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191 twenty-two A Firm of Tribal Attorneys i was a tribal attorney for thirty years, all spent in the environment of a law firm. A law firm can be a group of lawyers bound together only by economic ties, or it can be an entity with a group character , bound together by shared values. That is who we were, a firm of lawyers bound together by the unique identity and underdog position of our clients—Indian tribes—and by a commitment to fight their battles. We had esprit de corps, a spirit that rejoiced in every victory, no matter which lawyer led the case. Each of us was proud to identify himself as a tribal attorney. I started this firm in 1963 with two other lawyers and we remained a three-man firm for five years before we hired our first associate. Over the years, the composition of the firm changed; one of the original partners left and an associate was invited to be a partner. We maintained the original principle of income sharing—share and share alike among the partners. As the firm became known, the practice grew and the firm grew with it. New associates were hired and some became partners. We were regularly inundated by résumés from law school graduates and even practicing lawyers who wanted to work in Indian law. I was very selective and looked for candidates with extraordinary abilities: keen legal intellect, special background in relevant areas, or personal qualities that indicated an unusually capable person. We tried to keep our fees modest because of the clients we served. As the quality of our work became known in Indian country, other 192 a firm of tribal attorneys tribes retained us. Starting with the Makahs, we came to represent the Lummi, Suquamish, and Colville tribes in Washington State. We were retained by the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation (UIC), an Eskimo Native corporation in the village of Barrow, Alaska. In 1973, we were hired by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana and a few years later by the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewas in Minnesota. In the 1980s, we were hired by the Hoopa Tribe of California, the Metlakatla Indian community of Alaska, and the Kake Tribal Corporation in Alaska. We were retained by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of South Dakota to litigate an appeal of a lower federal court ruling. We filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case involving the Santa Clara Pueblo of New Mexico. In the 1990s we were retained by the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming and then by the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone and the Moapa Paiutes in Nevada. From our beginning as a three-lawyer partnership, we grew to fourteen —nine partners and five associates. Even with fourteen lawyers, we were tiny—a boutique firm. But we had a national practice and a national reputation. We became known and respected in the national community of Indian lawyers and Indian leaders. Our work brought us to the attention of government officials, especially many in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I came to see their respect for our ability and our integrity. Many in the BIA knew how much lawyers charged their tribal clients and saw that our fees were far lower—a policy that gave us high credibility with the bureau, many of whose employees were Indian themselves. One mark of the firm’s work was the number of cases we brought before the U.S. Supreme Court: seven. For a small Seattle law firm, that was exceptional. We established a branch office on the Makah reservation and we associated with attorneys in Washington, D.C., and Anchorage, Alaska. For more than ten years we maintained a strong spirit of unity. We never disputed who would do the work on a particular case. The attorney who had the closest relationship with the tribal client would do the work or would call on another to take over or assist. Usually we had a good idea of the strengths and talents of everyone in the firm and would approach another lawyer in the firm with, “Are you busy?” Anyone was invited to offer suggestions or theories that might help the work of another lawyer. In some cases, two or more of us would form a team to work on a case. a firm of tribal attorneys 193 The work was exciting, and the firm included some striking personalities . We had a pool of talent that I...


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