This Guide is designed to give you a brief overview of the legal field in Indian/Tribal Law. It provides practical information regarding the types of employers and practice settings in which you can pursue a career; the personality traits that employers seek; the practical skills that you can gain during law school; and resources to further research this rewarding field. Compiled for PSJD.org in consultation with the Michigan State University College of Law Indigenous Law and Policy Center.
What is Indian/Tribal Law?<
Indian law involves the law and policy of the United States regarding Indian tribes and their citizen members, and the relationships between the federal, state, and tribal governments and the scope of each group's authority.
- Constitutional law;
- tribal policy and governance, including legislative drafting, administrative law, land use planning, and managing government-to-government relationships with officers and agencies representing federal, state, and local governments;
- civil rights;
- criminal law;
- environmental and natural resources law;
- economic development, including tribal gaming and other transactional work;
- enforcement of Indian treaty rights;
- tax issues involving federal, tribal, and state taxation in Indian country;
- family law and child welfare law; and
- practice before federal, tribal, and state courts.
Many tribes also participate in international human rights bodies and engage in developing and enforcing international human rights norms protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.
Where can I practice Indian Law or Tribal Law?
Anywhere there are tribes or where tribes conduct business. In cases such as child welfare law, tribes need legal representation throughout the entire country, because cases impacting their rights and powers can arise in any state child custody proceeding involving an Indian child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.
There are now 567 federally recognized Indian tribes and 426 tribal court systems in the United States.
Attorneys who work within the legal department of a tribal government or tribal business enterprise
Outside counsel for tribal governments or tribal business enterprises
- Large and small law firms and solo practitioners
- Nonprofit law firms and organizations
- Tribal prosecutors
- Public defenders
- Counsel for persons who are parties to civil matters in tribal court
- Tribal court clerks
- Tribal judges
Corporations & Persons Engaged in activities in Indian Country
Large and small law firms and solo practitioners
- State Government
- Attorney General's Offices
- Federal Government
- Department of the Interior
- Solicitor's Office
- Indian Affairs
- Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians
- Department of Justice
- Office of Tribal Justice
- Indian Resources Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division
- Office of the Solicitor General
- U.S. Attorney's Office
- American Indian Environmental Office, International and Tribal Affairs
- Office of Regional Counsel for the various Regional Offices
- Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Which personality traits make you well-suited for this?
- Many tribal governments seek to be represented by American Indian lawyers.
- Indian/Tribal law appeals to students who have an interest in or desire to work with tribal governments or individual tribal members.
- If you enjoy looking at a variety of different sources of laws and determining their applicability and interplay with one another, this is a good area of law for you.
What can I be doing in law school to help my career in Indian law or tribal law?
- Complete a Certificate Program in Indian law offered by your law school
- Participate in student organizations that address issues impacting Indian tribes
- Take courses or conduct research on Indigenous law issues
- Pursue opportunities for experiential learning or other practical experience
The following links will be useful as you continue to explore this field:
- Turtle Talk: https://turtletalk.wordpress.com
- Native American Institute: http://www.nai.msu.edu/
- National Indian Law Library of the Native American Rights Fund: http://www.narf.org/nill/
- Native American Law Students Association: http://www.nationalnalsa.org/
- Indian Law Resource Center: http://indianlaw.org/
- National Congress of American Indians: http:www.ncai.org/
- Library of Congress General Resources for US Indigenous Law: https://www.loc.gov/law/help/indigenous-law-guide/americas/north-america/united-states/resources.php
- Department of the Interior
Category: Explore Your Career Options
Tags: Practice Areas