On MyShingle, we celebrate the solo and small firm practitioner, and those at the forefront of innovation in the legal field. Our newest project, 41 Legal Practice Areas That Didn’t Exist 15 Years Ago highlights solo and small firm practitioners who have embraced unconventional and upcoming niche practices from 3D Printing Law to Online Privacy Law.
This profile focuses on Jeremy M. Cohen, an attorney focusing on Animal Law.
Animal Law has broad and disparate implications, including statutory and case law that affects wild and domesticated animals. The legal status of animals have been debated over the years, and is still a subject of immense dispute. Cohen’s work focuses on compassion for our canine companions by defending dogs implicated in custody hearings, civil suits, and more.
Q: What is your name, your law firm’s name and location and website?
A: I am Attorney Jeremy M. Cohen, founder of Boston Dog Lawyers, LLC. Our firm is located in Massachusetts, a few miles north of Boston. Our website is www.BostonDogLawyers.com.
Q: At what point in your career did you begin to focus on Animal Law, and what was the motivation for choosing Animal Law?
A: After passing the bar, my first job was as a high school basketball coach. I was inexperienced but my boss felt that since I was an attorney I could be trusted with driving the van full of kids. Through coaching I met my wife and through her, as you’ll read, I met my career.
To supplement life as a coach, I worked in the insurance industry for about 12 years. Some of that was for General Electric where I advanced from an entry level claims adjuster to the manager of worldwide property claims. My goal at GE was to become a VP. My error at GE was in sharing that goal with pre-existing VPs. Pretty scary now to think how low I was setting the ceiling for my career.
In 2008, I began operating a debt collection law firm that became the third largest in Massachusetts. We kept growing by absorbing other similar type firms. Seemed like every old-timer was retiring and pleased to handoff to me. It was the beginning of a major downturn in the economy and an era of hyper-regulation of the debt collection industry. We had a 20 person staff, but it was very difficult work. Around the same time that year, Jesse the German Shepherd bit someone in our town and that bite changed my life forever.
Jesse belonged to my step kids, and lived with us occasionally. The town selectmen scheduled a dangerousness hearing. He was dog aggressive and the woman he bit was trying to protect her dog. I said at the hearing that “her calf got in the way of a dog fight.” It was my first dog hearing and over the last decade, I have devised more comprehensive defenses. In our country, enforcement of dog behavior laws begin at the local government level. At the hearing a gang of riled up neighbors dominated the discussion and it was decided that Jesse would be killed. No one ever evaluated Jesse or tried to understand what triggered this off leash behavior. This outraged me as a step parent and as a lawyer. I left there shocked at how the loudest voices in the room had won. I dug in, learned how to appeal the dog decision, and won. It was chronicled in the local paper and then each year I would take on a few dog cases. In 2014, I transferred the debt collections to another firm and in 2016 launched Boston Dog Lawyers.
Q: Tell us a little more about your work in Animal Law. What types of clients do you represent and what are some of the legal issues you encounter?
A: Over these last three years we have processed over a thousand consultations from around the country and handled about 250 cases. I have been consulted by folks in Ireland, Canada, Korea, New Zealand, Israel and Brazil. I write for the Simply Pets magazine and was signed up by a ‘talent’ manager. The pet issues are fascinating to hear each day and custody disputes comprise a significant volume of cases for us as do wrongful pet injury and death matters. I defend alleged dangerous dogs and the civil suits stemming from them. I am in different courthouses at least 3 times per week. We have had jury trials and have some cases being heard on appeal. We even got a MA statute regarding possessing a ‘wolf-hybrid’ dog deemed void for vagueness.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Animal Law?
A: A reason for the success of Boston Dog Lawyers lies in my appreciation for what it has brought to me. I had been a very unenthusiastic lawyer disappointed in what little impact I was having on our community. The dog cases have injected an energy into me which I then pour back into them. Pet ownership can center on procedural due process issues in both the state and the U.S. Constitutions. The government cannot take away life, liberty or property without the due process of law. And I was surprised to find out just how often they try. Our motto is ‘It’s Time to Bark Back.’ We have to advance the status of our pets in the justice system.
Being a dog lawyer is a seven day per week job since dogs do not know time. No two days are the same. Bringing arguments to 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 outside at pet festivals 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. My favorite question to ask during an intake is for the pet’s name. For some reason people skip over it thinking a lawyer wouldn’t need to know this. Well I want to know and so far Rocky, Lucy, Blue and Logan are the most common client names.
Q: What kind of background is necessary for Animal Law?
A: Having a companion animal is really a prerequisite to working in the pet law industry. I make the cases very personal so it is important to have a pet to go home to. 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 other pet owners’ nightmares.
Q: How did you market your practice and gain a reputation in Blockchain Technology Law?
A: Facebook and Google have been great platforms from which to grow my business. When I see the caller ID come up 1-844-Dog-Atty I know that potential client found me via a Google search. 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 as well with coverage of some maddening cases, such as: Brooklyn the Chihuahua who was killed when a national pest control company used an illegal poison in her apartment and; Lilly, a Westie, who lost half of her tongue and some lung function when the boarding facility she was at cleaned around her in her cage with hazardous chemicals. Their defense is that since Lilly refused to leave her cage, she consented to the consequences.
Q: As you know, this practice area really did not exist 15 years ago? How do you address or advise clients on novel or emerging issues for which there is no precedent?
A: Setting client expectations is vital and it is something I work on every day. There is very little in the dog law world that is predictable. In court 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 for pet owners.
Q: Tell us about one of your most interesting or challenging cases.
A: In one recent custody case the judge called me to side bar before trial 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, as the litigation had taken 18 months, artificially extending the time period the ex-girlfriend, who had stolen the dog, had physical custody. Plus, he had not heard our evidence yet. He was adamant that a trial would be a waste of time and urged my client to settle for money instead.
Q: What advice do you have for other attorneys interested in Animal Law?
A: It is quite common for me to hear from students and lawyers around the country who want to talk about this area of law and join me on a case. It is important to find members of the next generation of lawyers who will carry pet law on their own shoulders to modernize the legislative, executive and judicial approaches to protecting pets and their owners.
To be a successful pet lawyer you don’t need to bark or meow; just make sure you have a family member who can.
The Law Uninvented Profile Series is co-written and edited by MyShingle’s new Content Coordinator, Rachel Wallen.