Bess uses externship to fight for animal rights

Kaila Bess, a rising 2L at Charleston School of Law, began working with animals when she was a teenager, working at her hometown vet clinic. The more she served, the more she fell I love with the idea of making it her life’s work.

Throughout college, Bess studied veterinary medicine and continued logging community service hours. By the time she arrived in Charleston to pursue her law degree, Bess was certain she wanted to work in the legal field to fight animal cruelty.

In graduate school Bess was introduced to the idea of working in the legal field to protect and preserve animal welfare. That’s an interesting twist, she thought, adding, “It’s all intersected, but I didn’t see that until I was in graduate school.”

She joined the Charleston Law student chapter of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an organization created to protect animals by providing legal assistance and training in the fight against animal cruelty. While exploring opportunities to serve and learn, Bess discovered Materra, a legal alliance “dedicated to using their collective expertise in financial intelligence to make an impact and support the fight against illegal poaching and wildlife trade with the use of sophisticated financial mechanisms.”

“I was really interested in the international component of the program,” she said. “It’s much larger than what my experience was like with animals. Then just wildlife crime has always interested me. It was interesting to see how I could kind of take my background and apply it in law.”

There’s was just one hiccup: Mattera is in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Bess reached out to Charleston Law Director of Externship Program professor Michelle Condon. “Because it was in Israel we had to confirm with the ABA about the qualification guidelines for externships. The ABA approved the site.”

The Externship Program at Charleston School of Law provides students with meaningful hands-on, practical legal experience in a variety of legal practice areas while earning academic credit. With more than 150 externship sites available, law students can also work with the externship director to explore externship opportunities that align with their passion in the legal field.

Once Bess received the school’s approval, she contacted Materra and shared her passion for animal law.

“The lead attorney was looking for an intern/extern that would do legal research and writing and explore these different parts of wildlife crime and financial investigations,” said Bess.

Materra operates with the understanding that “as global trafficking of wildlife continues relentlessly, many species have been driven close to extinction; that through the destruction of wildlife, poachers and traffickers are threatening biodiversity, global security, and public health; and that wildlife crimes are often associated with larger criminal operations, such as money laundering, drug trafficking, and terrorism.”

When she accepted the position, Bess made a small piece of history as the first intern to work with Materra

“To work with attorneys who have done some incredible things in animal rights through international law is a great learning opportunity for me,” she said. “Just learning about how these financial investigations can turn into wildlife crime, then sometimes leads to things like drugs, gang violence, money laundering. It’s interesting how an animal welfare crime can blow up to something on a large scale.”

During the 2022-2023 academic year, over 100 students externed at a wide variety of sites, including corporations like Volvo, Mercedes, Blackbaud, and Benefitfocus, federal and state prosecutors and public defenders, state, county, and federal judges, state, county, and local government agencies, local and statewide nonprofits, and private law firms in a wide variety of practice areas.

Choose from hundreds of opportunities and find the perfect fit to learn and develop skills in the legal field of their interest, including:

  • Public service
  • Corporate law
  • Criminal law
  • Environmental law
  • Civil litigation, Family law
  • Intellectual property
  • Students can work with the director to create new externships


The Charleston School of Law is an ABA-accredited law school nationally recognized for its student-centric culture. Our faculty and staff are committed to preparing you for success both in the classroom and in the legal profession.

  • The Princeton Review ranks Charleston School of Law professors second in the country for faculty accessibility (2021)
  • Charleston School of Law faculty ranked among the top of The Princeton Review’s list of Best Professors in the nation (2016-2018)
  • Experiential Learning: Charleston School of Law students have access to about more than 150 externship sites, creating opportunities for experiential learning in the legal field.
  • Community Service: Charleston School of Law students have performed more than 241,000 community service hours (2004-current).
  • Students have won the National Tax Moot Court Championship for seven consecutive years (2012-2018)

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