Native American Lawyers Needed

Dennette Mouser wants to see more Native Americans become lawyers.
She knows they can be successful and achieve far beyond personal expectations in the legal world both in the corporate community as well as Indian courts.
Mouser understands difficulties in obtaining the law degree and spoke from personal experiences to University of Tulsa College of Law students on Jan. 17 where she served as Distinguished Practitioner in Residence.
Currently she is an associate justice of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma Supreme Court. She previously had served as the justice. She also is assistant general council for Wal-Mart in the class action litigation division, managing the defense of statewide and nationwide class actions.
The Tulsa native earned her degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1999.
She was named Chief Justice of the Muscogee (Creek) National Supreme Court in 2005, a position she held for two years before stepping aside to become an associate justice.
‘‘I loved my work as chief justice,’’ she said.
Service to the court is one way Mouser is fulfilling her sense of obligation to the Creek Nation that helped her get through school.
‘‘I felt like the associate justice’s role was more of an opportunity to assist the rest of the court,’’ she said. ‘‘We waded through a heavy docket to get out as many opinions as we could.’’
Most opinions involve civil matters, but issues involving criminal cases also are heard. All cases come from the Indian district court.
Time constraints and personal reasons required that she step aside in 2007.
Mouser, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) tribe, also has Cherokee blood from her father’s side. But the family has been unable to trace ancestors back so they could be on the Dawes Commission role.
After graduating from law school, she went to the law firm of Locke, Liddell & Sapp, LLP., where she worked in the litigation section of the 500-member firm.
Later she would work for Godwin and Gruber after being recruited by that firm’s managing partner, working on his team.
‘‘I loved my work as a litigation attorney while in Dallas,’’ she said.
However, her career path took still another turn when she took a position in the legal department at Wal-Mart.
Mouser also was pleased to learn that Wal-Mart also was seeking her when she was hired.
‘‘Now I manage class action suits filed against the Bentonville, Ark.-based company both statewide and nationwide,’’ Mouser continued. Six other attorneys in the department share the workload.
Utilizing the various experiences, Mouser said many job opportunities exist in law that few ever think about.
Basically, there are three different areas of law practice, she continued. One is the solo practitioner. Next is the corporate atmosphere such as Wal-Mart. Finally, there is the court system or government service. All are important and are very different areas of work.
Looking at these roles, particularly from the perspective of minorities, can present challenges, Mouser continued. This is particularly true with Native Americans who make up about two percent of law students in all colleges and universities. They didn’t have a grandfather or a dad in the profession. They didn’t know what to expect. They don’t have anyone close with whom they can talk. The only thing ahead is law school. They just don’t know what to expect when classes start.
That lack of legacy among minority law students also puts up real or perceived limitations as they look for jobs.
‘‘I want law students, especially minorities, to have someone to look to,’’ she continued.
Too often, when Native Americans graduate, they limit themselves to a narrow part of the legal practice, particularly tribal and Indian law.
Unfortunately, they and many other minorities, because of culture differences, don’t particularly have the vision to reach out to get the type of legal job they want.
More often than not, these individuals are the first in their family to enter law school, Mouser continued. They come with the idea they can, as an attorney, be a real service to their people.
While there is nothing wrong with that dream, Mouser said that doors to the legal field are wide open, especially to minority attorneys.
It helps to see a person’s perspective as they work in a big firm and that being part of a corporation also is honorable. These positions can help a person further their goals to help others that seem to be left out of legal representation.
A few years ago, anyone looking at law firms in corporate America could see it was dominated by white male attorneys. That is changing.
Wal-Mart General Counsel Tom Marrs, looking for new legal talent, attended a Women’s Bar Association meeting. There he found an untapped and very talented pool of attorneys ready to work.
Since that time the company has asked law firms used as outside counsel to provide the diversity report about their firms.
Careful attention is paid to how minorities and women are included at all levels. Firms with a good mix are considered more favorably by Wal-Mart than those not making efforts to change.
Attention also is given to law firm involvement in the community.
Mouser said Wal-Mart’s community commitment reaches deep in many areas.
‘‘I am allowed time to do my work on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Supreme Court,’’ she continued. ‘‘They do this even though my work is in Oklahoma and I now live in Arkansas.
‘‘I also am thrilled to be selected as Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the TU College of Law.’’

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