Investing in the Future Native American Bar

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

This week Procopio is hosting the inaugural Procopio Native American Internship Alumni Dinner at the 40th Annual Indian Law Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is an opportunity to join our Native American intern alumni from around the country who are now legal working professionals with our Summer 2015 interns for an evening of conversation and networking. This opens an intentional space for our Native American Interns – both past and present – to share their lived experiences both in the law and in their everyday lives with each other.

Opportunities like this are integral to the development of the Native American Bar – especially in light of the recent National Native American Bar Association (NNABA) study entitled “The Pursuit of Inclusion: An In-Depth Exploration of the Experiences and Perspectives of Native American Attorneys in the Legal Profession.” In anticipation of the 40th Annual Indian Law Conference, NNABA President Mary Smith provides an excellent overview of the study in the most recent The Federal Lawyer.

The NNABA study came to one “predominant conclusion” – that traditional diversity and inclusion programs simply are not working for Native American attorneys. A new type of inclusion is needed. It is heartening to learn that the Procopio Native American Intern program was created and operates in a way that addresses many of the concerns from the NNABA Study, building a pipeline of Native American attorneys and working toward the full inclusion of Native Americans in the legal profession.

One of the Primary NNABA concerns was, “[i]n the private sector, investment in the career development of future lawyers through internship, clerkship and fellowship programs should ensure effective outreach to Native American Students.

The Procopio Native American Internship Program does just that. Each year Procopio’s Native American Alumni proactively call tribal governments seeking applicants from their communities and encouraging Native students to attend high school, college and law school. We work with NALSA chapters throughout the country to identify those interested in working for firms to apply for Procopio’s Native American Internship Program. We contact hundreds of law professors seeking recommendations of students for the program and post advertisements through law schools. Two law students are eventually selected each summer to join the firm in San Diego to get a broad experience in the firm. This Summer Procopio is pleased to welcome Anna Hohag (University of Arizona) and Nichole “Nikke” Alex (University of New Mexico) as the 2015 summer interns for the firm’s Native American Practice Group. We are certain that they will gain valuable experience with Procopio over the summer.

However, the investment in their career development does not, and should, not stop with a summer internship. Internship programs are an investment in the future of the Native American Bar and need to be seen as the beginning of the investment, rather than the end. Whether they are hired by your firm or not, internship programs should be extending their mentoring to Native American law students into their careers as young lawyers. Moreover, firms should be helping these young lawyers develop their legal networks and overcome the challenges that they face. This is the reason we continue to mentor our intern alumni and have our alumni dinner this week.

The NNABA study also called on the legal community to, “[r]ecognize and integrate an understanding of how generational differences may impact how younger Native American attorneys identify, express and manifest their Native American identities.”

Procopio is mindful that all Native students may not want to practice Native American law. We work to ensure they get experience in the areas that interest them the most. The program is intentionally structured as an internship and not as a competitive summer associateship program because we meet our interns where they are in their legal education and life experience. We work with them to meet deadlines and to publish articles on the Blogging Circle. We invite them to engage in the Native community in Southern California and to embrace the entire experience of being a Native American lawyer – not just life at the firm. And we learn a lot from them in the process.

Moreover, we recognize that increasing a future pipeline of Native American Lawyers starts early – in high school or before – when the spark of achievement is ripe and the students’ dream do not know limits. As part of our program, our interns meet with local Native American students at Tribal Youth Conferences and other educational events to discuss their journey from high school, through college and to law school. This helps the interns recognize their identity and achievements, and encourages the development of future Native American college (and law school) graduates. It also provides the students and interns perspective into other Native American communities.

Procopio’s Native American practice group extends the firm’s 65+ year tradition of giving back to the community it serves through its summer internship program for Native American law students or law students interested in Native American law. The firm started this program in 2011 and has now welcomed nine interns since its inception. The alumni are located in Alaska, Oklahoma (2), New Mexico, Arizona (2), California and Pennsylvania. We look forward to continuing to grow and nurture this network. For more about the Internship Alumni, click here.

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.