ANJC clerkship provides real-world experience for law student
Geoff Bacon never just wanted to be a lawyer. He wanted to be a good lawyer.
A Tribal citizen of the Native Village of Tanana and born and raised in Fairbanks, Geoff was employed for several years in human resources, including in Tribal health. The in-house attorneys he worked alongside inspired him to pursue a “second career” as a lawyer.
“One thing that stuck with me was a Native lawyer who said, ‘Indian country needs more Native lawyers—but we need good Native lawyers,’” Geoff shared. “A bad lawyer makes a bad case, which sets a bad precedent for every Tribe in the country. Part of what drives me is that when I say something or do something for a client, it needs to be thoughtful and researched because credibility is everything.”
This past January, Geoff became the first law student to work as an ANJC law clerk during an academic semester. Typically, law clerks at ANJC work for 10 – 12 weeks in the summer, assisting the organization’s staff attorneys and gaining real-world experiences with cases involving survivors of domestic violence and tribes participating in Indian Child Welfare Act cases.
Geoff, who was attending the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, wanted to find a way to come back to Alaska and serve his people. He sought out ANJC Chief Operating Officer Alex Cleghorn to work for ANJC during an Away Field Placement, which allows Berkeley law students to expand their education beyond school by doing legal work supervised by an attorney while also earning academic credit.
“Law students like rules, but it’s also important to push beyond rules, and just ask,” Geoff reflected. “I encourage others to ask, if you can; advocate for your career and for opportunities to become a better lawyer. If you want those opportunities, push for them—for yourself, and for others.”
During an ANJC clerkship, law students can pursue a wide variety of projects while gaining practical knowledge about laws that impact Tribes. Geoff worked with ANJC’s Tribal Support team to assist Tribes with implementing and operating their Tribal courts.
He also had the opportunity to represent an ANJC client on a case in state court. Under Alaska Bar Association rules, which allow for law students to appear in court under the supervision of a licensed attorney—in this case, ANJC Staff Attorney Charlie Kidd—Geoff helped prepare his client for a hearing, ensuring they felt supported and confident as they confronted an abuser and testified in court.
“Nothing in law school prepares you for that direct client work,” he said.
Now that Geoff has graduated law school and been admitted to the Alaska Bar, he is currently working as a judicial law clerk at the Alaska Supreme Court. In this role, he reviews the record of what happened at trials on appeal from Superior and District courts. Although he’s only looking at words on paper, thanks to his time with ANJC, he understands the weight behind those words.
“Without that experience, I wouldn’t have had that exposure to the emotional charge that happens in a courtroom,” he said. “When people testify—when you’re reading that testimony on a transcript—there’s so much more there than what’s in the words. My ANJC work helped me apply empathy when reading the record and reinforced the important role advocates play to achieve a good decision for the case.”
Are you a law student looking for an opportunity to gain real-world experience? We offer clerkships for current law students and fellowships for recent law school graduates who may not yet have passed the bar. For more information, visit our Law Clerk and Fellow Programs page.