How I became a dog lawyer
I am Attorney Jeremy M. Cohen, founder of Boston Dog Lawyers.
I worked in the insurance industry for the first 12 years of life as a lawyer. I worked in a division of the General Electric Company and became a manager of worldwide property claims about 4 years after starting out there as an entry-level auto claims adjuster. My goal was to become a VP and my error was in making that known to the VPs in power at the time.
In 2007 I began operating a debt collection law firm that became the third largest in Massachusetts. We kept growing by absorbing other similar type law firms. It was very busy work but not at all rewarding. As 2008 began I got a call from my step-kids that their dog, Jesse, bit someone. Suddenly, through my law license, I had a chance to forever impact our non-traditional family since Jesse was basically my step-dog when he’d come around. I appeared at a town hearing. I was told I did not even have to attend since nothing bad would happen to Jesse. I left the hearing with an energy level I had never previously attained as a lawyer and the early droplets of what has now become a major storm within me to change the legal landscape for dogs and their owners.
I made two calls after determining that I needed to file an appeal for Jesse. The first was to F. Lee Bailey, an acquaintance who had given me great tips on starting a new law firm. He asked me one question: ‘Did the dog do it?’ I said yes. He responded then that there was no way to help him which simply meant the Lee did not want to get doggie with it. His career was based on finding and representing people who “did it.” I then called Attorney Steven Wise, the original dog lawyer in this country, and he gave me the formula on how to battle these cases, by relying on the U.S. Constitution.
Each year I would take a few dangerous dog cases to defend them. They made the local news as did our victories and by late 2015 I was ready to leave the debt collection world and launch a law firm dedicated to pets and their owners.
There have emerged for me, through more than a thousand calls, four major areas of pet related legal issues. There is the defense of dogs who are alleged to have attacked someone or some other animal, and trying to find acceptable remedies that do not include euthanasia. I also defend civil law suits for dog bites. Then there are the custody cases where two parties battle over one thing: their pet. This can be in the form of a cat, dog or horse, so far. I have gained significant trial experience over these matters including bringing cases to a jury. I have found there is also a need for people who have a real need to live with their emotional support animal or service animal. Lastly, we handle wrongful pet injury and wrongful pet death cases.
There is so much to enjoy about this practice. It is definitely a seven day per week job but no two days are the same and the time goes by way too fast. Bringing arguments into court and compelling the stakeholders to take these matters serious is a very fun aspect. Plus, I meet dogs all the time. My marketing events are not in conference rooms in suburban hotels but outside at pet events and indoors at pet expos. I truly enjoy the creativity with which I can work on my law practice since there is no real model to follow.
Having a companion animal is really a pre-requisite to working in the pet law industry. Because I take the cases so personal and make it as though the dog to be represented is actually my dog, it is so important to have a pet to go home too. Some of the stories I hear are very sad, very difficult. I squeeze great hugs out of Maisey, my Golden retriever, after diving into a lot of pet owners’ nightmares. Being a pet lawyer also involves making a deep dive into the dog world and cat world. To understand the dynamics and agendas of all of the different life forms in this world, you have to become embedded into it with your eyes and ears wide open.
Facebook has been a great platform from which to grow my business. Very early on I hired a social media consultant. While it is important to have people learn about me, it is more important for them to learn about the overall concept of hiring a lawyer for a pet related problem. The media has been outstanding and words of encouragement do come in every day. The most important item to learn when talking to a client, for me, is the name of their pet. It often disarms them when I ask it and I think at that point too I lose the stigma of being a typical suit and tie attorney. I want to know when you got your pet, how and what types of activities you do together.
Setting client expectations is vital and it is something I work on every day. It is a part of the law practice that needs constant refining. I make it clear that pets are property, results will vary and that for the most part, courthouses have no idea what to do with my cases. There is very little in the dog law world that is predictable, and this causes anxiety for my clients. For me it is about one case and one courtroom at a time. Anyone who hears the case is hearing about the concept of a Dog Lawyer for the first time. It is important that my passion comes out but I need to balance that with professionalism. The problem for me is when I get in front of an authority figure whom I believe is being condescending with their words and their interpretation of procedural due process rights. In one custody case at a pre-trial hearing, the judge called me over to side bar and said my client, the ex-boyfriend trying to get his dog Bear, back, will never win. The judge said that he will not take away a dog from the woman who has had him for two years. I protested, we filed suit 18 months ago so it is the litigation timeline that has allowed her to keep this dog which she fraudulently came to possess. And, I reminded the judge he had yet to hear our evidence. He was adamant that a trial would be a waste of time and urged my client to settle for money instead.
Most lawyers do not take cases wherein they are seeking monetary damages for injuries to our pets. That’s because pets are considered property and you cannot recover emotional distress damages, punitive damages or companionship damages for the loss of your pet. We make the arguments and we launch a lot of lawsuits to force the issue so we can bring this disconnect between how we care for our pets and how the law does to the forefront. My fee agreement specifically states that these cases and pursuing non-economic damages, are experimental in nature. My clients are the pioneers willing to put their energy and resources into knocking down these long held legal theories of our pets.
I often receive correspondence from lawyers wanting to help me with parts of a case, so they can be exposed to this area of law. I rarely turn anyone away. Some become permanent staff members in what I call my bullpen – a group of talented and trustworthy lawyers, paralegals ready to be called upon when the needs of the business dictate.
To be a successful pet lawyer you don’t need to know how to bark or meow; just make sure you live with someone who does.
For pets, their parents and their lawyers, It’s Time to Bark Back!