Boyd Law School cel­e­brated its an­niver­sary with a gala at the Bel­la­gio fea­tur­ing for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

Spe­cial guest Bi­den ad­dresses gala at­ten­dees

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Meghin De­laney

Ne­vada’s only law school cel­e­brated its 20th an­niver­sary with a Satur­day night gala at the Bel­la­gio fea­tur­ing for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

In 1998, the then-new Wil­liam S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV drew in­ter­est from only 463 ap­pli­cants. The first class of 142 stu­dents worked out of the old Par­adise El­e­men­tary School on Trop­i­cana Av­enue, across the street from the main campus.

Fast for­ward to May 2018, and a to­tal of 2,385 stu­dents have earned a Ju­ris Doc­tor de­gree from the in­sti­tu­tion – which has been sit­u­ated on campus since 2002 and has grown its phys­i­cal foot­print con­sid­er­ably.

In to­day’s po­lit­i­cal climate, the court sys­tem has been un­der at­tack, Bi­den told the more than 900 at­ten­dees at the law school’s 20th an­niver­sary gala.

“I be­lieve we’re see­ing a di­rect as­sault on the very po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions that al­low us to main­tain this vi­brant democ­racy,” he said, call­ing lawyers the guardians of the sys­tem.

Bi­den also lauded the school’s com­mit­ment to raise money for schol­ar­ships, which was one of the pri­mary pur­poses of the event. With­out a schol­ar­ship, Bi­den said, he never would have been able to at­tend Syra­cuse Univer­sity law school.

“It had a pro­found im­pact on my life, it changed my life,” he said. “You’re go­ing to change the lives of an aw­ful lot of young women and young men who are hope­fully go­ing to want to con­trib­ute to their com­mu­nity right here in Las Ve­gas and Ne­vada.”

Prior to wel­com­ing its first schol­ars in fall 1998, Ne­vada was one of only two states, along with Alaska, with­out a law school, ac­cord­ing to a his­tory of the law school compiled by UNLV.

De­spite mul­ti­ple stud­ies urg­ing a law school, the idea didn’t get off the ground un­til late 1996 when Boyd Gam­ing Chair­man Bill Boyd pledged the ini­tial $5 mil­lion to­ward the project. Now, Boyd law school grad­u­ates reach far and wide across the globe, in­clud­ing one grad­u­ate in Chile and one in Spain, ac­cord­ing to alumni statis­tics. The vast ma­jor­ity of the grad­u­ates, how­ever, stay in Ne­vada, with 1,804 still in the state.

Hum­ble be­gin­nings

Af­ter the UNR School of Medicine opened in 1969, the state hired an out­side agent to com­mis­sion a fea­si­bil­ity study for a law school in Ne­vada, ac­cord­ing to UNLV.

No ac­tion was taken on that re­port, or two oth­ers – one from 1980, the other 1990 — that drew the same con­clu­sion.

In 1995, the Ne­vada Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved a $500,000 ap­pro­pri­a­tion for the plan­ning of the law school. The tim­ing co­in­cided with UNLV’s hir­ing of its sev­enth and first fe­male pres­i­dent, Carol Harter.

“I was so ex­cited about the op­por­tu­ni­ties to build a great univer­sity in Las Ve­gas,” Harter said in an oral his­tory of the law school pub­lished by UNLV. “Here you had this ma­jor en­er­getic city in the West that at the time was a good teach­ing in­sti­tu­tion, but be­yond some schol­ars who had done some re­search, it hadn’t de­vel­oped the kind of pow­er­house pro­grams that a univer­sity of­ten has. And that in­volves both a law school and a med­i­cal school — there’s just no ques­tion that all the great univer­si­ties have those.”

By 1997, the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved fund­ing for the school and then-Gov. Bob Miller signed the bill into law, which of­fi­cially cre­ated the UNLV Wil­liam S. Boyd School of Law.

Af­ter a tight time­line of 16 months, the school opened to 142 stu­dents in Au­gust 1998 inside the for­mer Par­adise El­e­men­tary School, which had only wrapped up with its young schol­ars in mid-June.

Keep­ing up with the times

Becky Har­ris had one law de­gree un­der her belt when she de­cided to take part in a brand-new LL.M — Latin Legum Mag­is­ter, or Mas­ter of Law in English — pro­gram at Boyd. Launched in 2015, the spe­cialty pro­gram in gam­ing law and reg­u­la­tion is billed as a one-of-a-kind of­fer­ing.

At the time, Har­ris had just wrapped the 2015 Leg­isla­tive ses­sion

where the Repub­li­can state se­na­tor served as the vice chair of the ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee. A prac­tic­ing at­tor­ney, she had a law back­ground, but found she lacked the depth of knowl­edge she de­sired when gam­ing bills came through the com­mit­tee.

“I in­stantly knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she said.

She was part of the in­au­gu­ral class, which started in Au­gust 2015 and com­pleted the 24-credit pro­gram about 16 months later.

In the 2017 Leg­is­la­ture, Har­ris was still a mem­ber of the ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee, and the dif­fer­ence was night and day for her, say­ing what she had learned at Boyd proved to be “in­valu­able” and al­lowed her to ask more nu­anced ques­tions of mea­sures re­lat­ing to gam­ing.

Chase Stevens Las Ve­gas Re­view-Jour­nal

For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den speaks Satur­day dur­ing the UNLV Law Gala at the Bel­la­gio.

Chase Stevens Las Ve­gas Re­view-Jour­nal @cssteven­sphoto

For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, right, greets Gov. Brian San­doval along­side Daniel Hamil­ton, dean of the Boyd School of Law, left, dur­ing the UNLV Law Gala.

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