Opening Statements

Florida lawyer’s firm is dedicated to marine mammals

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Natalie Barefoot

Natalie Barefoot. Photograph by Stephanie Stefanski.

Natalie Barefoot might be one of the few lawyers who enthusiastically describes her work as fun. As executive director of Cet Law, Barefoot has channeled her passion for cetaceans—which include whales, dolphins and porpoises—into a nonprofit law practice with a mission to advocate on behalf of the mammals and their habitats.

While niche law is nothing new (firms specialize in areas as unique as funeral home disputes and wine), Barefoot thinks hers is the only firm with a practice completely dedicated to these particular sea creatures.

“If an area is looking to revise regulations that are whale-related, we help people find solutions that are good for humans and whales, as well,” she says.

Barefoot started her firm last June in Key Largo, Florida. A graduate of the University of Miami School of Law, Barefoot spent five years at Hogan Lovells in Miami as an environmental lawyer.

She also worked with the United Nations in its environmental program. But she knew she wanted to focus on the plight of cetaceans and merge that interest with her legal background.

That quest led her to take some time off and travel to the Cook Islands and New Zealand, where she worked closely with researchers to identify the needs of cetaceans.

She found that a step was missing. The research had to be translated into policy—and that’s where Cet Law bridges the gap.

Marni Lennon, assistant dean for public interest and pro bono at Miami Law, is on the board of directors at Barefoot’s firm. She’s hopeful about the work that Barefoot will be able to accomplish to benefit cetaceans.

“I hope that Cet Law is able to educate, advocate and generate understanding and sound policy to protect cetaceans,” Lennon says.

This is also Barefoot’s goal. “I will do whatever it takes to make sure these animals are given a chance,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "A Whale of a Practice: Florida lawyer’s firm is dedicated to marine mammals."

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