Aliza Organick (`96) was immersed in her clinical rotation at the University of New Mexico School of Law when she found her calling. During her third semester in law school, she and classmate Leslie Mansfield initiated an advocacy project on behalf of coal and uranium miners in New Mexico, Arizona and southern Colorado. Shortly before graduation, they received grants to establish the Miners’ Legal Resource Center and continued that work for two more years.
“The clinical experience itself – the connection of bringing together the doctrinal teachings with real-life cases – crystallized all the things I wanted to explore as a lawyer,” she said.
Organick’s clinical teaching career began that summer when the law school provided space for the center and designated her and Mansfield adjunct professors. They supervised students who helped process claims from miners who had developed health problems from working in mines. In the fall 2012, Organick returned to the UNM School of Law as a tenured professor, completing a circle that is packed with inspired clinical accomplishments. She is teaching in the community lawyering and law practice clinics.
Never far from a law clinic
Organick, a citizen of the Dine` Nation, born to the Tsenijikini Clan (Cliff Dweller Clan), has never been far from a law clinic since earning her J.D. When funding ran out for the miners’ center, she spent five years as a public defender.
But teaching in a law clinic was her goal, and in 2004, she joined the faculty at Washburn University School of Law. She set about to create the first clinical law program in Kansas focused on tribal court practice. Students in her Tribal and State Court Clinic handled cases for the Prairie Band Potowatami Nation and the Kickapoo Nation of Kansas. “Never before had law students reached out to practice in those communities,” she said. “In this clinic, I focused on teaching students the important cultural component of practice in culturally distinct communities.”
At Washburn, Organick also created and developed the course curriculum for three seminar classes: Tribal Court Practice Seminar, International Law of Indigenous Peoples and Comparative Law: Understanding Method and Theory.
“One of my goals at Washburn was to expose students not only to practice in local tribal communities, but also to underscore the critical need to consider how colonialism affected indigenous peoples worldwide, and to think about those issues in the broader context of international human rights,” she said.
In 2007, Organick returned to the UNM School of Law to teach in the Southwest Indian Law Clinic, where she taught for a few summers.
Outside the Classroom
Organick is the co-founder and co-organizer of the Indian Law Clinics and Externship Symposium, which takes place in Indian country. The goal of this symposium is to create a pedagogy and methodology for training law students to practice law among Native people in indigenous communities. She has organized and presented at numerous continuing legal education programs, including those that focus on developing expertise in the practice of law in tribal court settings and is a past chair of the American Association of Law Schools section on the Indian Nations and Indigenous Peoples.
Organick is currently in the first of a two-year appointment to the board of the National Native American Bar Association, which strives to increase the unique cultural and legal issues that are present in tribal communities in the U.S.
With her scholarship, she has focused on the Indian Child Welfare Act in Kansas, the rights of indigenous people and tribal court practice. She is co-author of the Tribal Court Practice Handbook, forthcoming from Carolina Academic Press.
A return to roots
Although her family moved around when she was growing up, following her father, who was a physician and professor of clinical medicine, Organick regards New Mexico as her home. She earned a bachelor of university studies at UNM in 1992.
She considered medical school, but after working for a women’s health health-care provider, she was horrified at the difficulty women had trying to gain access to health-care and abortion services. That turned her toward law school with a goal to strengthen her advocacy options. She graduated from the Pre-Law Summer Institute at the American Indian Law Center in 1993.
“I am excited to be back in New Mexico, to be back enjoying the sunshine and green chile,” she said. But mostly, Organick is excited to be working with UNM law students. “It’s always rewarding watching students become lawyers.”
September 5, 2012