely rewarding."
The NZALA is always looking out for new members, Ms Duffield says.
Lawyers and law students are encouraged to sign up to the association at www.nzala.org.
"We still are operating on very limited funding, and will need to secure further funding in order to continue our work advancing the interests of animals through the law," she says.
People who wish to support NZALA's work can do so at nzala.org/donate or by donating to its "GiveaLittle" page at givealittle.co.nz/org/nzala.