Tribal Legal Development Clinic

As part of the Join J.D./M.A. Program in Law and American Indian Studies, Professor Carole Goldberg has developed a new clinical course, “Tribal Legal Development,” at UCLA’s School of Law. The clinic began operation in spring 1999, and enrolls joint-degree program students, law students, and students from UCLA’s master’s program in American Indian Studies. Clinic projects emphasize skills of legislative drafting and cross-cultural representation through assisting tribes with development of dispute-resolution processes, legal codes, and constitutions, as well as pursuit of federal recognition. This clinic does not take on litigation. Students also assist with tribal dispute resolution, providing long-distance judicial clerkship services to the Hopi Supreme Court through the work of Professor Pat Sekaquaptewa. the clinic works primarily with California tribes, but tribes elsewhere are also included.

For a variety of historical reasons, California’s more than one hundred tribes have less-developed legal/governmental infrastructure than tribes in other parts of the United States. For example, only a handful of tribal courts or other formal justice systems exist in California, as compared with the 150 to 200 tribal courts operating outside the state. Professor Goldberg is regularly asked by California tribes to participate in developing new constitutional language or legal codes that would contribute to tribal legal development.

Professor Goldberg meets with tribes to inform them of the availability of clinic services and to determine whether the clinc can assist them with their legal development needs. Once students are assigned to particular projects, they meet with relevant tribal officials and community groups whenever feasible. Previous clinic projects included drafting constitutions for tribes restored after termination; drafting codes dealing with domestic violence and solid-waste management; drafting a federal recognition bill for the U.S. Congress; and helping design an intertribal court system.

Indian law clinics exist at other law schools, although none focuses exclusively on tribal legislation and constitutions. Students need to acquire considerable knowledge about tribal governments and legal systems, including federal constraints on the activities of tribal legal institutions. Furthermore, they must learn enough about the culture of tribes to be able to craft legislation that meets tribal intentions and needs. The clinic approaches general Anglo-American legal material concerned with legislative drafting from a critical perspective, to determine whether this material makes assumptions that are inapplicable to the tribal situation.

The Tribal Legal Development Clinic is seeking operational funding to maintain its operation as an important component of the new joint-degree program in Law and American Indian Studies.

Carole Goldberg, UCLA Professor, School of Law