Careers in Animal Law

From combat boots to wellingtons

In January 2005 I got the job as military legal adviser to the very top of the Danish army, The Danish Army Operational Command (DAOC). Having obtained my law degree only a few months before, this was a drastic and exciting beginning of my academic career. The military world was however not new to me as I had worked as an army infantry officer since 1995: full time for two years and in the reserve during my studies. But my lack of practical legal experience at the time combined with Denmark’s newly engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan made up for some hectic and turbulent four first years as a lawyer.

Being the only lawyer in the DAOC, it was my primary responsibility to provide advice on - and education in - Denmark's implementation of international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict. This meant revising in a legal aspect most procedures and ongoing orders for the Danish army contingents abroad in the years 2005 to 2008 (in those years Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo). Teaching the law of armed conflict to the contingents before deployment was a routine task and took a lot of time and effort; it was however very rewarding and a part of the job that I really enjoyed, not least because it seems so much more beneficial to have a dialogue with people on what (and what not) to do on the battlefield as opposed through hard military orders. The years were hectic, not only for the obvious reasons, but also because I had to struggle to maintain my focus on my primary responsibility. The understandably ever curious media in a newly belligerent country form a number of access requests which are traditionally the responsibility of the lawyer in almost any Danish public administration. These tasks were numerous at times and took my time and attention away from the international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.

I was on a four year contract and was offered another four years at the end of my term, but I decided to leave the DAOC. What eventually lead me to animal welfare law was really (as I believe any career really is) due to a series of coincidences and I agree with anyone who thinks that it was not an obvious change of career. Or maybe it actually is.

In the summer of 2009 I began working for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. What initially lead me to apply for the position was the immediate thought that “this makes sense”, not unlike my thoughts before applying for my first job with the DAOC. After 8 months working as a general veterinary lawyer, I was encouraged to apply for another position within the administration, as an animal welfare lawyer in the Danish Veterinary Task Force Unit.

I can honestly say that this is the perfect job for me. It offers me the luxury of focusing on animal welfare law every day, and I can even see the direct results of my daily work. I play a part in most of the unit’s tasks, from planning campaigns, attending inspections and farm visits regularly to  assisting in writing reports to the police, warnings, fines, and administrative orders. The unit’s quality definitely lies in the close dialogue with the industry and other essential players which ensures preemptive measures to some degree. The concept of the thematic campaign is a good example of this.

So not only does the unit I work for contribute to effectively heighten the animal welfare in Denmark; I find myself being able to contribute to that important and meaningful work every day. 

Recently, the job gave me the opportunity to apply for a grant that allowed me to travel to New Zealand for three weeks. Thus in late 2011, I was fortunate to be able to visit the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), the NZ RSPCA, and the SPCA. I even spent some time with the MAF's national animal welfare investigation team, and I was very impressed with the skills and dedication I saw everywhere.

So is the job as a military legal adviser so different from that of the animal welfare lawyer? Yes and no. Despite the obvious differences in substance and temperament between the two worlds, I see a number of similarities in the work areas.

On a personal level, both positions have involved me working as the only lawyer, or one of a few lawyers, in a large organization with a strong and determent group of highly skilled experts with a high degree of professional identity. Army officers and official veterinarians share the knowledge, professional pride and dedication to their respective work areas. As a lawyer, you not only have to be well prepared with your contribution but you also need to have a profound understanding and respect of the basic substance. If not, you will definitely lose the attention of the people you are meant to assist and guide.

Both legal areas are constantly challenged by development in economy and technology which means that as a lawyer, you constantly have to be on your toes and to assess what could potentially pose a challenge in the near future - and not least, to come up with the useful solutions and ideas on how to deal with the challenges.

Both legal areas are relatively new in our world and they are in my opinion both indications of a very refined society and high level of civilization of the modern world. To put it simply: We have come a long way when we have rules for animal welfare and something as anarchistic and chaotic as warfare. Animals have historically been looked upon as property – things – and any regulation on the protection of animals in Denmark before 1916 was basically a protection against unlawful destruction of property. In 1916 we got the first animal welfare legislation that could be said to be a protection of animals for the animals’ own sake, not the owners. So the law of war and animal welfare law share the trait of what is really a luxury that less fortunate nations have not reached yet. Both areas indicate that we got almost everything else covered, so to speak.  

And finally, both legal areas deal with subjects which almost everyone seems to have an opinion about – even a strong opinion. The intense media coverage on both areas always seems to spark an intense interest and debate.

Maybe because both areas fundamentally are about what essentially “feels right” and what in our own view defines us as civilized beings.  

Peter Chr. Gulmann has been working as an animal welfare lawyer for The Danish Veterinary Task Force Unit since April 2010.

Before studying law, he worked as an army officer for a few years. He obtained his LL.M. degree in August 2004 and worked as a military legal adviser for the Danish Army Operational Command from 2005 to 2008. After a very brief stopover at AarhusUniversity doing contract law for 6 uneventful months, he continued to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration which eventually lead him to his current position.

He lives in the city of Silkeborg in mid-eastern Jutland, Denmark, together with his wife, his son, and a very lively labrador retriever.