Experiential Learning in Law School: Presenting to a Tribal Council

Experiential Learning in Law School: Presenting to a Tribal CouncilThis week we welcome back guest writer Tiffany Lo to talk about experiential learning in law school.

Before I was in law school, I remember hearing about stories of law students making a difference in the world, whether through exonerating death row prisoners, assisting small businesses, or working on immigration and deportation cases. Inspired and motivated, I wanted to do that myself someday.

Flash forward to law school now, and I finally got my chance. This fall, I joined a policy practicum where I had the chance to assist the Yurok Tribe’s Office of the Tribal Council with some of their current legal issues. The Yurok Tribe’s reservation is located in Del Norte and Humboldt counties in North California, sitting on a stretch of the Klamath River. I worked on two different projects: one, advising on a potential discrimination suit and two, preparing a whitepaper to describe the process of tribes contracting with the federal government in order to gain funding and coordinate in wildfire prevention and management.

Research and Writing

For each project, we worked in teams of two. I had a fantastic time learning from my partners. We were able to use our different backgrounds and knowledge about the world, tribal law, and federal Indian law to anticipate issues, solve problems, and put together a clear and persuasive policy proposal. We were supervised by two prominent federal Indian law and tribal law experts. They guided us in the right direction, encouraged us to refine our writing and argumentation, and recounted their experiences working in the field with tribal governments. Through a combination of legal research, interviews, writing, editing, and proofreading, we prepared our conclusions and recommendations.

Presenting to the Tribal Council

After weeks of researching and drafting memoranda, my classmates and I traveled up north to present our findings to the Yurok Tribal Council. Standing up in front of the eight members of the Council, I walked them through my two powerpoint presentations and answered questions about my research topics. I also learned a lot from watching my fellow students’ present and interact with council members on issues including data sovereignty, commercial codes, and social services. Moreover, we observed council members conduct their regular business, from scheduling meetings to hearing public comment to discussing corporate reporting requirements. We were reminded how tribal governments are just like local governments, dealing with myriad issues ranging in scope and complexity. Even after experiencing only a small slice of tribal governance, we appreciated even more the work and dedication it takes to run and grow a tribal community.

By virtue of being on the reservation and chatting with Yurok tribal council and community members, we learned interesting facts about life on the reservation. We had visited right before the beginning of the eeling season, a big tradition of the tribe. We were also offered a jar of delicious spicy smoked salmon, which went incredibly well with our lunch. The reservation being in rural California, we learned that in certain parts of the reservation, basic necessities such as electricity and internet connection are unstable or lacking. This in turn affects community members, especially elders and students. We also learned about other obstacles concerning water rights and housing. But what stuck with me most was the vibrancy of tribal life and the determination of tribal leaders to tackle important and complex issues.

Experiential Learning in Law School

You may already know that law schools offer a host of experiential learning opportunities such as clinics and policy labs, but each experience varies depending on the subject matter and the supervising professors and lecturers. I came into law school wanting to learn more about tribal communities and how the law affects their daily lives. With an eye toward this, I paid attention to course offerings and academics in this area. I was very fortunate to have this opportunity, and especially to travel to the Tribal reservation during a pandemic. This experience taught me how to work in a team, collect and filter through information, identify dispositive and peripheral legal issues, and communicate succinctly but persuasively. These are skills that will be crucial in real-world practice.

If you have a type of work that you are interested in, I urge you to seek out established experiential opportunities at your school. If you cannot find anything, try contacting a professor who teaches and researches in the area and see if you can create your own opportunities with their help. Directed research is a great option, and you can even write your own academic paper with an eye toward publication.

I highly recommend engaging in experiential learning while in law school. Many students come to law school to try to help people; working with real clients on real matters while in law school will help you develop skills and connections to create change on a larger scale. Whether you are building on your past experience and interests, or trying out a completely new area, I am confident that you will find the experience enriching and practical.

For other practical advice for law students, check out this blog post.


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About Tiffany Gee Ching Lo

Tiffany Gee Ching Lo is a student at Stanford Law School. She spent her 1L year at the New York University School of Law, where she was involved with Alternative Breaks, Women of Color Collective, and Law Revue, and worked as research assistant. Tiffany received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, graduating magna cum laude with double majors in Political Science and Rhetoric. Tiffany developed an interest in the law from a young age, and have worked in law firms and courthouses in Hong Kong–where she grew up, around the San Francisco Bay Area, and in New York. In her spare time, Tiffany enjoys painting, playing the piano and cello, trying out new recipes, and watching late night talk shows.

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