Alaska doesn’t have a law school. Recruiting attorneys from the Lower 48 is difficult, and finding attorneys with experience in Alaska Native law is even harder.
But the Alaska Native Justice Center (ANJC) has a strategy to change that. With its new Native Law Clerkship and Fellowship programs, the organization is giving law students and recent law school graduates hands-on experience working in the field of Native law—and helping to create a cohort of Native legal professionals who can serve their communities across the country.
Journey to Justice: A Law Clerk’s 10-Week Adventure at the Alaska Native Justice Center
Every journey in the legal field begins with a spark of interest, fueled by unique experiences and a passion for making a difference. For Zoë Wise, enrolled Tribal member of Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a law student with a remarkable background, her 10-week law clerk internship at the Alaska Native Justice Center (ANJC) provided an opportunity to delve into the world of Alaska Native law and solidify her aspirations for the future.
From Literature to Law: The Path of Passion
Zoë’s educational journey was a diverse one, commencing with an English degree from Western Washington University and culminating in a Master’s of Fine Arts in creative writing from University of Alaska Fairbanks. Initially, she considered pursuing a career in academia as an English professor.
However, her life took a different turn when she got a job as a paralegal at a family law firm around the time of the McGirt Decision, a federal Indian law case in which her tribe played a central role. Witnessing the impact of Tribal law in an Indigenous context sparked a fire in Zoë, igniting her passion for the legal realm and setting her on a new course.
The Journey Begins: ANJC Law Clerk Internship
Zoë’s passion for Indian law brought her back to Alaska to work as a law clerk at ANJC. During her 10-week internship, Zoë was deeply involved in legal research, primarily focusing on family law issues and the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Additionally, she had the opportunity to participate in Tribal court trainings and work closely with clients, a part of her work that she cherished the most.
One of the highlights of her internship was her involvement in the courtroom, where she accompanied clients, prepared for hearings, and helped translate the legal process into a more approachable and understandable format. This connection with clients and her love for legal writing reaffirmed her decision to pursue Indian law as her career path.
The Calling of Alaska: A Connection with Nature and Culture
Zoë’s love for Alaska runs deep. Having moved around frequently during her earlier years, she finally settled in Alaska after completing her undergraduate studies. The state’s breathtaking outdoors, encompassing activities like hiking, cross-country skiing, and foraging, captivated her soul. Moreover, the state’s rich Alaska Native culture and heritage resonated deeply with her roots, strengthening her bond with this land.
Fostering Awareness: ANJC’s Impact Beyond Internship
Beyond the legal work, ANJC provided a unique platform for cultural awareness and exchange. ANJC organized a law and culture day for law clerks across Anchorage, introducing them to Alaska Native culture, legal perspectives, and history. Many of Zoë’s peers lacked exposure to Indigenous issues as it is not a topic covered at most law schools, and the event served as an important educational opportunity, shedding light on the significance of federal Indian law and Alaska Native law.
Zoë’s 10-week stint as a law clerk at the Alaska Native Justice Center was a transformative experience that solidified her passion for Indian law and justice. It allowed her to explore her interests, understand the intricacies of Indigenous legal issues, and bridge the gap between the what she is learning in school and real-world legal practice. Her journey at ANJC paved the way for a promising future in Indian law, where she aspires to make a lasting impact and champion justice for her community. With dedication and determination, Zoë’s path to justice is undoubtedly one that will inspire and uplift others on their legal journeys.
About the ANJC Clerkship and Fellowship Programs
ANJC’s Law Clerk and Fellowship programs encourage law students and recent law graduates to work in the field of Native law while providing opportunities to pursue a wide variety of projects. The programs contribute to the development of the Alaska Native law leaders of the future, whatever their career paths in the field might be.
- Law Clerk. A law student who works while in law school. Full time employment for 10-12 weeks, often in the summer. Part-time employment is also an option. The term “law clerk” is also used to describe a recent law school graduate that works for a Judge – AKA a ‘clerkship’ or ‘clerking.’
- Law Fellow. A recent graduate from law school that may not have passed a bar exam. Fellowships offer full time employment for one to two years and allow the fellow to gain valuable experience while continuing to learn. ANJC Law Fellows will be provided exposure to a variety of Alaska Native legal issues while engaging in research and writing, litigation, communication with clients, and administrative advocacy, among other kinds of work.
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