Third-year law student Zach Boggan developed an interest in Indian law when he took a course on the subject and participated in the Native American Law Students Association moot court program.
“It can be hard to find a firm practicing Indian law in a meaningful way,” Boggan said. “That’s what drove me to the clinic, to get a practical application of Indian law.”
As a Tribal Judicial Support Clinic participant, Boggan helped tribes develop new legislation and review existing legal code, double-checking everything from grammar errors to federal statute references.
Boggan’s work to develop a guardianship code for a tribe relocating to Kansas proved to be his most rewarding clinic experience. “Guardianship is very important to Indian tribes because the federal government has gone so far as to forcibly remove Indian children from their families and place them with white families to assimilate them to white culture,” Boggan said. “A guardianship code allows tribes to keep their children in a way that not only serves the child’s interests, but also serves the tribe’s interests in terms of allowing them to keep their culture, to keep their tribe together.”
Boggan researched guardianship codes of other states and tribes, then created a new one that accommodated his client’s circumstances yet still followed the letter of the law. “Making sure it was a functioning code was the hardest part,” Boggan said. “There were good parts of other codes that I wanted to stitch in there, but everything had to be added in a way that it would be functional by the time it got to the tribe.”
Clinic participants collaborate with tribal attorneys who know their subject area well but lack resources and support. “Tribes have really thin, stretched legal resources. They might have a sizeable tribe or reservation, but have one tribal attorney or no tribal attorney. Anything we can do helps them out tremendously,” Boggan said. “They don’t need to be told what to do, they just need help doing it, and that’s where we come in.”
While the hands-on legal research and writing was beneficial, Boggan found the practical aspects of team collaboration, interoffice communication and client interaction to be among the most valuable lessons of his clinic experience. Tribal Judicial Support Clinic students and Professor Elizabeth Kronk Warner, the clinic director, met once a week to discuss projects, interview clients and assign tasks.
“Most of the time Professor Kronk Warner put the client on speaker phone and had us ask questions so we could get used to soliciting the information we needed, get used to interacting with clients and get that confidence to act like an attorney,” Boggan said. “We’d meet and talk about what we were going to do, what our responsibilities would be, then start diving in.”
Boggan plans to move back home to Tennessee to launch his legal career. He’s confident that his clinic experience has prepared him for life beyond law school, both because of his exposure to a specialized area of the law and because of the hands-on experience he gained.
“Whenever you mention Indian law, it’s pretty impressive to a lot of practitioners because it’s so unknown. Everyone knows about contracts, torts, business associations, but hardly anyone knows about Indian law. If an attorney has any connection to it, it stands out,” Boggan said.
“Law school gets so abstract. It’s important to learn how to practice, and clinics start you on that path. If you take a class in contracts or workers’ comp, you aren’t going to be ready to try a case or go in front of a mediator, but when you do a clinic and interact with real people and see how it happens in the real world, you’ll be more confident.”
— Zach Boggan is a third-year law student from Kingsport, Tennessee.