Foster Pepper PLLC partner Lauren J. King’s work defending the interests of Native American tribes, including securing a major fishing rights victory for a Northwestern tribe, has earned her a place among Law360's top attorneys under 40 working in the area of Native American law.
Lauren successfully defended the Quileute Indian Tribe from a six-year-long challenge seeking to restrict their access to fisheries in the Pacific Ocean off the western coast of Washington State. The Makah Indian Tribe had sought to restrict the western border of the competing tribes’ fishing boundaries from 40 miles offshore to less than 10 miles. At the center of the dispute was a critical whiting fishery that the Quileute Tribe had been harvesting for generations and rightfully belonged to the tribe under the 1855 Treaty of Olympia, King said.
“What was at stake in that case were the promises made in the treaty of 1855 and the tribe’s cultural identity,” King said. “If we had lost that case, the history books would have been rewritten.”
To defend the tribe's fishing rights, King had to establish that the tribe’s ancestors historically fished in the disputed area at the time of the treaty’s signing, which required some creative thinking because the tribe was isolated from contact with settlers during that period and there were few historical documents to rely on, she said. The case involved nine expert witnesses and 472 exhibits on topics such as the contents of archeological middens, or trash heaps, and the ancestors’ linguistic understanding of the 1855 treaty.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez said in August that the tribe had used the appropriate methodology to determine the geographical coordinates of their proposed fishing boundaries. The case, known as subproceeding 09-1, is part of sprawling, decades-long litigation by the federal government filed against the state of Washington in 1971. It is currently under appeal in the Ninth Circuit.
King’s relationship with the Quileute Tribe began when she did pro bono work for the tribe as a second-year associate at another firm, which gave her her first opportunity to present an argument in court.
“I walked in and there were a lot of attorneys there from thirteen tribes,” King said. “One of the gray-haired lawyers walked up to me and said, ‘Welcome to the halibut wars.’ ”
Her representation of the tribe, now in its sixth year, taught her that Native American law could provide the foundation of a career and has encompassed a formative time during which she matured from an associate into a partner, she said.
“I’ve grown up as an attorney with the Quileute Tribe,” King said. “We’ve really just created a great working relationship where we have understanding conversations, opposing viewpoints are accepted, and we view each other as kind of a functional family.”
King has also defended the tribe from challenges to hunting rights in its territory and has advised the tribal council on governance matters, indemnification agreements and ongoing negotiations in disputes with other entities and has drafted council resolutions and tribal regulations.
King said she was drawn to Foster Pepper because the firm is unique in supporting associates' business development, which has helped her launch a practice representing clients in the casual gaming area. She also credited her success to having experienced role models, both at Foster Pepper and at previous firms.
“Strong mentors who have invested in me as a person and as an attorney has been crucial,” King said.