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Ian Oakley, JD ’16, on Fighting for Animal Welfare

Ian Oakley

April 27, 2021

Ian Oakley, JD ’16, was appointed Director of Humane Litigation and General Counsel at Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) in February 2021. Oakley, a native of Easton, Pennsylvania, participated in the criminal law concentration and began his career in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, where he’d done an internship during his third year at Kline School of Law.

With his recent transition to PSPCA, Oakley answered a few questions about his goals for the role, his advice to students and alumni, and his commitment to defending the voiceless.

Why did you choose to study at Kline Law?

I chose to study at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law for several reasons. First and foremost, I grew up not far from Philadelphia and knew I wanted to start practicing in the city, and therefore go to school and start building my network in the Philadelphia community. Second, I really liked how Kline Law provided me with opportunities to shape and mold the progression of the school. Being such a young school, Kline Law presented a chance to really immerse myself in the development of the law program and help to gain recognition and improve the reputation of the school in the legal community. Finally, I wanted to take advantage of the co-op program which no doubt played a huge role in securing my first job out of law school at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

Please tell me about your journey to becoming Director of Humane Litigation and General Counsel at PSPCA. What do you do in your role?

I have a variety of responsibilities in my role as Director of Humane Litigation and General Counsel. As Director of Humane Litigation, I support the Humane Law Enforcement branch of the PSPCA which involves the investigation, apprehension, and prosecution of individuals who have abused, neglected, or otherwise mistreated animals. This includes reviewing and approving search warrants, criminal complaints, and even acting as a special prosecutor on certain cases in the 18 counties in the Commonwealth in which the PSPCA Humane Law Enforcement Officers have jurisdiction.

As General Counsel, I am responsible for advising and assisting the organization when faced with a variety of legal challenges such as litigation, employment issues, contractual relationships, and compliance. Additionally, I hope to work with the local and state legislators in Pennsylvania to review and improve our animal laws, and support animal welfare efforts however I can.

Prior to joining the PSPCA, I was a commercial litigator at Eckert Seamans and before that, was Assistant District Attorney (ADA) in Philadelphia.

What are your goals in the position?

I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity to work with such a great organization. One of the main things that sets the PSPCA apart from other shelters and rescue agencies is the focus on animals who have suffered from cruelty, abuse and neglect. Not only do we get to provide hope and new life for those animals, but we get to bring justice to those who are responsible for their pain and suffering. Being a part of that mission and having such amazing and passionate co-workers is truly a blessing. I look forward to spending many years fighting for animal welfare across the Commonwealth and spreading awareness of animal cruelty and neglect.

What advice would you give a student or alumni interested in becoming involved in this type of work?

Having a well-rounded set of legal skills is something I believe to be important for anyone seeking an in-house role. Specifically in this position, I am able to bring my experience as an ADA to effectively assist in our criminal investigations and subsequent prosecutions of animal abusers, while using the skills I developed as a commercial litigator to help advise and protect the organization when faced with legal challenges. I feel it is important to not “pigeonhole” yourself and instead expose yourself to a wide variety of legal concepts and practice areas, all of which will certainly make you more valuable to an organization like the PSPCA.

Can you describe one moment or experience which has motivated you to do the work that you do?

I always knew I wanted to work with an organization like the PSPCA. When I was an ADA, I spent the majority of my time prosecuting sexual abuse and misconduct cases, predominantly with child victims involved. I developed a passion for representing victims of crime who couldn’t stand up for themselves and were victimized by people who they loved and who they thought they could trust. To me, animal abuse is similar in that regard—as these animals are so loving and so loyal to their owners, only to get abused, neglected, and mistreated, and have no way to protect themselves. I hope to be a voice for these animals and bring justice to those who engage in crimes of animal cruelty and ensure that the animal welfare laws in the Commonwealth are fair and provide an opportunity for humane societies like the PSPCA to protect and save the animals they rescue.

Is there anything you’d like to add that the previous questions didn’t address?

I’m always happy to discuss my role and the role of the PSPCA with anyone interested, please don’t hesitate to reach out.