PLSI: Empowering Indian Country, Building the Legal Profession and Native Bar

By: Eric Abeita | Intern
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

Transitioning into law school can be a difficult process.  The methods of research, analysis, and writing that are distinct to the legal profession are different than those learned in undergraduate or other graduate course work.  The ability to think like a lawyer is a trained and developed skill, and doesn’t come naturally to many people.  This is why the Pre-Law Summer Institute (PLSI) has become invaluable in preparing Native Americans for the rigors of law school.  The PLSI is a two month law school preparatory program run by the American Indian Law Center for American Indians and Alaska Natives.  Classes are held every June and July at the University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Law.  Students that have been accepted to any law school and those interested in applying or waiting to get in may attend the program.  It is an intensive program which mimics the first year of law school.  Participants take courses like Federal Indian Law, Torts, Property, and Legal Writing.  The credits you receive do not transfer to law school, but the experiences and knowledge you obtain far outweigh any school credits.

The PLSI was started by former UNM School of Law Dean, Fred Hart.  His idea was to start a preparatory law curriculum for Native Americans that was based on sound legal education principles, rather than a space for a philosophical, political, or cultural training ground.  The PLSI has now existed for more than four decades and has been extremely successful.  Every year about 30 students go through the program, and virtually all graduate law school.  It has been touted as the most successful pipeline program for Native Americans in the country.  Former UNM School of Law Dean and now Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Kevin Washburn, is a graduate of the PLSI.  I attended the PLSI two summers ago, and it was an invaluable experience that prepared me for the demands of law school.  The PLSI also plugs its graduates into a network of former participants who are now attorneys, judges, administrators and other professionals.

More programs like the PLSI should exist for various professions for Native Americans.  The PLSI has no doubt boosted the number of Native Americans successfully attaining law degrees, and similar programs would certainly increase the number of Native Americans with medical, business and other advanced degrees.  If you are a Native American interested in attending law school, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the PLSI.  It will give you a strong fundamental base of law school skills that will allow you to succeed in law school and your profession.  It will give you a confidence on your first day of law school that your peers will not have.  As more Native Americans become credentialed with college and advanced degrees, our ability to run self-sustaining Native communities increases significantly.  To learn more about the PLSI, click here.

Eric Abeita is a member of the Isleta Pueblo and is entering his third year at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Eric is a recipient of the 2014 Procopio Native American Internship.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.