The following pages offer brief profiles of six bar associations. Five of these associations have a presence in the American Bar Association House of Delegates: the Hispanic National Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, and the National Native American Bar Association. By no means are these the only minority bar associations actively working to advance the interests of their members and the legal profession. We’ve included a profile of the Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois to highlight one example of other minority bar associations on the map.

We haven’t profiled these bar associations solely for the benefit of their members. They already know what their bars can do for them. The question is, what can these bars do for you?

Because many of the members of diversity bar associations have feet in more than one culture, they have an understanding of issues facing minorities and can serve as a bridge for outsiders to surmount cultural barriers in their practices and in the profession.

And as these bar associations advance the rights of the underrepresented, they don’t simply reach in to their own—they reach out to the broader society as well. Minorities are represented in the legal profession at rates substantially lower than their representation in the American population. Lawyers from outside these minority groups benefit from the work and influence of minority bar associations just as much as those lawyers who come from diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and orientations.

American lawyers are social animals and “joiners.” Many of us are in search of an affinity group of people who understand us, who look like we do, and who share some of the same background and experiences. Minority bars do more than serve their members’ self-interests; they serve remarkably in advancing the goals of their group in the profession as well as the larger society. And what’s good for one minority group eventually benefits all of us in one way or another.

It would take volumes to profile every minority bar association, and we acknowl-edge the following pages represent only a sampling. Many state and local bar associations have committees on minorities, some states have separate groups such as the Utah Minority Bar Association, and many minority bar associations find themselves regionally oriented. Among these are the Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois, the Caribbean Bar Association, the Colombian-American Bar Association, the Filipino-American Legal Association of Washington, the Hellenic Bar Association, the Indian-American Bar Association, the Korean Bar Association of Washington, the Mexican American Bar Association, the Native Hawaiian Bar Association, the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the South Asia Bar Association of Northern California, the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association, the Turkish-American Bar Association, the Vietnamese American Bar Association of Washington, and the Wolverine Bar Association.

Not all minority bar associations focus on ethnic and racial background. Some, such as the National Association of Blind Lawyers and the National Disability Bar Association, focus on members’ disabilities. Still others are faith-oriented: the American Catholic Lawyers Association, the Christian Legal Society, the Deca-logue Society, and the National Associ-ation of Muslim Lawyers.

We hope that you will find the following pages helpful as they present a sampling of the minority bars working for all our benefit.

Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois
By Edward Shishem

Edward Shishem is President of the Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois. He may be reached at . To learn more about the Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois, visit

Arabs immigrate to the United States, like all others, in search of the great American dream. Arabs immigrate here primarily in search of freedom. In 1990 a group of Arab American attorneys recognized the need for a bar association in the rapidly growing Chicagoland Arab American community and formed the Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois. The Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois is a professional association of attorneys dedicated to the rule of law, equal justice, fellowship, legal education, and community service. The organization is firmly committed to the principle of quality legal representation for all, regardless of background.

The Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois provides legal advisory services to the community as well as to other law firms trying to understand legal issues in the Middle East. We offer attorney referral programs, county and state judicial evaluations, educational forums, speaker programs, scholarships, internships, and information on employment and networking opportunities in both our community and throughout the Middle East. Current membership includes judges; law school professors; practitioners in a multitude of large, medium, and small firms; corporate counsels for Fortune 50 companies; attorneys for a vast array of international, federal, and state agencies and governments; and law students.

Given this large and diverse membership base, we are able to serve as a conduit for introducing businesses and law firms to their Middle Eastern counterparts. Additionally, as a large number of our members are multilingual and possess a unique understanding of the Middle Eastern cultures, they can act as co-counsel in bridging both language and cultural barriers in a variety of legal fields concerning the Middle East. In fact, our membership includes a number of attorneys who are stationed in the Middle East and therefore can offer a unique perspective for law firms in the United States that are trying to understand Middle Eastern legal issues.

During the last 17 years we have participated in, sponsored, or endorsed a multitude of local community activities of positive social value, and we continually seek new and creative ways to further this goal. For example, recently we participated in a U.S. State Department-sponsored international internship program that placed Middle Eastern interns with law firms and Fortune 50 companies in the United States, thereby creating ambassadors of goodwill for the country. In November 2006, in cooperation with Chief Judge Timothy Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County, we hosted an annual courthouse tour of the Daley Center for the community. We are currently exploring the formation of a national bar association.

Here in Chicago we strive to serve as a model of accomplishment in building coalitions between Christians and Muslims in the Arab American community. Our membership includes both Christians and Muslims. Recently our bar association has joined to form a caucus together with the Arab-American Business and Professional Association, the Arab American Association of Engineers and Architects, and the Arab-American Medical Association. This caucus has effectually united a significant number of Christian and Muslim professionals under one roof for information sharing, networking, and social activities. Additionally, a number of our members have donated their time to a new phenomenon, the first Arab American Muslim-Christian political initiative, known as the Arab-American Middle Eastern Voters Alliance.

It is our organization’s position that diversity should be promoted in law schools and in the judiciary. With every community meaningfully participating in our justice system, we instill hope, ensure positive role models, and present knowledge and opportunities for all our citizens. Given this hope and opportunity, we believe people will participate in our democracy in a meaningful way. Based on these beliefs, our membership remains open to any licensed attorney or law student sharing in our goals, regardless of ancestry, race, color, or creed. Anyone interested in learning more about the Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois is encouraged to visit our website at

Hispanic National Bar Association
By Antonio Arocho

Antonio Arocho, Esq., is Executive Director of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA); he may be reached at For more information about the HNBA, visit

The mission of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) is to serve as a national voice for the concerns and opinions of Hispanics in the community generally, and in the legal profession in particular; to pursue the recruitment and retention of Hispanics in law schools and provide them with financial assistance; to facilitate the exchange of information among Hispanics involved in all segments of the legal profession; and to conduct conventions and seminars in order to provide continuing legal education for attorneys and foster the exchange of ideas and information among its members.

In 1972 a group of Hispanic lawyers in California formed the La Raza National Lawyers Association, the predecessor to the HNBA. They undertook an ambitious goal of creating the national voice of the Hispanic legal community. Through the years the organization has grown in membership, stature, and depth. Times have changed since 1972, and so has the HNBA. The HNBA is an incorporated, 501(c)(6) nonprofit national association representing the interests of more than 38,000 U.S. Hispanic attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students in the United States and Puerto Rico. The HNBA has a staffed national office in Washington, D.C., holds an annual Mid-Year Meeting and Annual Convention, regional functions, and responds to the needs of the Hispanic legal community. As well, the HNBA advocates for the civil rights of the Hispanic community. Today, as the nation’s largest nonpartisan Hispanic professional legal association, the HNBA has a leadership role in the national and Hispanic community. As well our members are leaders in their respective communities.

National officers and regional presidents are elected by the membership at large. Individual attorneys may join, and local Hispanic bar associations may become affiliated with the HNBA. The HNBA collaborates with local Hispanic bar affiliates throughout the United States.

The primary objectives of the HNBA are to increase professional opportunities for Hispanics in the legal profession and address issues of concern to the national Hispanic community. Legal education and civil rights have been fundamental concerns of the HNBA from the beginning. Judicial appointments and education on issues of importance to our members are also priorities of the HNBA.

Owing to the rapid growth that the HNBA has experienced in the last five years, it has been called upon to take a leadership role within Hispanic communities. Additionally, HNBA members are leaders within their communities and have increasingly turned to the Association to provide them with information and support on issues affecting local Hispanic communities.

The HNBA holds a seat in the American Bar Association House of Delegates, which represents more than 500,000 attorneys. The HNBA has taken a leadership role, along with other minority bar associations, in sponsoring programs that would increase the number of minority law school students. Concurrent with the obligation, the HNBA has developed proposals for law school admission committees to study factors leading to the decline in the number of minority law students and the rate of minority students passing the bar.

Within the HNBA are the Law Student Division (HNBA-LSD) and the HNBA Judicial Council. Furthermore, members can join HNBA substantive law sections that correspond with their particular area of practice.

The HNBA-LSD was formed to increase Hispanic student representation in law schools and the HNBA. The HNBA and the HNBA-LSD work closely with ABA-accredited law schools, the Association of American Law Schools, and the Law School Admission Council.

Through its related sister 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the Hispanic National Bar Foundation, Inc. (HNBF), thousands of dollars in scholarships have been awarded to deserving Hispanic law students, significantly contributing to the development of our nation’s future leaders. As a result of these efforts, the HNBA has become an integral part of the American legal education system.

Since 1975 the HNBA has held a national Annual Convention offering educational seminars, continuing legal education classes, and social functions that have attracted thousands of members and friends, including members of the legal profession as well as prominent speakers and guests from the political, social, and economic leadership of the Americas. The annual convention is a showcase event at which our members attend educational seminars, receive continuing education in their specialties, and associate with other Hispanic professionals with similar goals and philosophies.

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association
By Amy Lin Meyerson and Les Jin

Amy Lin Meyerson, a sole practitioner in Weston, Connecticut, was the 2005-2006 National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) President and is a Council Member and Director of Division Four of the ABA GP|Solo Division; she may be reached at . Les Jin is NAPABA’s Executive Director; he may be reached at . To learn more about NAPABA, visit or call the NAPABA office at 202/775-9555.

The National Asian Pacific Ameri-can Bar Association (NAPABA) is the national association representing the interests of more than 40,000 Asian Pacific American lawyers, law professors, judges, law students, and other legal professionals from across the country. Composed of members whose practice settings range from solo practices to large firms, corporations, legal service organizations, nonprofit organizations, law schools, and governmental agencies, NAPABA represents every facet of the Asian Pacific American (APA) legal community.

NAPABA strives to fulfill its mission to promote justice, equity, and opportunity for Asian Pacific Americans and to foster professional development, legal scholarship, advocacy, and community development.

Since its inception in 1988, NAPABA has been at the forefront of national and local activities in the areas of civil rights reform, combating anti-immigrant backlash and hate crimes, increasing the diversity of the federal and state judiciaries, and promoting professional development. In its capacity as the national voice of APA legal professionals, NAPABA constantly works for the continued progress of its members and its community. Additionally, NAPABA acts as a resource for federal, state, and local agencies, members of Congress and staff, and public service organizations. NAPABA has always maintained a strong commitment to its solo and small firm members through programs and committees.

During the past decade, NAPABA has grown substantially. Two years ago, our convention drew more than 500 participants for the first time; last year we had more than 800 attendees. NAPABA’s annual convention is the largest gathering of APA attorneys at one event. NAPABA’s 18th Annual Convention was held in Philadelphia in November 2006. As always, members from solo and small practices (fewer than ten attorneys) received discounted rates for the convention.

With 50 current and ten planned additional affiliates nationwide, NAPABA truly exists on a national, yet local, scale. NAPABA affiliates organize a wide variety of events for their members. Besides legal events, members from across the country engage in myriad other activities to strengthen the APA legal community and assist in the professional development of NAPABA members. NAPABA has a seat in the ABA House of Delegates.

NAPABA also maintains more than 25 standing committees that serve the interests of NAPABA members. The Partners, In-House Counsel, Labor and Employment, and Intellectual Property Committees are examples of those that assist individual practice areas, and the Solo and Small Firm Committee works to increase the effectiveness and prosperity of NAPABA’s small practice members.

Currently, NAPABA is compiling a national database of APA-owned law firms, many of which are solo practices and small firms. This database will become a valuable resource to potential clients who may be more comfortable being represented by a member of their ethnicity for language or cultural reasons. This database will also aid solos, small firms, and individuals looking to start their own firms by identifying other firms that can serve as examples and provide professional support and guidance. More-over, it also will provide a ready listing of APA-owned law firms for companies and others who are reaching out to APA-owned law firms.

Additionally, NAPABA is undertaking multiple projects to serve the APA community, such as the “Increasing Access to Justice for Low-Income Asian Pacific Americans” project. The project is making great progress in its opening stage of research, and NAPABA will soon be working with our affiliates to devise implementation plans. For a copy of the report, contact the NAPABA office at

In April 2006, NAPABA, in conjunction with other APA organizations, planned and executed a free legal clinic benefiting minority victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the New Orleans region. The event was organized as a response to the difficulties and hurdles experienced by low-income and limited-English-proficient (LEP) Asian Americans in accessing federal aid, insurance benefits, and legal assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Prior to Katrina, approximately 60,000 Asian Americans called Louisiana home, more than half of them Vietnamese Americans. Sizable Chinese, Filipino, Lao, Indian, and other Asian American communities resided in the area as well. According to the 2000 Census, as much as 30 percent of the Asian American population in many areas of the Gulf Coast lived below the poverty line. In addition, census figures showed that some 20,000 Asian Americans living in the major parishes and counties of southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were LEP. Owing to inadequate institutional accommodation of linguistic and cultural differences, many members of these communities remained isolated and unable to navigate or even understand the bureaucracy of federal and private assistance opportunities available to them. The NAPABA’s two-day free legal clinic served more than 100 of these APA families; the clinic drew attorney and student volunteers from across the country. In September 2006 NAPABA returned for a second clinic that was equally well received.

NAPABA’s Amicus Brief Committee coordinated the association’s amicus petition in LeClerc v. Webb, a U.S. Supreme Court case addressing the issue of whether strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause should apply to Louisiana’s rule precluding lawful nonimmigrant aliens (i.e., aliens without permanent resident status) from admission to the Louisiana Bar. The amicus petition was filed on August 4, 2006.

NAPABA also is joining efforts led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund to protect the voting rights of all Americans, regardless of the languages they speak. Their Election Protection project is a nonpartisan national partnership that helps voters register and cast their ballots, provides voter assistance and advice with volunteer lawyers, law students, paralegals, and poll monitors, and offers a toll-free voter assistance hotline.

As NAPABA has grown as a national organization, and as its Solo and Small Firm Committee has developed, the oppor-tunities for general and solo practitioners within the association have continued to expand.

National Bar Association

This article was written by the National Bar Association (NBA) Office of Communications. For more information about the NBA, visit Copyright 2007 National Bar Association.

During the first quarter of the 20th century, 12 African American pioneers with a mutual interest in and dedication to justice and the civil rights of all helped structure the struggle of the African American race in America when they conceived the National Bar Association (NBA), formally organized in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 1, 1925.

At that time there were fewer than 1,000 African American lawyers in the nation, and fewer than 120 belonged to the Association the year it was created. By 1945 there were nearly 250 members representing 25 percent of the African American members of the bar. During the past 75 years, the NBA has grown enormously in size and influence.

The objectives of the NBA “shall be to advance the science of jurisprudence; improve the administration of justice; preserve the independence of the judiciary and to uphold the honor and integrity of the legal profession; to promote professional and social intercourse among the members of the American and the international bars; to promote legislation that will improve the economic condition of all American citizens, regardless of race, sex or creed in their efforts to secure a free and untrammeled use of the franchise guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States; and to protect the civil and political rights of the citizens and residents of the United States.”

Legions of African American lawyers affiliated with the NBA ushered in the rule of law through the turbulent 1920s and 1930s. Wherever there was a fight to wage in defense of the rights of Blacks and poor people, the NBA was there.

In 1940, when the number of African American lawyers barely exceeded 1,000 nationwide, the NBA attempted to establish “free legal clinics in all cities with a colored population of 5,000 or more.”

When the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the NBA was only 25 years old. This decision culminated a long struggle by outstanding African American lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley.

For the NBA, 1978-1979 proved to be the “Year of Affirmative Action.” In the wake of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the organization addressed pressing issues laid bare by this momentous decision.

March 1981 saw the first NBA Legislative Conference, and when Arnette R. Hubbard assumed leadership of the NBA in the 1981-1982 bar year, she became the first woman president of a major bar association. In May 1982 the NBA named its Mid-Year Dinner in honor of Gertrude E. Rush, the organization’s only woman co-founder.

In 1986 the NBA Hall of Fame was inaugurated by then-President Fred D. Gray, Sr., to honor lawyers who have made significant contributions to the cause of justice.

The first Annual Wiley A. Branton Award Luncheon and Issues Symposium was held in 1989. The Symposium, established as a tribute to Civil Rights stalwart Wiley A. Branton, focuses on the pressing social, legal, and political issues affecting our communities.

At present, the NBA is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of predominantly African American lawyers and judges. It has 84 affiliate chapters throughout the United States and affiliations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Africa, and the Caribbean. It represents a professional network of more than 20,000 lawyers, judges, educators, and law students.

The NBA’s network has made significant strides in expanding the opportunities for its membership. Its educational programs include the NBA/Carleton College Scholarship, a four-year scholarship awarded to as many as four deserving African American students; and the National Bar Association Crump Law Camp, designed to provide high school students with a comprehensive introduction to the American judicial and legal system.

The NBA continues “to protect the civil and political rights of the citizens and residents of the United States.” Among its many programs and initiatives are the NBA Black Elderly Legal Assistance Support Project (BELASP) and the NBA Minority Bar Involvement Project (with funding from the Legal Services Corporation), which has awarded grants to 12 sub-grantee organizations for the delivery of pro bono or reduced legal fee services.

The NBA offers programs of continuing legal education through its Annual Convention, Mid-Year Conference, and at various other meetings throughout the year. In 1993 it hosted the first Minority Bar Leadership Summit, aimed at developing a networking relationship among the leading minority bar associations nationwide. The conference, now known as the Coalition of Bar Associations of Color, is an annual meeting of the leaders and officers of the Hispanic National Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Native American Bar Association, and the National Bar Association. The NBA also has a seat in the ABA House of Delegates.

The NBA has worked to create an environment to foster social, political, and economic development around the world. It has held International Affiliate Chapter Meeting in such countries as Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, England, South Africa, Ghana, and Brazil. In April 1994, as the only bar group sanctioned by the International Elections Committee, nine representatives of the NBA participated in a U.S. delegation that served as official observers for the first all-race democratic election conducted in South Africa.

As it did from the moment of its creation in 1925, the NBA continues to labor in the vineyard for equal justice under law.

National Lesbian and Gay Law Association
By D’Arcy A. Kemnitz

D’Arcy A. Kemnitz is Executive Director of the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (NLGLA). She may be reached at . For more information about NLGLA, visit

From newspaper headlines to the pages of GPSolo magazine, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is making its demands for legal services be heard. What do LGBT people expect from the legal profession? They expect legal solutions to everyday legal problems, just like anyone else, and that means that the LGBT community needs quality legal services from general practice, solo, and small firm practitioners. If you are interested in serving the LGBT community or are currently serving the LGBT community, the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (NLGLA) can help.

When NLGLA was formed, by and for LGBT attorneys, few laws recognized our rights and relationships, and many states stigmatized us as criminals. Today, numerous laws affect the LGBT community, and they are constantly changing. It is difficult for even the most experienced attorneys to keep up with the rapid evolution in the laws affecting the LGBT community. The gay community needs services in many different practice areas, including traditional and nontraditional family law, trusts and estates, and employment law. Of course, members of the gay community have small and large business legal needs as well. Developing this client base can be as easy as joining NLGLA and networking with our already established practitioners. The benefits of developing an LGBT client base are multifold. The LGBT demographic has been studied extensively by the marketing industry, and the community is both intensely loyal and savvy in its use of professional services and is considered a relatively affluent demographic. If you are interested in developing this client base, you are going to need resources that only NLGLA offers.

Specialized bar associations such as NLGLA and its federation of almost two dozen affiliated regional, state, and local LGBT voluntary bar associations can provide referrals, assist in developing your client base, and help you hone your skills. Members of NLGLA receive a plethora of benefits including access to the online membership directory and database, as well as online discussion groups and bulletin boards. Similar troubleshooting resources may be offered to nonmembers when requested. NLGLA strives to maintain an encyclopedic knowledge of experienced practitioners who can advise and help general practice, solo, and small firm lawyers throughout the nation. At present, NLGLA boasts a distribution list of more than 3,200 individuals.

NLGLA provides more than a directory of experienced attorneys. NLGLA also provides formal professional education and career development opportunities. Large firms can easily provide these services to their attorneys with dedicated full-time professional development staff. However, general practice, solo, and small firm practitioners can access similar services from bar associations such as NLGLA. NLGLA provides professional development opportunities and education, including CLE credits at its annual conference and other events throughout the year.

NLGLA organizes the Lavender Law CLE Conference and Career Fair each year in various host cities. Lavender Law offers dozens of panels, courses, and plenary sessions on cutting-edge legal issues affecting LGBT individuals and the community. The country’s leading lawyers and scholars instruct participants on practical litigation skills, sodomy law developments, will drafting and estate planning, employment discrimination, domestic violence, transgender issues, career development, HIV and AIDS, immigration law, and LGBT youth. Additionally, you can count on candid and frank discussions of diversity and issues facing LGBT professionals in the workplace, whether it be the judiciary, the legislature, or the courtroom. Lavender Law is a great place for general practice, solo, and small firm lawyers to develop an in-depth education on the demands of LGBT clients—and more and more “straight allies” are attending Lavender Law each year. The Career Fair is especially welcoming to “lateral” attorney candidates and individuals already in the legal profession who seek LGBT-friendly workplaces. The 2006 event held in Washington, D.C., featured more than 126 recruiters from the nation’s most prestigious law firm—double the number of recruiters from the 2005 event in San Diego.

NLGLA is an organization of organizations, now celebrating more than 20 affiliated LGBT bar associations from across the United States, with new affiliates coming together regularly. Each of these affiliates is busy with various bar-related activities, including referrals, important judicial nominations endorsements, and endorsements of mandatory bar governors, awards and recognitions programs, and programs offering networking opportunities.

In 1992 NLGLA gained a seat in the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association as an official national affiliate. At the 2007 Midyear Meeting in Miami, Florida, the ABA House of Delegates voted in favor of a committee-supported recommendation to amend the ABA’s Goal IX to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

NLGLA is a brainchild of the 1987 march on Washington, D.C., for gay rights. A core group of “out” lawyers developed the idea of creating a national lesbian and gay bar association to overcome their feeling of isolation. Those lawyers realized, like many other general practice, solo, and small firm lawyers, that they could improve their own practices by providing service to the profession in organizing training programs and producing career advancement and networking events.

Networking is NLGLA’s cornerstone. Any number of books, trainings programs, and CLEs encourage better networking by and for lawyers. For its own purposes, NLGLA defines networking as building relationships with other LGBT and straight professionals based on a common interest in LGBT law. An immediate positive result for most of our members is a sense of belonging. However, there is a practical payback when networking is done well. NLGLA members have problem-solving resources at their fingertips, whether the issue is black-letter law, the need for practice tips, or simply knowing that one’s experiences—both positive and negative—are part of the broader professional experience. NLGLA encourages all its members to become involved with their local LGBT bar association. NLGLA is a resource to all practitioners, regardless of sexual orientation, as they face challenges and an evolving client base in the legal profession.

National Native American Bar Association
By Heather Dawn Thompson and Lawrence R. Baca

Heather Dawn Thompson, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, is President-Elect of the National Native American Bar Association (NNABA); she may be reached at . Lawrence R. Baca, of the Pawnee Nation, is Former President of the NNABA and a current Board Member; he may be reached at . For more information about the NNABA, visit

The National Native American Bar Association (NNABA) shares with other minority bar associations many of the same goals—diversity and increased understanding of our communities’ unique cultural and legal issues. However, most of our lawyers are both U.S. citizens and citizens of their respective tribal nations. Our members, therefore, also share the communal responsibility, either directly or indirectly, of protecting the governmental sovereignty of the more than 560 independent Native American tribal governments in the United States.

The National Native American Bar Association began in 1976 as the American Indian Lawyers Association. After a name change (American Indian Bar Association to Native American Bar Association), we reorganized in 1984 and developed a chapter system for state Indian bar associations, and we became the National Native American Bar Association. Each of the chapters has a vote on the NNABA Board of Directors. The NNABA represents the interests of all populations indigenous to the lands that are now collectively the United States: American Indians, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians. The NNABA also has a seat in the ABA House of Delegates.

The goals of the NNABA are to protect the sovereignty of native tribal nations; to promote and protect the development of tribal law and tribal judicial systems; to promote public understanding of the unique legal status of Native Americans; to promote the recruitment and retention of Native American law students and law faculty; to promote the appointment of Native Americans to the tribal, state, and federal judiciary; to promote scholarship in federal Indian law and inclusion of Indian law in law school curriculums; and to promote inclusion of Indian law on state bar exams, especially in states with tribal governments, including states such as Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. (Indian Law is currently on the state bar in New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington.)

Indian tribes are sovereign entities that have a government-to-government relationship with the U.S. federal government. Tribal sovereignty is inherent and predates the formation of the U.S. government. This sovereignty is both implicitly and explicitly recognized within the U.S. Constitution. Indians or Indian tribes are referenced three times in the U.S. Constitution: the Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) grants to Congress the power “To regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes”; the Apportionment Clause (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3) calls for “Representatives and direct taxes to be apportioned according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons”; and the 14th Amendment (Section 2) repeats the “Indians not taxed” language.

As sovereign nations, tribal governments have all of the same responsibilities as any government. They are responsible for the education, health, well-being, and safety of all of their citizens and residents. Tribes have their own laws, their own police forces, court systems, jails, and legal infrastructure. NNABA membership consists of a number of attorneys (and some lay legal professionals) who work within tribal legal systems.

The NNABA shares many of the concerns of other minority bars, such as increasing the number of minority lawyers and judges and general sensitivity to minority issues. There is one large systemic problem, however, that seems to be unique to the Indian community: Lying about being Native American on law school applications.

Although few people would indicate they were Asian American or African American on a law school application unless it truly was a part of their identity—and would expect to be expelled for dishonesty once discovered—for some reason there is a wide level of comfort with lying about being Native American. This is particularly disconcerting considering that being Native American is not just an ethnic identity but is an actual tribal citizenship that carries with it a formal tribal enrollment number, not unlike a Social Security Number.

To understand the full scope of the problem, one only need look at the census data. In the years from 1990 to 2000, the U.S. Census reported an increase of only 228 attorneys who were Native American. Oddly, however, during the same time period, ABA-accredited law schools reported graduating nearly 2,500 Native Americans. Despite numerous attempts by the NNABA to get law schools to address this issue, we believe that they have remained quietly complicit because it pads their minority numbers, and that their complicity is one of the single largest factors preventing any real increase in the number of Native Americans in the legal profession.

Another unique goal of the NNABA is integrating Indian Law into law school curriculums. Today, Indian law is not integrated into the majority of law schools in America, even though tribes are located in at least 35 states. Most constitutional law and civil procedure classes do not even mention that there are in fact three (not two) distinct sovereigns and legal structures in the United States. Law schools need to integrate Indian law into pre-existing curriculums, and, especially those with tribes within their state, offer a full stand-alone course in the specialty of federal Indian law. The NNABA is happy to work with law schools interested in diversifying not only their student body, but their curriculum as well.

Copyright 2007

Back to Top