Keeping Indian Law on State Bar Exams

As reported on Turtle Talk, South Dakota, one of three states to include Indian law on their bar exams, recently became the second state to maintain the topic while adopting the multi-state bar exam (or "MBE").  New Mexico and Washington also test Indian law. In 2011, Washington adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (or "UBE," which includes the MBE) but left intact  "state-specific law in areas of law where Washington state law is significantly different from many other jurisdictions, and Indian law."

An increasing number of states are adopting the UBE or MBE, in large part because it allows lawyers to to practice law in multiple state jurisdictions without needing to take another bar exam--in other words, portability.  Unfortunately that countrywide movement has clashed head on with the movement to test aspiring lawyers' understanding of Indian law in as many as 30 states.


In Arizona, a widely supported rule change petition that was filed with its Supreme Court was unilaterally rejected by the court's sitting Chief Justice in or around 2009, ostensibly in the name of MBE adoption.

Yet as demonstrated in South Dakota and Washington, adoption of the MBE and inclusion of Indian law are not mutually exclusive. They are both good for states and our legal profession.  It will simply take more convincing by Indian law advocates for the fourth state to include Indian law on the bar exam, and for us to eventually reach the tipping point.  Which state will be next?

Gabriel “Gabe” Galanda is the Managing Partner at Galanda Broadman. He is a citizen of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. Gabe can be reached at 206.300.7801 or