Cynthia von Schlichten wanted to be a lawyer since she was young, but also a talented vocalist, she chose to pursue music instead. Meanwhile, involved in animal rights activism, a lightbulb turned on: “If I am fighting for animals I’m never going to feel like I’m on the wrong side of the law,” she explains.
Stirring the Fire for Animal Rights
Cynthia divided her time between her professional singing career and her passion for animals. She worked in animal rights organizations and as a veterinary technician at three certified cat hospitals, which led to some eye-opening experiences. One hospital had highly unethical practices, so she quit her job, filed a complaint, and committed to taking her activism a step further.
“It really stirred the fire for me — this is it, I’m going to law school. The whole reason I went to law school was for animal rights. I wanted to be a lawyer in animal rights organizations.”
After working in private practice for many years earning experience, she accepted the role of General Counsel for Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization and key player in large-scale animal advocacy activism. Her work is deeply rewarding. Though everyone has a unique story about how they came to animal law, Cynthia’s is one of the most motivating.
“It Was the One”
Law school options can be overwhelming, but Cynthia’s goal was crystal clear. “I mean, Lewis & Clark is the one, right? When I was applying to law schools, I was applying here. It’s the school of my dreams.” Though she did not attend due to logistics like not being able to relocate to Portland, where Lewis & Clark Law School is located, she maintained a deep respect for the program. “Everything I heard about it, everyone that came out of it, said it was the one.”
She had another chance at her dream: to pursue an LLM. She remembers emailing Rajesh Reddy, Director of the Animal Law Program, with the note, “If you ever have an online program, please let me know!” Six months later, he responded with good news: the law school was launching an online animal law advanced degree program. “I applied the minute the application materials came out,” she laughs. When her acceptance offer rolled in, she just kept thinking, “I can’t believe I got into Lewis & Clark.”
Part of the Community
“One of the things that Lewis & Clark does well is that they’re very supportive,” Cynthia adds. The online program was accessible enough that she even felt like she attended on-campus and in-person. All the professors really took the time to check in and hear feedback. “I really felt like part of the community.”
Speaking of the professors, her high expectations were not misplaced. “You have some of the greatest people in animal law teaching you, I mean, Joyce Tischler? Wow. You can’t get closer to celebrity status in animal law than her.” She recalls that it was a warm and inclusive environment in tandem with providing a high-level academic education.
All in all, Cynthia was thrilled. “I was just honored to get into the program, and then it was everything I hoped it would be. The professors were amazing, I learned so much, and I’m so proud to say that I attended Lewis & Clark. It doesn’t get any better than that.” Well, except for maybe one more wonderful opportunity.
Teaching the Dream
After four years learning the ins and outs of running a nonprofit from a legal perspective, she heard again from Rajesh Reddy. This time, he reached out to offer her a teaching job at her alma mater.
Cynthia now teaches an innovative online course in Nonprofit Animal Law. The class benefits not just lawyers who want to work for animal law nonprofits but also non-lawyers taking on leadership roles. She sorts it by subject matter (risk assessment, rescue, advocacy litigation, etc.) and begins with a thorough layout of basic structures. Cognizant of international students and issues outside the U.S., she keeps the experience truly diverse, dynamic, and collaborative.
No Intimidation Necessary
When it comes down to it, “if you have any interest in animal law, it’s a great program.” Students are going to learn more about animal law in areas they are less familiar with, making them more well-rounded scholars and practitioners in the field. On top of that, they receive the best possible education from the best possible teachers and connect with leaders in the field. “Animal law is going to gain more credibility, respect, and knowledge. It’s definitely a program better arming people for the developing fight against exploitation across the board.”
Her final piece of advice for her students is all about encouragement. “Don’t be intimidated,” she says. “If this is something you’re interested in, you should go for it. This is the place to do it.”