Students work directly with tribal communities
The Native American Law and Sovereignty (NALS) Institute offers the Native Law Clinic: Tribal Code Drafting to prepare law students for the actual work of lawyering. In a simulated law firm, law students are assigned legal work from Tribal Nation in-house counsel under faculty supervision.
About the Native Law Clinic: Tribal Code Drafting Clinic
After successful completion of the introductory course 4313 Native American Law, students may apply for the online Tribal Code Drafting Clinic course. The application for the course includes a confidentiality agreement and provides the student an opportunity to reflect on their time management goals for the semester as the Clinic is offered for a minimum of 4 credits (180 hours). Selected students may register for the course with faculty approval. The course was previously offered in 2015 and is now operational once more.
Tribal in-house counsel offices are often incredibly busy and charged with a wide variety of legal tasks including contract drafting and negotiation, litigation, policy work, providing advising on a multitude of issues, and drafting legal code provisions and other legal documents. The position of tribal in-house counsel involves a breadth of knowledge across legal fields with the additional requirement of being well-versed on a particular Tribal Nation’s history, tribal governance documents, tribal laws, interaction with the federal government and state government. As a former tribal in-house lawyer, Professor EagleWoman contributes her understanding of the demanding workload and myriad issues that must be addressed and acted on.
A simulated law firm environment for student learning
From the moment the Tribal Code Drafting Clinic course starts, students are introduced to a small firm environment where the faculty member serves in a senior partner role. Students receive drafting assignments that have been approved as legal development projects at the request of tribal governments and organizations. Typical projects include legislative drafting and reform, drafting and amendment of statutes, creation of both western-style, traditional, and hybrid dispute resolution processes, and policy document development. Students may be asked to include an appendix with a schedule of fees and/or fines for regulatory measures to accompany a tribal law provision. Successive drafts are discussed with the faculty supervisor and the last best draft is reviewed with in-house legal counsel. Every project requires a memorandum by the law student explaining drafting choices, setting forth open questions, and seeking feedback on various potential options for further development of the document.
Law students build confidence throughout the semester and gain a depth of knowledge on lawyering not previously experienced in the law school curriculum. One student stated in the concluding self-reflection assignment, “For the first time, through this coursework, I was truly exposed to the many ways that Tribes can express their sovereignty through their codes, law approaches, and judicial practices.” Another student added this: “I quickly realized that trusting your judgement and knowledge are all a part of the process of the legal profession and it was reassuring to know that other people struggled with this piece.” A third student stated, “This project allowed me to envision myself as an in-house tribal attorney, because in drafting the … Code, I needed to consider how the language used and penalties imposed in the Code might impact the [tribal] community.” The tribal in-house liaisons raved about the work product and memoranda generated by the law students. The enthusiasm for the revitalized Tribal Code Drafting Clinic has led to many inquiries from other potential tribal legal partners.