Native Nations Law J.D. Specialization

The Native Nations Law JD Specialization comprises courses focusing on tribal legal systems, federal Indian law, and international advocacy for Indigenous rights. A renowned resource in support of Native Nations, UCLA Law’s Native Nations Law & Policy Center advances Indian nations’ laws and institutions in furtherance of tribal sovereignty and rights of self-determination. A central pillar of the specialization is the Tribal Legal Development Clinic, which connects law students directly with tribal leaders, officers, and attorneys, to provide legal development services to Indian tribes. UCLA Law and UCLA’s American Indian Studies Department offer a four-year joint degree JD/MA program designed to produce law graduates with a rich understanding of tribal cultures that will increase their legal understanding, facilitate their practice in the field of Indian law and enhance their service to Indian nations. Legal study will include relevant tribal, United States and international law.

Indian law has long fought for recognition as a field worthy of pursuit within the law school curriculum. There are federally recognized Tribes in thirty-five states and 109 federally recognized Tribes in California alone. These Tribes encounter complex legal issues impacting land use management, water law, child welfare, wills and trusts, criminal law, and corporations, yet most attorneys fail to even recognize Indian law issues when encountered. The lack of licensed attorneys who are competently knowledgeable of Indian law has exacerbated the hardships faced by low-income Natives and under-resourced Tribes when they need representation. Meanwhile, Tribal economies are having a growing impact within their states, increasing the encounters between Native and non-Native communities, including in the realms of gaming, taxation, child welfare, water, and natural resources development. With 574 federally recognized Tribes, over 300 Tribal court systems, a $30 billion-a-year gaming industry, and Tribal natural resource extraction enterprises generating billions, Indian Law will continue to grow and flourish. It is becoming increasingly relevant to every area of legal practice. As home to the nation’s second largest urban Indian community, Los Angeles is a natural fit to educate the next generation of lawyers in the field.

Areas of Focus

Indian Law

From addressing public policy concerns for Native peoples to repatriation and cultural resource protection, Indian law covers a wide range of legal subjects.

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Centers of Excellence

Native Nations Law & Policy Center

This center advances Indian nations’ laws and institutions while promoting cultural resource protections.

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Coursework Requirement

J.D. students are required to complete five courses with a grade of B- or better in each course to complete the program.

Course or Independent Research with non-NNLPC Core or Affiliated Faculty Members

For courses or independent research with non-NNLPC Core or Affiliated Faculty, you may petition for pre-approval by submitting a description of the course or independent research to a member of the Specialization Committee. You should note that it may not always be possible to pre-approve independent research, in which case a decision will be made once the student submits a completed project.

Students may petition the Specialization Committee to have other relevant courses or independent studies counted toward the specialization. The Center faculty may also approve, on a case-by-case basis, specialization credit for appropriate courses taken either abroad as part of Foreign Legal Studies, or as a transfer or visiting student. The list of courses (including seminars and clinics) that satisfy the specialization will be reviewed annually and revised as appropriate by the Specialization Committee, in coordination with the Records Office. Students are encouraged to look into the specifics of the syllabi of each course and to meet with the faculty advisors to ensure they select courses that best achieve their personal educational goals.

Students may petition the Specialization Committee for permission to take Federal Indian Law I and Federal Indian Law II concurrently, or for permission for the Tribal Legal Development Clinic to serve as a pre-requisite to Federal Indian Law II, requests which may be granted, but only in exceptional circumstances.

Students pursuing the J.D. Specialization in Native Nations Law do not receive priority enrollment for any course except the Tribal Legal Development Clinic. However, ultimate enrollment decisions remain at the discretion of the Clinic director. Students are encouraged to enroll for other courses as early as possible in the enrollment period for maximum flexibility.

Please note that not all courses will be offered every year.


Students pursuing the Specialization in Native Nations Law may pursue full- or part-time externships relating to Indian law for credit towards the specialization’s Group B coursework requirement. A student wishing to use an externship as a qualifying course must receive the prior consent of the Native Nations Law Specialization Committee. Consent will require a demonstration that the externship will provide exposure to relevant substantive areas of law. Regardless of the number of externships or externship units a student completes, a student may use externships to count, at most, as one course.

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