When small investors find themselves on the bad end of a deal, they often don’t know what recourse they have. After losing thousands of dollars, it can be difficult to figure out where to turn. That’s where the Investor Protection Clinic at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law comes to the rescue.
The clinic offers pro-bono advice to clients who believe they’ve been wronged by a stockbroker, which is a significant problem in Southern Nevada. One issue, as a Wall Street Journal survey revealed a few years ago, is that Las Vegas has a high concentration of stockbrokers with troubled pasts. Sometimes, they look to prey upon those who have money they’re willing to invest but little knowledge or experience with the investment game. As a result, clients might be duped into signing complex financial agreements they don’t understand.
“The clinic focuses on two things: helping people hurt by bad advice and working to help regulators make better rules in the public’s interest,” says Boyd professor Benjamin Edwards, who founded the Investor Protection Clinic in January 2018. “In Las Vegas, there are a lot of people who make good money without being financially sophisticated, so they may be particularly vulnerable.”
While the clinic’s primary goal is to provide a vital community service, there is a very important secondary benefit: Because the clinic is primarily staffed by Boyd students, future lawyers receive valuable, hands-on experience in what is a complex legal field.
“It’s an opportunity to see what it would be like to work in a small securities firm, from client interaction to working on complex matters,” Edwards says. “The students emerge with a better understanding of the kinds of financial products that are out there and how securities arbitration works.”
In addition to helping Boyd students gain real-world legal expertise on the home front, the Investor Protection Clinic occasionally offers important experiences outside of Las Vegas. For instance, during the spring semester, five students traveled to Washington, D.C., where they met with Securities and Exchange Commissioners. They even got to sit in on a meeting of the SEC Investor Advisory Committee—a big deal for anyone passionate about the field.
“The students got to meet four of the five sitting Commissioners,” Edwards says. “In the securities world, that’s like getting to meet the Pope and many of the cardinals.”