Ryan Dreveskracht's occasional paper, “Keeping Tribal Business Partners Close – and Their Lawyers Closer,” was published today by Turtle Talk, the leading blog on issues of federal Indian and tribal law, with the following editorial comment from Professor Matthew Fletcher.
I’m largely in agreement with Dreveskracht. When I started practicing in the 1990s, senior attorneys counseled me to draft contract language that would facilitate these kinds of traps. One example involved a private vendor that refused to adjudicate disputes in tribal court, insisting on state court jurisdiction and governing law. We negotiated for federal court review as a “compromise.” Of course, there is no federal subject matter jurisdiction over contract claims just because one of the parties is an Indian tribe. In California especially, cases started coming out in the 2000s where federal court judges were forced to dismiss contract claims, but the federal judges openly criticized tribal lawyers for negotiating those provisions. They frankly are borderline unethical, and may implicate professional responsibility canons.
Business partners are partners before they are adversaries, and tribal businesses depend on goodwill of their own businesses and those of other tribes to create a groundwork for doing business with non-Indian entities. It seems reasonable to rethink the arms-length negotiations strategies in at least some contracts. It may be a difficult pill to swallow for tribal lawyers. Well, face it, most just won’t do it. Lawyers are trained in an adversarial process, and always lean toward strictly assessing risk. Maybe that’s why lawyers are such lousy business people.
Ryan Dreveskracht is an Associate at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm. His practice focuses on representing businesses and tribal governments in public affairs, energy, gaming, taxation, and general economic development. He can be reached at 206.909.3842 or firstname.lastname@example.org.