The ICWA Law Center’s mission is to work with the Indian community to preserve and reunite Indian families by providing culturally appropriate legal services, governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, to children, parents, extended family members, and tribes; and to serve as a community development resource for Indian Child Welfare Act education, advocacy, and public policy. They are a community based organization that engages with and empowers their community; they are culturally relevant and believe in collaboration.
ICWA Law Center’s goals are to provide the highest quality of legal services for Indian families, to preserve and reunite Indian families who are impacted by the child protection system, to collaborate with Indian families and tribes to secure safe and loving homes for their children when out of home placement is necessary, to advocate for the best interests of Indian children and their right to maintain family and tribal connections, and to end the disparities in the number of out of home placements of Indian children. They do this by representing Indian families affected by the child protection system; collaborating with tribes, community services providers, and child protection professionals to provide a responsive and meaningful approach to address clients’ strengths and struggles; advocating for systematic responses for better meeting the needs of Indian children and families; conducting trainings for prosecutors’ offices that are focused on compliance with the mandates and spirit of the ICWA; and facilitating a national ICWA resource.
For at least 16 years, the ICWA Law Center has been collaborating with MJF and utilizing law student volunteers. Students work on research and writing projects. They also provide case support to ICWA Law Center Attorneys, including drafting motions, legal memorandum, and preparing client files for hearings involving the Indian Child Welfare Act. In that time, ICWA Law Center has worked with 111 law student volunteers. Those volunteers logged more than 2,886 hours and have reported working with 328 clients.
Students have reported positive experiences volunteering for ICWA Law Center:
“Volunteering at ICWA Law Center helped me understand the family court system, the common legal terminology used in family and juvenile courts, as well as the differences between family law and juvenile law, which is often intertwined in other jurisdictions.”
“My favorite MJF opportunity. I adore the women of the ICWA Law Center!”
“A wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know American Indian clients. Powerful, powerful experiences. Much learning, some hard lessons.”
Marlee Torrence is in her second year at Hamline University School of Law and just completed an MJF summer clerkship at ICWA Law Center. Each year, MJF sponsors and funds law student summer clerkships with legal aid offices and public interest organizations in Minnesota. ICWA Law Center was selected to host a 2015 MJF Summer Clerkship and it chose to hire Marlee as its summer clerk.
Marlee grew up in the Twin Cities and, through her hard work and dedication, graduated from Hamline University with a Bachelor’s Degree and Paralegal Certificate at age 19. She chose to attend law school because she enjoys helping people and solving problems. She strives to serve as a resource to help guide people in the right direction when they are not able to do it on their own.
Marlee began volunteering at ICWA Law Center during her first semester of law school, and continued volunteering there throughout the academic year. Marlee feels a connection with the client base and empathizes with the stress placed on families dealing with child protection issues. She has a passion for keeping families together, as well as an interest in the historical trauma Native Americans have experienced. She found her experience over the summer to be very rewarding.
The MJF Summer Clerkship gave Marlee an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and experience in the field. During the course of the clerkship, Marlee assisted the attorneys at ICWA in a variety of ways. She communicated with clients, went to court hearings with the attorneys, assisted with client intake forms, and attended client meetings. Toward the end of the clerkship, Marlee even had an opportunity to represent a client as a certified student attorney. She found the experience very helpful in learning how to speak on behalf of the client and in front of a judge. These experiences helped Marlee to learn about the different types of court hearings, the proper courtroom procedure, the roles of different parties, and what the client’s rights are.
The Summer Clerkship experience also allowed Marlee to sharpen her research and writing skills. She drafted court documents, researched cases and rules for clients, wrote research memoranda, and summarized new child welfare legislation. She also became familiar with how to read guidelines, tribal codes, and other child protection statutes. Marlee gained practical skills, such as learning how to e-file and draft petitions for transferring legal custody, motions, termination of parental rights, and affidavits for CHIPS admissions. As a special project, she also compiled a binder of essential resources for ICWA clients. Since ICWA serves low-income families, many families need information on essential resources such as food shelves, housing, shelters, chemical dependency, mental health, clothing, baby items, and Native American specific information.
Marlee appreciated the opportunity for experience and networking by attending events and shadowing attorneys in the courtroom. Over the course of the summer, she worked with county attorneys, social workers, tribal representatives, and counselors. This experience was a great way to meet other professionals in the child protection field as well as understand the roles they play in each case.
Marlee sums up her experience this way: “This summer Minnesota Justice Foundation provided me with such a great opportunity that had endless rewards. My time at ICWA was an absolutely amazing, insightful, and rewarding experience. It was also a great place to discover an area of the law that I have a passion for.” Marlee plans to continue volunteering at ICWA Law Center this year.
Board member profile: Archana Nath
Archana Nath is a partner at Oppenheimer Wolfe & Donnelly LLP, where she practices business litigation with a focus on health care litigation, patent litigation and financial services disputes. Archana graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2007, where she was the Co-President of the Minnesota Justice Foundation’s (MJF) Student Chapter.
Archana currently serves as the Vice Chair of MJF’s Board of Directors, participating in the Executive, Annual Awards Celebration, and Marketing/PR committees. She enjoys serving on the Board because “our important work helps so many different people and organizations through one single organization. MJF provides law students with volunteer opportunities to obtain important, real-world legal experience helping those in need, and to gain an appreciation for the importance of public service.” MJF’s law student volunteers “provide dozens of essential public service legal organizations with legal work they would otherwise not be able to afford, and contribute tens of thousands of hours of legal services to those in need.”
When asked about how serving with MJF has impacted her perspective on the legal system’s role in society, Archana responded: “Working on MJF’s Board has made clear the overwhelming need of so many individuals who cannot afford legal services. But the amazing work of MJF and its volunteers has also shown me how much of a difference every single MJF volunteer law student can make for those in need of legal services. The dedication and passion of the MJF volunteers and the amazing work they do inspires me to continue dedicating time to pro bono work in my own practice and to continue my work with MJF.”
Archana is an active member of her law firm’s Pro Bono Committee, which encourages its attorneys to volunteer time towards pro bono work, and provides opportunities and resources for those attorneys. Additionally, Archana manages the firm’s MJF volunteer law student program, through which the firm hires 1-2 MJF clerks each year to assist its attorneys in a wide variety of pro bono matters. “These clerks have been an important part of the firm’s commitment to pro bono service,” she adds.
In addition to serving on MJF’s Board, Archana is a member of the Federal Bar Association’s Federal Practice Committee, serves as a Board Member for NARAL Pro Choice Minnesota, and volunteers with Children’s Law Center, the Tubman Safety Project and the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Project. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by SuperLawyers Magazine (2015), an “Up & Coming Attorney” by Minnesota Lawyer (2013) and a “North Star Lawyer” by the Minnesota State Bar Association (2012-13) for her demonstrated commitment to pro bono.