Over at my other site, I've had occasion to note the boom in courses in animal law in legal academia, fueled by generous grants from a foundation established by TV game show host Bob Barker. Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy notes a website's tally that the number of law schools offering a course on animal law now tops 100, which he says far exceeds the number offering a course on general sentencing, even though the latter is a core concern of the legal system which profoundly affects millions of people caught up in it. His perhaps slightly bitter conclusion:
I suppose it is a sad and telling commentary that many law schools have devoted more resources toward having students question the legal treatment of animals than the legal treatment of criminal offenders. Perhaps advocates for sentencing and corrections reform need to find some incarcerated people with sad puppy-dog eyes so that humans locked in cages will evoke as much sympathy in elite law schools as animals locked in cages.
P.S. Yes, I'm aware that most of the humans under discussion have been found to have done something legally wrong, while most of the animals haven't. And no, I'm not comfortable with the idea that law schools should establish courses or clinics out of a desire to provide advocacy for either group, as distinct from a desire to impart skills and understanding to the students. But I think Berman has quite a good point about how the attraction of "frontier" and faddish areas of the law can distract attention from the way the legal system performs its core functions, especially in areas like sentencing where there is reason to doubt that it is currently performing those functions very well.