Helen E. Burtis, a 2007 graduate of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, has won a writing competition held by the Indian Law Section of the State Bar of Arizona. She will receive the award and a $1,000 scholarship at the Bar’s annual convention, June 27-29, at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale. In her paper, “Sovereignty Struggles: When the Federal Government Deals the Hand,” Burtis predicts how the U.S. Supreme Court would decide the jurisdiction held by the National Labor Relations Board over Indian tribes, and provides advice for tribes about proceeding under those circumstances. Burtis, who plans to clerk for Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Irvine for a year, ultimately would like to practice law in Indian Country.
Burtis worked in the financial services and insurance industry for 23 years before enrolling in law school in 2004 at the age of 45. “I made myself a promise that I would have a second career in my life,” she said. “I’d heard a motivational speaker talk about the fact that people work 50 or more years after they graduate, and that’s plenty of time for two satisfying, rewarding careers. I thought there was a lot of merit to that, and I promised myself that, no matter how comfortable I was, I would do something new when I was 45 or 50.” Burtis said she felt studying the law would be challenging and eventually provide her with a career where she could help clients understand and achieve their objectives.
She chose the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law because of its internationally renowned Indian Legal Program (ILP). “The ILP faculty is the best in the field,” Burtis said. “They have been helpful and supportive, giving me extra time and helping me with difficult endeavors, such as externships and the challenging curricula. But they also have pushed and encouraged me to do my best.” This was Burtis’s first entry in a writing competition at the College of Law, and she said the award is both surprising and gratifying.
Rebecca Tsosie, the ILP’s executive director and a College of Law professor, said the program’s faculty, staff and students benefited from having Burtis on campus. “She distinguished herself with her commitment to study and gain practical experience in many aspects of Federal Indian law,” Tsosie said. “Helen’s excellent written work demonstrates her mastery of the subject and her willingness to engage in a creative and thoughtful analysis of the many tough issues within Federal Indian law. “We are so pleased and honored to join the State Bar of Arizona in congratulating Helen for her winning essay in the writing competition, and we look forward to celebrating her future accomplishments in the field of Federal Indian law.” To read Burtis’s paper, go here.