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[indigenous_peoples_literature] A Stake in 'Indian Country'

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  • nativelit@earthlink.net
    A Stake in Indian Country http://search.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1999-09/01/078l-090199-i dx.html Native American Law Practice Attracts Big Firm By
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 1999
      A Stake in 'Indian Country'

      Native American Law Practice Attracts Big Firm

      By William Claiborne
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Wednesday, September 1, 1999; Page A21

      CHICAGO¬óSince big law firms buy out small law firms
      almost every
      day, there seemed to be little reason to take notice
      last month when Shea
      & Wilks, a small specialty practice in Phoenix, was
      acquired by Snell &
      Wilmer, one of the largest law firms in the western
      United States.

      Except that Shea & Wilks specializes in federal
      Indian law, and the
      acquisition is believed to be the first time a major
      law firm has taken over a
      small one for the sole purpose of developing its own
      Native American law

      The acquisition is being viewed by many lawyers as an
      acknowledgment by some of the powerhouses in the
      legal profession that
      as the tribes amass greater wealth and influence
      through casinos and other
      big-money enterprises, they represent not only a
      lucrative market for
      services but a powerful business force to be reckoned
      with in a manner
      befitting the law firms' largest establishment

      "Indian Country is becoming more sophisticated about
      who represents
      them and the big law firms are catching on to the
      need for Indian law
      groups," said Keith Harper, a staff attorney for the
      Native Americans
      Rights Fund. "I think we're going to see more of
      these small [Indian law]
      practices going into big firms."

      Increasingly, as casino-rich Indian tribes diversify
      their investments and
      gain greater economic power and self-determination,
      law firms have been
      looking to add or expand their Indian work in
      litigation, lobbying and a
      wide range of other legal services from land claims
      and gaming regulation
      to sovereignty issues and environmental law.

      Some established firms, such as Dorsey & Whitney and
      Holland & Knight,
      have already made a commitment to Indian
      representation, expanding their
      stable of lawyers and consultants who specialize in
      federal Indian law on a
      piecemeal basis as needed. Some firms have hired
      Native American
      attorneys to make themselves even more attractive to
      tribes seeking legal
      help. Indeed, Holland & Knight recently added Philip
      N. Hogen, a Sioux,
      who was a former member of the National Indian Gaming
      Commission and
      a U.S. attorney in South Dakota.

      But when Snell & Wilmer, which has 270 lawyers in
      offices in Phoenix,
      Tucson, Salt Lake City and Irvine, Calif.--and a list
      of 6,000 clients that
      includes such giants as General Motors Corp. and
      Intel Corp.--looked to
      expand its Indian law business, it found a ready-made
      package in Shea &

      One of the pioneering boutique law firms specializing
      in federal Indian law,
      Shea & Wilks was associated in the late 1940s and
      early 1950s with Felix
      S. Cohen, a onetime Indian affairs solicitor in the
      Interior Department who
      is credited with being the principal drafter of the
      Indian Reorganization Act
      of 1934, which protected tribal lands and permitted
      them to establish

      Shea & Wilks has represented a number of tribes, but
      most importantly for
      Snell & Wilmer, its three partners took with them to
      their new home their
      biggest client, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Tribe.

      The three lawyers who joined Snell & Wilmer are
      Philip J. Shea, Richard
      B. Wilks and William W. Quinn Jr. Shea and Wilks
      joined the firm that
      bore their names in 1965 and 1972, respectively, and
      Quinn, who had
      been an ethnohistorian for the Bureau of Indian
      Affairs, joined in 1989.

      In terms of economic development, the Salt River
      tribe is one of the
      fastest-growing in the nation. Much of the expansion
      has been generated
      by revenue from two highly profitable casinos near
      Phoenix and
      Scottsdale, Ariz., each of which reportedly grosses
      hundreds of millions of
      dollars annually. The tribe, which has only 5,600
      members, does not
      disclose its earnings.

      The tribe also owns golf courses, a cement
      manufacturing company, a
      commercial solid waste landfill, a telecommunications
      firm and Miss
      Karen's, a national frozen yogurt chain.

      Quinn, who is chairman of the Arizona Bar
      Association's Indian Law
      section, said that the "mutual needs" of Indian
      tribes and Snell & Wilmer
      would be fulfilled by Shea & Wilks joining the larger

      "The Indians get great representation, with access to
      some of the best
      specialists in the country, and Snell & Wilmer gets
      major new clients,"
      Quinn said. "They [the firm] have made it in that

      Quinn predicted big law firms will increasingly
      acquire Indian law specialty
      firms in order to create their own Indian law
      practice groups because "it
      seems logical to get a collection of specialists
      under one roof." He said
      Snell & Wilmer also plans to recruit lawyers who are
      enrolled members of

      Not all Native American boutiques, however, are
      looking to be acquired.
      Two such Washington, D.C., law firms--Sonosky,
      Chambers, Sachse &
      Endreson and Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker--like being
      on their own.

      "The idea of being under the sway of a larger group
      of managers is not
      appealing," said Charles A. Hobbs. Reid P. Chambers
      added, "We like
      our independence."
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