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Community Law Day Helps Thousands Navigate Legal Issues

Free classes have helped more than 50,000 community members address custody, small claims court, bankruptcy, and immigration.
Business & Community  |  Aug 20, 2014  |  By UNLV News Center
UNLV's William S. Boyd School of Law, through its students, has provided more than 50,000 Nevadans with legal education services through classes taught in partnership with Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and Nevada Legal Services. (R. Marsh Starks / UNLV Photo Services)

Imagine being involved in the legal process and having no ability to hire a lawyer. Where do you find the information you need?

Since the founding of the William S. Boyd School of Law, its students have provided more than 50,000 Nevadans with legal education services through classes taught in partnership with Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and Nevada Legal Services.

This tradition continues this school year with the 5th Annual Community Law Day event on Aug. 23 at the Boyd School of Law. It is co-sponsored by the law school, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, and Nevada Legal Services.

The event is a glimpse into all that Boyd School of Law students do to serve the community. As a requirement for graduation, students must teach eight classes (each roughly two hours long) or help with the Kids' Court School. One group of students working with the Clark County Public Defenders' Office created a record sealing class, which will be taught at this year's Community Law Day and as well as in the future.

"It can be hard to get reliable, accurate legal information. These classes bring clear, objective information to the public," said Lynn Etkins, associate executive director of Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. "It's also positive for the students as they are able to see the community need and grow their communication skills. The first-year law student is usually overwhelmed at first; but, in time, they hone their public speaking skills and thoroughly learn an area of the law."

Etkins coordinates with Christine Smith, associate dean for administration and external relations, to create teaching opportunities for students.

"It's the best way for students to learn, right from the outset of their law school experience, that one of their responsibilities as students and attorneys is to focus on helping people in need," Smith said. "These programs take a good deal of time to administer, but it's very rewarding work because we are helping people who are pretty desperate and do not know where to turn to for help."

Classes Tailored to Needs

A top priority for the community service requirement is to offer legal education on high-need topics. Initial classes covered eviction laws and other housing-related matters; but, in time, other nonprofit programs emerged to cover that area.

Paternity, custody, divorce, bankruptcy, and small claims classes have long been needed in Southern Nevada and are still taught regularly at the law school, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, and Community Law Day. In addition to the record sealing class, a course for immigrants who arrived in the United States as children recently was developed.

"We are always staying in touch with the legal community and the judiciary so as to add new classes that address the needs of the community," Smith added.

Community Law Day offers the classes on a Saturday for those who can't make regular weekday sessions and connects them to other free legal resources offered through the Boyd School of Law, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, or Nevada Legal Services.

Cliff Marcek, coordinator of community service, oversees preparation of the law students who teach the classes. He, or other attorneys from Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada or Nevada Legal Services, also sit in on the classes to answer questions that the students may not be qualified to answer.

After classes, attendees have the opportunity to apply for a pro bono attorney, Marcek explained. While there's no guarantee a case will be taken, Legal Aid Center's Pro Bono Project saw 769 pro bono cases placed in 2013 and 771 in 2012.

"These community service projects really are a gateway to getting a pro bono lawyer," Marcek added.

The Experience

Chelsea Lancaster, a second-year law student, once worked as a process server, so teaching a small claims class seemed the perfect fit. But while there was some familiarity with the subject, she admits to being a little nervous teaching the class, as there was more to the subject than she initially thought.

"Even though small claims is supposed to be one of the easier classes, it's still actually very complex. People don't really understand it without being told," she added.

Lancaster, who will graduate in 2016 and recently won the Most Outstanding First Year Student honor, also appreciated the connection with the community.

Allison Vitangeli, who will graduate in May 2015, helped usher during last year's Community Law Day and even sat in on some classes. She found it enlightening to see how much the school offered to the community. A recent recipient of the Richard L. Brown Community Service Award, Vitangeli also worked with the public defender's office to help create the new record sealing class offered both at Community Law Day and LACSN.

"(The community service requirement) can really help to inspire you, see what you can do for the community, and learn how much law really helps the community," she added.

Community members have commented:

  • "Each student was very knowledgeable about the way the small claims court system works."
  • "Cliff Marcek & Branden, thank you both! Learned more information. It helped me 100%!"
  • "It gave me a lot of resources for more help (i.e. Ask-A-Lawyer, unbundled legal services, lawyer referral program ... ). Good presentation, glad there was enough time to ask questions and to fill out pro bono app."
  • "It answered lots of questions and gave me a better understanding of bankruptcy."
  • "Much information given out. Very nice presentation and the book is like gold!! Thank you."

If you need assistance, come to Community Law Day on Aug. 23 at the Boyd School of Law at the UNLV Campus. For further Community Law Day details, visit the event page.