Clinic Spotlight: The Indian Child Welfare Act Clinic

July 31, 2019

The Indian Child Welfare Act Clinic (ICWA Clinic) is a full academic year, four-credit program beginning in the fall semester. The casework focuses on litigation involving the ICWA and Tribal Code. The clinic is led by two adjunct faculty members from the Minneapolis-based ICWA Law Center—Executive Director Shannon Smith ’99 and Litigation Director Andrea Braun. Smith recently took the time to answer a few questions about the clinic and how it impacts students, clients, and the community.

Please briefly describe the work of the ICWA Clinic.

The ICWA Clinic provides direct legal representation to American Indian families impacted by cases implicating the Indian Child Welfare Act. The mission of the ICWA Law Center is to strengthen, preserve, and reunite Indian families consistent with the mandates and spirit of the ICWA.

What legal experience do student participants get?

As certified student attorneys, students formulate arguments and present in court. Students work closely with the Law Center staff to create attorney-client relationships. Students have the opportunity to analyze complex legal situations in the context of pending litigation. They draft court documents including motions, petitions, responses, and briefs.  

How do students who plan to practice in legal areas outside the ICWA benefit from participation?

The ICWA Clinic provides an outstanding opportunity to spend time in the courtroom. I graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1999. As a 2L, I was approached to sign-up for the ICWA Clinic because the clinic I originally registered for was full. The decision to register for the ICWA Clinic opened up so many opportunities for me. Since starting with the ICWA Clinic in 1997, I have had the privilege to represent thousands of families. I love my work and am challenged every day. I have been the executive director at the ICWA Law Center for 16 years and I continue to love what I do. 

What makes you passionate about this particular area of practice?

The ICWA Law Center is an amazing place. Advocating on behalf of Indian families, we collaborate with tribal representatives and community providers to identify the family’s strengths and needs. Throughout representation, we work to ensure families are protected and needs are appropriately assessed and best met. Through advocacy, we are committed to ensuring parents have a voice in the future of their children. 

What would you say to a student considering this clinic as an experiential learning opportunity?

The ICWA Clinic provides an amazing opportunity to provide advocacy in the courtroom with the guidance of experienced attorneys passionate about their work.

For more information about the ICWA Clinic, visit its webpage.

Shannon Smith ’99, executive director of the ICWA Law Center
Shannon Smith ’99, executive director of the ICWA Law Center

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