Shawn Watts says he was sold on studying at Columbia Law School on the day that he met Professor Daniel C. Richman during a class visit.
“I absolutely love him,” Watts says. “He was one of the major reasons I ended up here. He was so engaging, so self-deprecating, and at the top of his craft.” It is Watts’ connection to the students and faculty here at the Law School that made his experience so rich.
Watts, who hails from Tulsa, Okla., and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, was extremely active in promoting Native American rights during his time at the Law School. “I dedicated much of my time to the Native American Law Students Association,” he says. Watts served as a board representative for the organization’s law school chapter during his first year and as president during his second year.
In his third year, Watts says he focused his energies on serving as national president. He says it was especially satisfying to see the Law School chapter's chapter named 2011-2012 Chapter of the Year at the Federal Bar Association's Indian Law Conference, for its work on behalf of Navajo and Chickasaw tribes, and for helping Wisconsin-based tribes draft wills.
“The win this year really was due to the inspiration and dedication of Columbia NALSA’s 1L and 2L members. I thought leaving NALSA was going to be difficult for me. But, it’s easy to leave the program when I know it is in the hands of award winners.”
As a third-year student, Watts approached the Law School’s Mediation Clinic to create a training project centered on a form of native mediation known as Peacemaking Circles. He describes this traditional type of alternative dispute resolution as focusing less on issues and more on healing or mending relationships.”
The idea led to a Mediation Clinic spring break caravan for students in early 2012. First, Supreme Court Justice Barbara Smith of the Chickasaw Nation and District Judge Michael Smith of the Sac and Fox Nation traveled to New York City to train participants. Then, during spring break, participants traveled to Oklahoma to meet with other peacemakers, tour the Chickasaw Nation, and review conflict resolution approaches.
After graduation, Watts will join the finance and bankruptcy practice group of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton in New York. “I’m going to be at a firm that values Indian law,” he says proudly. “It’s a firm that cares about pro bono work.”