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Student Fellow Documents Harvard Law School’s Native American Graduates

Monday, February 7, 2022

In her research project, Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession Student Fellow Sarah Sadlier endeavors to name Native American Harvard Law School alumni, describe their educational experiences, and chart their career trajectories, in order to recognize their achievements and ensure the experiences and accounts of Native law school graduates do not remain invisible. Sadlier is a JD candidate at Harvard Law School and a PhD candidate at Harvard, specializing in Native American History with a secondary field in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality (WGS). She writes:

Of the 1.2 million attorneys in the United States, only 0.2 percent—or just under three thousand—are Native American. The literature on the legal profession often omits Native lawyers, justifying this exclusion by citing statistical insignificance. Recently, in 2020, the NALP Foundation and the University of Texas School of Law’s Center for Women in Law launched a massive study of women of color’s experience in law that ignored Native women. Its ten-year nationwide longitudinal study of lawyers’ careers also barely mentioned Native graduates.

To fill this gap, the National Native American Bar Association (NNABA) researched the exclusionary practices that Native peoples encounter in the legal profession. It found that Native graduates were not considered in diversity and inclusion efforts, were not seen as a group that required attention due to their small numbers, and did not have discrimination complaints taken seriously because incidents did not “look like the kind of discrimination” that other minority groups experience. HLS alum and former NNABA President, Lawrence R. Baca, encapsulated the immense pressure that Native law school graduates face: “There is a greater likelihood for Native attorneys that they will be the first. The first Indian hired into your law firm or agency; the first or the only Indian teaching at your law school.”  Still, Native survey respondents were more likely than the general population to report that they wanted to serve their tribal communities and that family, friends, mentors, and lawyers strongly influenced their decision to attend law school.

With the Center on the Legal Profession student fellowship, I am continuing to work on the paper that I began in the Legal Profession seminar on this topic: Invisible No More: Harvard Law School’s Native American Graduates and Their Contributions to Indian Country.

Read Sarah’s post about her project on LinkedIn and learn more about all of the CLP fellows on the CLP team site.