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Federal Indian Law Practicum

The Federal Indian Law Practicum represents tribes and tribal members in matters involving federal Indian law, large or small, and regardless of forum or the location of the tribe.

About the Clinic

Federal Indian Law memorializes the nuanced legal relationships between American Indian tribes, long recognized as distinct political bodies with the power to self-govern, and the federal government.

Treaties between the United States and individual tribes, congressional statutes, executive orders, regulations, court decisions, and even the United States Constitution all provide source material for the greater body of federal Indian law, and issues within this field often involve elements of myriad other areas of law, including administrative, constitutional, property, criminal, contracts, civil procedure, environmental, water, and corporate laws.

Practicum Projects and Cases

The Federal Indian Law Practicum represents tribes and tribal members in matters involving federal Indian law, large or small, and regardless of forum or the location of the tribe.

One current case involves pursuing a claim against the Department of the Interior under the Judgment Funds Act on behalf of disenrolled members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. Student work on that matter includes research and document preparation related to filing an appeal of a decision of the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in federal court, while concurrently developing a broad-based knowledge of a voluminous historical and administrative record, which includes expert reports, research memoranda, client declarations and interview transcripts.

Participating in the Practicum

Students in the Federal Indian Law Practicum experience a broad array of lawyering skills in a highly-collaborative environment, as this practicum is also taught at, and includes students from, Yale Law School. Work in the practicum often involves litigation, and students generally have the opportunity to meet with the clients face-to-face at least once each semester, though this does require off-premises travel. This practicum is writing-intensive, and students are expected to produce high-quality legal documents.

Student work may involve any of the following areas:

  • Historical document review and analysis
  • Review and analysis of expert reports and other materials
  • Complex issues of administrative law, including final agency action, and both informal/formal agency action and non-action
  • Preparation of documents for use in litigation, including initial filings and motions practice
  • Client interviews and the preparation of declarations
  • Land matters, including land patents and land taken into trust on behalf of a tribe
  • Development of multi-tiered strategies to effectuate the optimal outcome for a client (for example, legislative outreach, public relations/press releases, etc.)
  • General document review, including review of materials obtained by FOIA request
  • Drafting and editing complex research memoranda
  • Review and analysis of tribal law, including tribal case law and ordinances

The materials involved in the practicum are novel and complex, and in-class time each week will be devoted toward understanding these materials, refining work product, planning legal strategy, and developing the skills needed for effective client representation and interaction. Accordingly, Federal Indian Law Practicum I students are expected to spend the time necessary outside of class to refine their understandings of the source material and any parallel areas of law associated with the client’s matter. Background in administrative law is helpful, though not required.

Federal Indian Law Practicum II, III, and IV are advanced courses for students who have completed previous semesters in the practicum. These advanced clinic students are expected to take on leadership roles within the practicum and assist newer students with their understanding of the source material and the preparation of any documents required for the matter.

To apply, students may submit a resume, transcript, and a brief statement of interest in the online application process. Learn more and apply on the current student community website.

Michael Sliger
Adjunct Professor of Law
Adjunct and Associated - Clinical
Cornell Law School
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901

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