Judge Shawn K. Watts

Shawn Watts
  • Lecturer of Law
  • Director, Tribal Judicial Support Clinic


Judge Shawn K. Watts joined the KU Law lawyering faculty in 2018 and became a Lecturer of Law in January 2022. Watts supervises students in the Tribal Judicial Support Clinic, and teaches courses in Mediation Skills and Federal Indian Law. He is also a district court judge for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.

Prior to KU Law, he taught at Columbia Law School in New York City where he was the Associate Director of the Mediation Program. He taught an Advanced Mediation Clinic and a Native American Peacemaking Clinic. He has been a visiting professor at both Yale Law School and National Taiwan University Law School in Taipei, Taiwan. 

In his practice, Judge Watts mediates federal and state cases with an emphasis in employment discrimination cases. He is also a consultant with the National American Indian Court Judges Association specializing in helping tribal court programs to include traditional and customary justice practices.

In addition to his work with Indian tribes and tribal organizations, Judge Watts is also a lead trainer and formal partner for the United Nations Institute of Training and Research where he trains and advises world diplomats on the issues facing the world's indigenous peoples. He also provides the U.N. training and curriculum on conflict resolution, negotiation, and peace dialogue.

A Citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Judge Watts graduated from Columbia Law School, where he won the Jane Marks Murphy Prize for clinical advocacy, was a Strine Fellow, a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and managing editor of Columbia Law’s Journal of Law and Social Problems. While in law school, he served as the president of the National Native American Law Students Association. 

Before he began teaching, Judge Watts was an associate in the finance and bankruptcy practice group at the New York office of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, where — in addition to representing both creditors and debtors in multimillion-dollar bankruptcies — he specialized in federal Indian law and tribal finance.


J.D., Columbia University School of Law, 2012
B.A., St. John's College, 2000


Federal Indian Law; Mediation and Negotiation Workshop; Mediation Skills Intensive; Tribal Judicial Support Clinic

Career History

University of Kansas School of Law, Clinical Associate Professor (2018-2022), Lecturer of Law (2022-present); Mediation Clinic at Columbia Law School, Lecturer in Law and Associate Director, 2013-present; Yale Law School, Visiting Clinical Lecturer in Law, 2016-2017; National Taiwan University Law School, Visiting Professor of Law, 2017-2018; United Nations, Recognized Expert in Mediation and Conflict Resolution, 2016-present; Native American Rights Fund, Peacemaking Advisory Board Member, Teaching Faculty, 2014-present; Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, Associate, Tribal and Indian Law, Finance and Bankruptcy, 2011-2013

Selected Publications

  • “Indian Law Chapter,” Kansas Bar Association Annual Survey of Law, 2020.
  • “Choosing a Mediator: A Truth You Can Handle,” Journal of the Kansas Bar Association, February 2019.
  • “The Role of Language Interpretation in Providing a Quality Mediation Process,” Contemporary Asia Arbitration Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 301-316, November 2016.
  • Contributing Editor for the Clinical Law Prof Blog.
  • "The Sustained Attack on Tribal Sovereign Immunity - The Increased Application of the Ex Parte Young Doctrine to Tribal Government Officers," California Indian Law Association Newsletter, Spring 2013.
  • "Are Tribal Corps. Eligible for Bankruptcy Protection?" Law360, March 13, 2013.
  • "Committee's Attack Upon Lender's Make-Whole Premium Denied," Finance and Bankruptcy Blog, June 27, 2013.

Selected Presentations

  • “Conflict Resolution for Environmental Protection, United Nations Headquarters,” New York City, May 2019.
  • “Traditional Justice and the Road Less Traveled,” Stanford University, April 2019.
  • “Seminar on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, United Nations Headquarters,” New York City, April 2019.
  • “Gender Equality, Peace Building, and Conflict Resolution,” United Nations Headquarters, New York City, April 2019.
  • “Steer Any Diplomatic Conversation by Asking the Right Questions,” United Nations Headquarters, New York City, March 2019.
  • “Basis of ACES: Tribal Justice Techniques and Child Welfare,” University of Kansas Law Journal Symposium, March 2019.
  • “Women, Peace, and Security: Achieving Gender Equality in Conflict Resolution,” United Nations Headquarters, New York City, November 2018.
  • “Leadership: Self-Awareness and Effective Feedback,” United Nations Headquarters, New York City, November 2018.
  • “Conflict Resolution and Ensuring Access to Justice in Developing Nations,” United Nations Headquarters, New York City, October 2018.
  • “Restoration Over Retribution: Peacemaking as a Path Forward,” University of Kansas Indigenous People's Day, October 2018.
  • “Transforming Justice Systems for Families: ACE to Recovering Resiliency,” National American Indian Court Judges Association Tribal Justice Conference, October 2017.
  • “Principles of Peacemaking in Child Welfare,” Washington State Children’s Justice Conference, April 2017.
  • “Native Peacemaking and Restorative Justice,” Yale Rebellious Lawyering Conference, February 2017.
  • “Promoting Traditional and Restorative Principles to Strengthen Safety, Justice, and Healing,” National American Indian Court Judges Association Conference, October 2016.
  • “Developing a Mediation Clinic Model for Taiwanese Legal Education,” Taipei International Conference on Arbitration and Mediation, August 2016.
  • “Exploring Sentencing Alternatives: Looking Beyond Incarceration,” American Indian Justice Conference, June 2016.
  • “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” Faculty Film Series, Columbia Law School, April 2016.
  • “Diversity of Dialogue,” University of Connecticut Diversity Week Keynote Address, March 2016.
  • “Historical Trauma and the Indigenous Defendant,” University of New Mexico Peacemaking Roundtable, March 2016.
  • “Tribal Self-Governance and Self-Determination,” Yale Rebellious Lawyering Conference, Feb. 2016.
  • “Native Peacemaking” Yale Rebellious Lawyering Conference, February 2015.
  • “Peacemaking from the Ground Up,” National Tribal Justice and Court Clerks’ Conference and NAICJA Annual Meeting, October 2014.
  • “Preparing the Next Generation of Peacemakers: Academic and Court Training Options,” National Tribal Justice and Court Clerks’ Conference and NAICJA Annual Meeting, October 2014.