Law School, Vegas Style
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Many years ago, I wrote a short article for my fellow fiction writers, giving advice on how to create a believable lawyer character. One bit of info I included was the fact that Nevada didn’t have a single law school within the state. So, I quipped, don’t create an attorney character who worked his or her way through law school as a blackjack dealer.
While my information was accurate when I wrote it, that article has been out of date for 10 years now. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the William S. Boyd School of Law (BSL) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), and the school is celebrating from now through next April. Among the anniversary events planned is a continuing legal education series offering lectures on a variety of legal topics specific to Nevada. As you might expect, one such topic is gaming, the lifeblood of Nevada. But other planned topics include immigration, social services and Nevada tax structures.
This law school has achieved tremendous success in a very short time. Its first classes were held in a former elementary school, but after just a few years, it moved into its own building. The school achieved full American Bar Association accreditation after five years, and its programs have already achieved national recognition. As a former legal writing instructor, I am particularly impressed that BSL’s Legal Writing Program is ranked third in the nation. And even though its first graduates took the bar exam only as recently as 2001, BSL grads already constitute over 10 percent of the attorneys in Clark County, with strong representation throughout the rest of the state. A few more years, and the local grads will become the majority.
BSL is also committed to giving back to the community that has offered it so much support. In fact, the school’s curriculum requires students to participate in community service programs. This emphasis on public service has led BSL grads to take leadership roles in a variety of pro bono projects. The school also offers a series of free legal education classes on such topics as child custody, bankruptcy, small claims court and the family court process. The classes are designed to help members of the community who face legal difficulties but are unsure where to turn.
BSL’s curriculum offers all you would expect from a law school, with the usual classes in constitutional law, torts and contracts. This being Nevada, the school also offers courses in gaming law, something my Colorado law school never presented. But BSL takes innovative programs a step further: In addition to pursuing the customary JD degree, students at BSL students may work toward a joint degree, pairing the JD degree with an MBA, MSW or Ph.D. degree. The doctoral programs represent a joint effort between BSL and UNLV’s College of Education.
Like many law schools, BSL offers both full- and part-time degree programs. The part-time program opens the law school to a wider pool of students, increasing the diversity of bar membership. What’s unusual about BSL is that it makes both day and evening classes available to the part-time students, rather than just evening classes. This flexibility reflects the reality of employment opportunities in Las Vegas, many of which require evening and night work schedules. In other words, that dealer/law student back story is now quite plausible.
Nevada and Las Vegas offer unique opportunities for young lawyers, and BSL helps meet the ever-increasing need for more licensed attorneys as the area grows. The school’s strong curriculum and flexible programs have brought fresh talent into the legal gene pool. I’ve even met a few lawyers who attended BSL who used to be exotic dancers. I have a novel in progress about an exotic dancer turned lawyer, and I’ve made her a proud BSL grad. My smart and beautiful character has every reason to show pride in her young, vibrant law school.