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How Nevada Finally Got a Law School

An oral history on the creation of Nevada's first state-supported, fully accredited law school, and its humble beginnings inside a renovated elementary school.

UNLV History  |  Nov 29, 2018  |  By Matt Jacob
Boyd Law School

The William S. Boyd School of Law celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

The young man who would go on to become one of Nevada’s most respected and successful casino moguls didn’t have a choice. Neither did the future Nevada governor. Or the future majority leader of the United States Senate. Or the managing partner of one of Nevada’s most prominent philanthropic family companies.

In fact, for the first 130-some years of this state’s history, not a single Nevadan who desired a legal education from an accredited institution had a choice: They had to pack up and flee their home state’s borders. Because Nevada didn’t have such an institution.

Just how rare was that? Well, as recently as the day before the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law opened its doors, only two states in the union didn’t offer its citizens a place to study law. One was Alaska; the other, Nevada.

The same Nevada that for a solid decade from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s regularly wore the label “Fastest Growing State in the Nation.”

The same Nevada that had long had a robust legal community. (Finding a lawyer in this state? Easy. Finding one educated in this state? Impossible.)

The same Nevada that as far back as the late 1960s deemed it important to create a state-supported school of medicine, which opened on the campus of UNR, in March 1969. Yet a quarter-century later? No law school.

Sure, there were a couple of attempts to explore the need for a state-funded law school, but no action was taken. And while one privately funded law school did land in Reno in the 1980s, it never came close to gaining accreditation and thus was shuttered. So by the mid-1990s, Nevada remained with Alaska on that dubious list. And it irked a lot of people, including that respected and successful casino mogul.

“I thought there were many men and women from Nevada who would probably be good lawyers but who wouldn’t have an opportunity to go to law school because of the out-of-state expense,” says William S. (Bill) Boyd, who earned his bachelor’s degree at UNR before incurring those out-of-state fees at the University of Utah College of Law. “So I always said to myself once I was in a position financially, I would donate the money to start a law school.”

In late 1996, the Executive Chairman of Boyd Gaming did just that, pledging $5 million toward the founding of Nevada’s first official law school, one that would ultimately bear his name. It’s a gift that could be best characterized as a gigantic leap of faith. But rest assured, Bill Boyd didn’t take that leap alone.

Indeed, everyone associated with the formation of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law essentially strapped a parachute on their back, not knowing if it would actually deploy when they yanked the ripcord. But all believed it was a risk worth taking, because of the prestige it would add to UNLV, and the potential to positively impact both the state’s legal community and community at-large.

To celebrate UNLV Law’s 20th anniversary, we tracked down many of the key players who were involved in the building of Boyd and asked them to share their memories, from pre-conception all the way through a challenging-yet-rewarding first year that ultimately established a culture that exists to this day.

Fighting statewide inertia

In 1972, three years after the UNR School of Medicine opened, the state hired Willard Pedrick—founding dean at Arizona State University’s College of Law—to commission a feasibility study to determine if there was a need for a law school in Nevada. Pedrick’s findings: There was indeed a need, but state leaders chose not to act on that recommendation. Another feasibility study in 1980 was even more conclusive about the need for a law school. Again, however, the state took a pass.

Gov. Bob Miller (Nevada’s 26th governor, 1989-99): I do remember it was periodically discussed whether we should have a law school in Nevada, and if we did, where would it be? But mostly it was about should we have one. I thought we should, because we had such a population growth that there was a need. And also I thought it would enhance the stature of our university system.

Retired Sen. Harry Reid (Distinguished fellow in law and policy at UNLV Law): One of the complaints I heard from the time I went to Washington, D.C.—which was in 1983—was, “Why don’t we have a law school?” It was hard to believe that a state like Nevada could have a medical school but no law school. 

Bill Boyd (executive chairman of Boyd Gaming; longtime community philanthropist): When I was practicing law, I thought about a law school coming to Southern Nevada, because the medical school was in Northern Nevada. However, when I talked to my contemporaries practicing at that time, they said, “Bill, we don’t need a law school in Southern Nevada. It’s already competitive enough.” But once I was financially able to donate the money, it became a goal for me.

Judge Phil Pro (retired U.S. District Judge for the District of Nevada, 1987-2015; founding member of law school’s advisory board): When you go back to the analysis that Dean Pedrick did in 1972, you could glean that there was unquestionably a need. But to do it, you had to have the support of the Legislature, and you had to be affiliated with the university system.

Tom Thomas (managing partner of Thomas & Mack Company; longtime benefactor of UNLV): It’s a moot point if there are no [public] dollars. Without state support, trying to start a law school with funds strictly from philanthropy, it just didn’t make sense. We needed both arms willing to make financial contributions for it to materialize.

Pro: I was involved in two prior committees and efforts to get a law school done, and it really gained traction during Bob Maxson’s tenure [as UNLV President, 1984-94]. … But it died because there was no funding in the Legislature, and the timing just wasn’t right. 

Reid: The state kind of got burned by the medical school, because Howard Hughes promised all this money [to help fund it], but frankly he didn’t generate much. It was mostly talk. So the state was leery about getting burned again. 

Thomas: Obviously, my dad [E. Parry Thomas] and Jerry Mack were very involved with UNLV and wanted to see UNLV have the necessary appendages to grow into a major university. And since the med school was up in Reno, they were looking at a law school down here. They seriously kicked it around. But after investigating it, they didn’t find that the state Legislature at the time was going to provide the necessary financial support to put together a good law school. 

There were many, many other demands on the higher-education system, both in Reno and Las Vegas. At the time, the tea leaves said those other demands were going to get the necessary funding. Which, in hindight, was probably the right decision.

A false start

The state may have been reluctant to get behind a law school, but someone in the private sector was willing to roll the dice on his own. In September 1981, the Nevada School of Law at Old College opened in a former parochial school in Reno. The charter class had 34 members, but the institution never gained accreditation from the American Bar Association. Consequently, Old College shuttered in 1988. 

Reid: It was started by a good, well-intentioned man from Montana named Warren Nelson. He’s the man who brought keno to Nevada—he and a Catholic priest in Great Falls, Montana, developed that game, and he brought it to Nevada, and it was a huge success. He then spent a lot of his money on this new law school. 

Pro: There were in fact graduates from Old School who became lawyers in Nevada, although they could not sit for the bar in other states. 

Reid: It was better than nothing, but not a helluva lot. Nelson was a relatively uneducated man and certainly was not educated in the law.

Pro: You had a lot of local support for it in Reno, but it did not have much of a statewide presence, nor did it have a direct funding affiliation with the university system. Without a solid funding base, you just couldn’t succeed. But Old College was a positive, because it fed an important narrative: We do need a law school, and here’s an example. 

A champion from the east

It turned out not to be successful, but that doesn’t mean it was a loser. It was a positive step in developing that critical mass.

So as the 1980s gave way to the final decade of the 20th century, the song remained the same: If Nevada’s citizens wanted to go to law school, they’d have to head out of state—just like Boyd, Reid, Miller, and Thomas had. Yet another feasibility study in 1990 yielded the same results as the first two: The need for a law school existed, but the state support did not. 

Finally, in 1995, real momentum began to build when influential Nevada Assemblyman Morse Arberry convinced the Nevada Legislature to approve a $500,000 appropriation for the planning of a law school. Around the same time, UNLV hired its seventh—and first female—president, a veteran educator and administrator who left her post as president of the State University of New York at Geneseo to head West.

On Aug. 10, 1995, I sent Carol a lengthy letter that outlined the merits of a law school and why I thought she should pursue it. To my delight, she embraced it. She said, “Phil, I’d like to do this. What do we need to do?”

Judge Phil Pro

Carol Harter (UNLV president, 1995-2006): I was so excited about the opportunities to build a great university in Las Vegas. 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. 

So I accepted the job in February and  came on board officially on July 1. During the interim, the chancellor—at the time, Richard Jarvis—called to tell me that Morse Arberry had put aside $500,000 for the planning of a law school. The chancellor was a bit shocked himself, but of course he wanted me to know that, because when I got to town, we’d have to decide if we want to pursue it. That made me extremely curious and interested and excited about the possibility. Ultimately, founding a law school became a very major priority for me when I arrived.

Reid: I talked with President Harter on a number of occasions, and she [believed] that a law school would be good for the university and good for the state. She was extremely talented in a number of ways. 

Pro: On Aug. 10, 1995, I sent Carol a lengthy letter that outlined the merits of a law school and why I thought she should pursue it. To my delight, she embraced it. She said, “Phil, I’d like to do this. What do we need to do?” I shared with her materials from the prior committees I served on, and since she was new to town, there were some organizational meetings we had at Tam Alumni Center. Then she got in touch with some others and a committee was formed. From there, it picked up steam pretty quickly—it was off to the races.

Harter: I put together a little committee of community people to vet the merits of a law school, and the two who rose to the top in support of it—who were the most avid advocates—were federal Judge Phil Pro and Franny Forsman, a former federal public defender and [then]-president of the Nevada Bar Association. The two of them were wonderful. They gave me all kinds of great ideas. 

Pro: I come from California, where there are probably more law schools than there are driving schools. The way Nevada was growing, and being a young lawyer and then a young judge here, it was apparent to me that we had a lot of really qualified young people in the state who would be great lawyers if they only had the opportunity.

A plan begins to form

One man who supported the judge’s hypothesis was Anthony Santoro, then president of Rogers Williams University in Rhode Island and former dean of its law school. In 1996, Harter hired Santoro as a consultant to explore the pros and cons of UNLV creating a law school. He prepared a presentation titled “A Plan for a Law School at UNLV,” which he delivered to the Nevada Board of Regents via teleconference.

Harter: He had done a great deal of research about the state, about the potential funding, about what was needed—he had a very rational set of reasons for why he was recommending that the state create the law school at UNLV. That was very persuasive from a person with Tony’s kind of experience—he had three law-school deanships. And the research he did, the data that he presented to the board, just reinforced the case we were making.

But all three of the law schools Tony worked at were in the east, so during his video presentation, he didn’t know how to pronounce Nevada—he said Ne-VAH-duh—and one of our regents wanted to reject the whole thing because of that!

Hurdles, roadblocks, and stonewalls

That regent wasn’t alone. Whether it was established attorneys in the legal community not keen on a school they thought might flood the market with direct competition, or a Legislature and governor concerned about money, or a rival school to the north wondering why a law school wouldn’t be in the same region as the state capital and Supreme Court, there was legitimate opposition. And, thus, much lobbying to be done.

Reid: People generally speaking don’t like lawyers—we don’t really have a big fan base. So whenever the topic of starting a law school came up, the general consensus was, “Why? Why do we need more lawyers?”

Pro: It wasn’t unanimous among the members of the legal community. There were lawyers and judges who didn’t like the idea initially and had sort of a closed-shop attitude: “Well, God, we’ve got enough lawyers. We don’t need the competition.” I’d like to think they’ve all since been converted.

Harter: The Nevada State Bar is hard, and people who come to Nevada to practice law have to study and pass that Bar. So there was a nervousness about a new law school producing too many people who would compete with the folks who had worked so hard to establish their practices in Nevada. There was push-back in the community.

Even the chairman of the Board of Regents at that time—Maddy Graves—wasn’t in favor of it. I think it was because people in the community persuaded him that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. 

And then, of course, there were people at UNR who were nervous about it as well. They saw UNLV as a kind of stepchild of UNR at that point, and they felt the competition that UNLV was trying to build a major university. In some cases, they wanted to argue that any law school should be placed in Reno, because it would be close to the capital. Of course, we turned around and said, “Well, then the medical school should be at UNLV!” 

Miller: Because the medical school was in Reno, there was lobbying at the time that the law school should be placed there, too.

Reid: I gave a speech last year at UNLV’s new medical school, and I said then as I’ll tell you now: A big mistake was made by the Nevada Legislature in 1969 by placing the medical school in the north; it should’ve been in the south. Why? Because to have a successful medical school, you need a large indigent population, and Reno didn’t have that. 

Hindsight is 20-20, but we really should’ve put the medical school down here and the law school up there—that’s where the state Supreme Court is and where the seat of government is. But we didn’t do that. 

Miller: It belonged in Las Vegas. First of all, you already had the medical school in Reno. So if you’re just trying to be equitable, a law school would logically be in Las Vegas. But more importantly, there was such a huge disparity in population. Are you trying to serve a population of 2 million or a population of a few hundred thousand? If you wanted it to be convenient and accessible, it had to be in the state’s largest city.

Harter: [Then-UNR President] Joe Crowley wound up supporting us, which was critical, because he had been at UNR for so many years and had so many connections in the Legislature that had he chosen in the long run to really fight the creation of a law school at UNLV, I don’t think we would’ve gotten it. He was that powerful with [late state Senator] Bill Raggio and other legislators whom he could’ve turned against us. 

Ultimately, the legislators also were supportive, although in some cases begrudgingly! [Laughs.} Even Gov. Miller resisted it a bit at the beginning. What he was afraid of, which is what governors should be afraid of, is the amount of money that it would take to start a law school and build buildings—all the tremendous capital costs—would take away from the undergraduate programs at UNLV or elsewhere. 

Miller: The way the process worked was that the university regents would get together and give us a list of priorities—after they met with the entire university system—for capital improvements. As I recall, a law school wasn’t highly ranked on the list—it might not even have been on it. But we put the funding in for a feasibility study.

Harter: It’s not that [Miller] didn’t want us to have a law school—he’s always been extremely supportive since then—but at the beginning, and rightfully so, any politician had to worry about where the heck the money’s going to come from.

Miller: The secret weapon UNLV had was Fred Albrecht. He was the university’s vice president at the time who happened to be the godparent of one of my children. We were good friends, and he had spoken on behalf of the law school. So I adjusted the budget to [include funding for the law school] to kind of get the groundwork going.

Harter: I promised Gov. Miller that we would raise private money. And that was the key to garnering support within both the political structure of Nevada and the community: raising private money. And, of course, Bill Boyd was the key to that.

A vital connection

Enter Lyle Rivera, then UNLV’s Vice President for Development and Community Relations. Rivera knew Bill Boyd well, which means he knew that Boyd always believed UNLV should consider starting a law school. So in the fall of 1996, Rivera arranged a lunch between his boss and his friend.

Harter: I talked to Bill at length about the potential for the law school. That’s when he shared with me that he had to go out of state to get his law degree, and he recognized Nevada had this need. He was very student-oriented in his thinking. He wasn’t into it just for the prestige of a law school; he really saw that students needed that in-state option, because he hadn’t had it. 

So during the lunch, I explained to him that the politics were strongly connected to being able to raise private money. I think I may have had that $5 million figure in mind and mentioned it to him.

Boyd: Someone had to break the ice and decide to donate the money to start the law school.

Harter: Oh my God, I was so overjoyed. I didn’t jump up and down—I’m too lady-like to do that. [Laughs.] But I could have! Because the most important thing about those moments is the commitment. The actual implementation is so much less important. And I knew Bill’s commitment was the key to the whole thing.

[Bill Boyd] wasn’t into it just for the prestige of a law school; he really saw that students needed that in-state option, because he hadn’t had it. 

Former UNLV President Carol Harter

Miller: When you’re looking at capital expenditures and you want to prioritize things, my philosophy was if there was a significant private donation to bolster the state funds, then it should be moved up on the priority list. Because it gives the state an opportunity to do more things. So any capital improvements we could leverage with private donations, we would leverage. So [Boyd’s contribution] was significant. It made a big difference.

Boyd: I also went to the Nevada Legislature with [former UNLV interim President] Kenny Guinn, who was running for governor at that time, and vowed to support the law school.

Harter: It was natural to name the school after Bill Boyd, because he was not only the first major donor but he had also agreed to commit more money in the future. 

Reid: You couldn’t find a more credentialed person to have a name on the law school than Bill Boyd. He was a real lawyer. I can remember when he did legal work that wasn’t up in the clouds—it was basic law. He was a good guy, and I admire him for spending some of the money he made in Nevada on the law school.

A community answers the call

As significant as Boyd’s $5 million pledge was, it turns out that it was a drop in the bucket compared to the commitment he made to Harter about five years later: $25 million to be donated over time. Those contributions were supported by other philanthropic pledges by such notable community leaders as the Thomas & Mack Families, Jim Rogers, and Michael and Sonja Saltman.

Harter: The way business happens in Las Vegas is very interesting. The understood absolute was you don’t write down all this stuff. You do a handshake, and you trust ’em. They give you their word, and you could always count on it. In all my years at UNLV, I never once—ever—had someone retract a pledge after they made it. 

Still, that was kind of new to me. Academic that I am, I was more used to getting everything in writing. But I very quickly learned that the culture here was when someone offers you something, you believe it, you shake hands, and it’s done. And that’s basically what it was with Bill Boyd.

Boyd: I talked to many of my personal friends and acquaintances about also donating to the law school. So in addition to the $5 million gift, there were gifts from a number of persons—the largest being from the Thomas & Mack families and Michael and Sonja Saltman—who were a great help in getting the law school started.

Harter: After seeking [additional] private donations, we had $7 million by the time we went before the Regents and Legislature—because we had to persuade both—with our final request.

Reid: The woman who did as much, if not more, than anyone was Carol Harter. She was not a lawyer, but she understood that a law school not only would be good for Nevada, but it would improve the standing of UNLV. And she got Kenny Guinn, who preceded her as UNLV president and was going to be our next governor, and Jim Rogers, who was the [Nevada System of Higher Education] chancellor working for nothing, to sign on to the deal. Governor Bob Miller signed onto the deal. And she got federal judges to like the idea. But she was the cheerleader. 

She was quiet, unassuming but an extremely gifted lobbyist for things she wanted. I give her a tremendous amount of credit.

The state gives its go-ahead

The Legislature approved funding in the spring of 1997, and in July, Bob Miller made it official, signing into law a bill that authorized the creation of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law. With that monumental hurdle cleared, it came time for some important decisions, the biggest being: How soon could the law school open for business? Most ventures of the sort take a least a couple of years to get up and running. But Harter was convinced she didn’t have that kind of time.

Harter: You can always go back and question your own judgment about these things, but it was my very strong feeling that if we didn’t move this right when the momentum and excitement was there, we could lose it. Here we’ve got $7 million in private contributions, as well as state funding, and I wasn’t convinced it would still be there if we waited for two years.

Pro: I thought it was essential that we move on it—we had to strike while the iron was hot, while the money was there.

Thomas: That’s kind of a private industry attitude—to say, “No, no, no. We’re not waiting. We’re getting underway.” And you look at how we build casinos in this town, it’s 24/7. Well, this was a 24/7 law school.

Searching for a home

So the decision was made: UNLV Law would open in August 1998, a year after it was formally approved. Next on the to-do list? Find a suitable location. Harter recalls that there was early pressure to place the law school downtown—“There were powers-that-be who wanted to make it a central part of downtown redevelopment”—but she and others were adamant about it being a central part of UNLV’s academic environment. Just one problem: There wasn’t a building on campus big enough to house a law school.

So the focus turned to a decades-old grammar school across from campus that was scheduled to be vacated after the 1997-98 school year. Irony of ironies, this antiquated, about-to-be-abandoned school was called Paradise Elementary.

Harter: There wasn’t much of a choice. We had to have classroom space, we had to have restrooms, we had to have the available technology. In fact, it cost us more than we wanted to spend to wire it. We had to go underground across Tropicana Avenue to connect the school to the university, and it cost a couple of million bucks that we hadn’t really anticipated. But it would’ve cost way more than that to get another comparable kind of space. 

We looked at spaces downtown, we looked at a plaza right in the neighborhood where Paradise was, we looked at several other places that were close to campus, but the cheapest and most reasonable alternative was Paradise Elementary.

Miller: I’d played basketball at Paradise Elementary School when I was in seventh grade. At that time, it was way outside of town. Now it was the home of a law school. It seemed like a bizarre coincidence. But you had to do with what you had.

Thomas: I thought it was brilliant to take [over] an unused asset that was immediately adjacent to UNLV. Because it showed the energy behind getting under way and not sitting around waiting until you had the perfect physical plant. And they were spot-on, because the students were willing to go there. And it provided lots of humor for the first couple of years.

Richard Morgan (UNLV Law founding dean): I was less than overwhelmed by the potential of the place as a site for a law school. 

The early braintrust

Richard (Dick) Morgan went into law somewhat unexpectedly. After graduating from U.C. Berkeley in 1967, his plan was to get his doctorate in political science and become an educator, following the paths of his mother and grandfather. First, though, he took a planned, yearlong hiatus from school, during which he took a job with the IRS. At the same time, Morgan’s older brother was finishing up law school, and his positive experience convinced his sibling to shift career gears. Morgan enrolled at UCLA School of Law in fall 1968, earned his law degree, and went on to work in private practice for more than a decade before finding his way to academia.

In 1980, Morgan secured a job as a tenure-track professor of law at Arizona State. One of the men who participated in the hiring process was the law school’s founding dean who had since returned to the faculty: Willard Pedrick—the same Willard Pedrick who eight years earlier was hired to research whether there was a need for a law school in Nevada. Morgan would go on to follow in Pedrick’s footsteps as dean of Arizona State’s College of Law, a position he was firmly entrenched in (and happy with) when he first learned about a new law school being created some 300 miles to the north—a school searching for its first dean.

Morgan: Willard Pedrick was a good friend and mentor of mine, and he told me if I ever had a chance to start a law school at a good state university, I should jump on it. He said the happiest part of his professional career had been the nine years that he was the founding dean at Arizona State. 

Pedrick unfortunately passed away in 1996, so he wasn’t still around when I decided to follow his advice and apply at UNLV in March of 1997. But his advice and recolections of his happy experiences certainly played a major role in my decision. Pedrick was a terrific guy. He was one of the best human beings I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing and working with.

Christine Smith (UNLV Law’s Founding Associate Dean; worked under Morgan at Arizona State College of Law): Willard was a great mentor to both myself and Dick. And he used to always tell us, “If you ever have a chance to start a law school, you have to start a law school.”

Morgan: I also wanted … to see if we couldn’t make some changes in legal education—put a little more emphasis on legal research, writing, and dispute resolution—just do some things that would not radically alter legal education but make it better. And I thought a new law school would provide an opportunity to do that.

I wanted to have a law school that had a community-service mission—one that viewed everything that it did in terms of “Is this useful to the community?” I wanted to have a law school that integrated a clinical program and a public-service program right in the middle of the curriculum. A lot of law schools had clinics and public-service programs, but they were not as central to the core of the [curriculum] as I wanted them to be. So I had some ambitions about how we might make some modest reforms and improvements to legal education, and I thought a startup situation would be a good opportunity to try some of those things.

The value of a cool head

After an initial meeting with a member of the dean’s search committee, Morgan was invited to Las Vegas for a more formal interview in early June. It was then that Harter dropped the bombshell that the law school was being fast-tracked and would be opening in about 14 months. It was a prospect that startled every single candidate Harter interviewed, including Dick Morgan. It just startled him a little bit less than the others.

Morgan: I told her that was an extraordinarily big undertaking, that ordinarily it took at least a year-and-a-half—sometimes two or two-and-a-half years—to get a law school off the ground.

She was really worried if it didn’t open in a year’s time from when we were talking that it might be lost forever. I disagreed with her, but I told her if that was her decision, I would certainly try to make the law school happen in a year’s time. But it wasn’t going to be pretty and wasn’t going to be easy.

Harter: Of all the finalists we considered—and there were a lot of good ones—Dick was the only one who said, “I can do this in a year.” And that was key to his hiring. Not that there weren’t many other great characteristics of Dick Morgan.

Morgan: During that trip, in addition to meeting with Carol, I met Bill Boyd, whom I thought was a terrific supporter and exactly the kind of community person that this school needed to have behind it. I also met the advisory board for the law school and was very, very impressed with the commitment that the people from the community were expressing for this school. And I met with a lot of faculty and staff from UNLV who were extremely supportive. I got really excited during those meetings about the possibility of building something really terrific.

But I told Carol, “Look, if we’re going to do this, you’ve got to let me add some really key people to work with me on this, if they’ll come. I can’t be breaking in people [I didn’t know] in trusted positions.”

Harter: Dick said, “Let me bring over a couple of people from Arizona State—people I know who can help fast-track this.” I said, “You bring whoever you need to get this done in a year!”

Morgan: A couple of weeks later, I got invited back up to Las Vegas, and my wife accompanied me on that trip. We were in Vegas on June 24, 1997, which was our 30th wedding anniversary. Carol told us to go have our anniversary dinner at this restaurant she really liked. It was during that visit that she offered me the job. I said, “OK, but there are a couple of things you ought to know. The first is that my wife and I have planned a 30th anniversary trip to Alaska. We are going to be gone for six weeks in July and August, and I’m not cancelling that. So that means we wouldn’t really get started on the law school until Sept. 1.” And she said, “That’s OK with me.”

Pro: I was not involved in the dean interviews, but I had all of the papers on each of the candidates, and [Morgan] was very impressive. And of course, once I had the chance to meet him, I knew he was absolutely the right guy. He had this energy and a sense of vision of what this could become. He knew the subject matter—he was intelligent and committed. He totally bought into it.

Of all the finalists we considered—and there were a lot of good ones—Dick was the only one who said, “I can do this in a year.” And that was key to his hiring. Not that there weren’t many other great characteristics of Dick Morgan.

Former UNLV President Carol Harter

Harter: I was really confident Dick was the right guy. Maybe I shouldn’t have been [laughs], but I was.

The interviews were long and hard. They had to be, because you can’t make a mistake when you’re hiring someone to start a new school. The candidates were all terrific in terms of their law-school experiences, but they were also very hesitant to commit to being able to start it up fast. Dick, however, did not hesitate. Even though I’m sure there were times when he went back to Arizona and thought, “What have I done?” [Laughs.]

Morgan: I was scared to death about the time frames—I mean, I was scared to death about failing in general, because I’d never started a law school before. But with the time frame, I was doubly scared to death.

Thomas: The decision to go after Dick Morgan was absolutely inspired. He not only was at a place in his career that he was willing to take the risk to create a brand-new law school—at the time, there hadn’t been a new public law school created in the U.S. for some time, so this was a big deal—but he had the resources, contacts, and reputation that enabled him to bring along the faculty that started the law school. So it was very easy to bet on his vision and on his capacities to do something important.

Boyd: Dick Morgan was the ideal dean for the law school. I was never at a public community event where Dick Morgan wasn’t also present. He was always out advocating for the law school. No one could have done a better job than Dick. The proof of that is the fact that we became accredited at the fastest possible time.

Harter: There’s nobody I’ve met who can make quicker and better decisions than Dick Morgan. And he worked absolutely tirelessly. There are just no words to describe how good he was. He was the perfect choice, and I never thought twice about it.

We were lucky to get him and lucky he could make that kind of commitment. I just have the highest respect for Dick. He was maybe one of the best hires I ever made.

(Legal) Avengers, assemble

Morgan and his wife, Tina, did indeed take their six-week vacation to Alaska. But before (and during) the trip, he spent time trying to convince those three colleagues from Arizona State to join him on this wild new adventure.

Morgan: The people I had in mind were Christine Smith—Chris and I had been working together for a long time at ASU, and I had great trust in her—and Richard Brown, who is now deceased unfortunately, but he was a great faculty member, in addition to being the founding law librarian at UNLV; he had been the law library director at ASU. And Mary Berkheiser, who recently retired from the faculty, also indicated she wanted to come. She was a clinical professor.

Smith: It wasn’t an easy decision, and it wasn’t one that I made lightly or right away. I knew at the beginning of June that he probably had this job and that he wanted me to come along. We had been meeting at his house in Tempe, Arizona, on Saturdays, and we were excited about the prospect of working with him to start a new school.

Morgan: Before I accepted the job, I had a meeting in the living room of my house. Rick, Chris, and Mary were there, and we talked for a long time about the challenges we’d be facing—about how exciting it was, but how daunting it was at the same time. And the fact that we all had very, very good jobs at a very, very good law school that we would be giving up in order to take a flier [on UNLV], where we might fall on our faces.

After a lot of substantive conversation about what are we going to do when and who’s going to do what, I remember Rick Brown saying, “Well sometimes, you just all have to hold hands and jump.” And I think Mary said, “Well, let’s hold hands!”

Smith: Mary Berkheiser and I over the years have talked about that often. Rick really encouraged Mary and I, saying, “Come on—we can do this!”

But it wasn’t until Dick was on his trip to Alaska that I finally committed. I was at my desk at Arizona State, and I had this physical thing happen to me. I was all stressed out about, “Am I going to do this? Am I not going to do this?” when suddenly, while sitting at my computer, I just felt all the tension leave me. I had this feeling that, “This is going to be fine. Just go do it.”

So I called Tina and said, “I’m in!” And I never looked back. I never once thought, “What the hell are you doing? Why’d you do this?” I’m glad I jumped.

Morgan: The fact those three people agreed to come gave me the courage to go forward with it, because I had great confidence in them and their abilities, and I knew I could delegate huge amounts of work to them.

Reaching out

While Morgan had three vital pieces of his puzzle in place theoretically, none of them were in Las Vegas on his first day on the job, Sept. 3, 1997. Smith arrived two weeks later, but Brown and Berkheiser didn’t settle in until early 1998. So on Morgan’s first day, the only other law school staff member was his assistant, Dianne Fouret, a longtime UNLV employee who was involved in the dean search process and who came over from Carol Harter’s office.

Morgan: Dianne Fouret was invaluable in starting the law school. Knowing that I needed someone who was familiar with UNLV and Nevada, I was lucky to recruit her to be a key founder of the law school.

So when I walked into the first of what would be my many temporary offices at UNLV, Dianne was sitting behind the desk, and she said, “Well, welcome to Las Vegas,” and I said, “Thanks, I’m happy to be here.” Then I looked at her and said, “Now what the hell do we do?” [Laughs.]

And she said, “Well, let me tell you: Tomorrow, you’re going to appear on a local radio show. And then I’ve got you booked the next day to meet with X, Y, and Z. And the following day you’re going to be speaking to the Clark County Bar Association. So that’ll get you started.” And I said, “That’s great! Thank you—I really appreciate you pointing me in the right direction.”

At that Clark County Bar Association luncheon, which I remember very, very well, I outlined my vision for a community service-focused law school that would be a great asset to Las Vegas. And there was some considerable skepticism on the part of at least a few lawyers who rose to say they couldn’t imagine why anybody would want to support a startup law school at UNLV. And I just said, “Well, I promise you that we’re going to build something that’s not only going to be accredited by the ABA; we’re going to build a really, really, really good law school that this community is going to be proud of. It’s going to be here for a long, long time and do some really good things.”

Well, Natalie Patton, who attended the luncheon as a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, put all of that in the paper the next day. And I remember reading that and thinking, “Oh, God, I hope I can make good on that—because I certainly promised a lot!”

The faculty that took a chance

With little in the way of staff resources, Morgan was forced to don many hats in his first few months on the job. At the top of his long priority list, though, was recruiting a top-notch faculty.

Morgan: We had to do that to have credibility and be able to say to potential students, “OK, we’re starting life as a brand-new, unaccredited law school, but you should be comforted by the fact that we’ve rounded up six or eight people with excellent reputations who left good, tenured jobs to come here, showing how confident they are in the law school. They wouldn’t have come here if they didn’t think this was going to be a winning operation, so you should have the guts to come here, too.” 

It was also important so when I went into the community to drum up political or donor support, I could say, “Look at this great faculty that we put in place. This shows that this is a law school that is going to succeed.”

Pro: My wife and I had the delight of attending dinners at Dick’s home when he would host faculty that he was trying attract to the law school. He was not a hard-sell guy, but he would tell these professors, “Of course it’s risky—coming to Nevada, coming to a new law school, leaving an established university for one that isn’t. But how many opportunities are you going to have in your career to be part of starting something new and exciting?” 

They could tell you their own stories about what motivated them to come, but I can tell you, that resonated with a lot of faculty members, and it was apparent to me that it was an influencing factor.

Thomas: As much as anything, the strengths of Dick Morgan and his early team he brought on board—the three or four leaders he brought to work with him—and their ability to go out and convince top-notch faculty to take a roll of the dice on a law school in Las Vegas housed in an elementary school … they obviously put their egos at the door. It was a total leap of faith. 

Morgan: By about February or March of 1998, we had all of the founding faculty we had recruited come out to Las Vegas, and we did sort of a beauty show. We invited the community to come out and we said, “Here are all the people we’ve hired. Look at their credentials—they’re great. And they’re going to be the basis for building a great law school.”

Frank Durand (left George Washington University Law School to be UNLV Law’s founding assistant dean of admissions): Dick was actually looking to hire my sister, who was the one who alerted me as to what was going on in Las Vegas. So I sort of got into Dick’s vision a little bit because of my sister. It was one of the most fortuitous things that’s ever happened to me. 

I of course jumped at the opportunity because I desperately wanted to get back to the West. My sister and I were raised in Albuquerque, so getting close to Albuquerque had been a priority for a while.

Terrill (Terry) Pollman (left University of Illinois College of Law to be founding UNLV Law faculty member): I was raised in Arizona, I really loved the West, and I was sick of living anywhere else. Poor Chris Smith called me two or three times, and I said, “No, Las Vegas is not the West!” Then Dick called me twice, and finally he said, “Just come look.” And I did.

I recall I was staying at Treasure Island, and I was supposed to meet Mary Berkheiser and go to breakfast. I was standing in front of the hotel and up she walked, looked at me, and said, “You know you have this job if you want it. It’s all about us convincing you. So don’t worry!” I had never been on a job interview like that. It made the job harder to turn down, because it was a very welcoming feeling. Once I was here, it was just too exciting a project to worry about whether or not I’d like Las Vegas.

Durand: I remember very distinctly that I submitted a letter of interest to Dianne, who was accepting such things, on April 23, 1997—I remember that because it was my birthday. I thought, “Hey, this is a good birthday omen—maybe something really good is going to come out of this thing,” which of course it did. 

But when I came out in October and interviewed, I was absolutely convinced that I was not going to get the job. The first interview was fine. We had a gathering at Chris’ apartment, and it was wonderful. But I don’t think I said a word the entire evening.

Smith: Maybe that’s why we hired you.

Durand: Maybe that’s exactly what they were looking for, I couldn’t tell. There were some wonderful personalities in that room—Dick Morgan, Chris, Mary B., Rick Brown—everyone was talking and I was kind of looking for my opportunity to jump into the fray, but it just wasn’t happening. I didn’t feel like I’d really distinguished myself.

So we went to the hotel that night, and I said to my wife Veronica, “This isn’t happening. This isn’t gonna work.” The next day, there was a more formal interview, much more conventional, and I thought it went pretty well. But I still wasn’t counting any chickens. Lo and behold, I got a call from Dick Morgan a few weeks later, and I was over the moon.

It's elementary; that's the bad news

It was one thing to try to convince experienced professors to leave established positions and take a chance on a new law school. It was quite another to inform them that they’d be spending the first couple of years teaching and working out of a renovated elementary school.

Morgan: There was one faculty member who really wanted to come—she’s a very well-known person—but she could not bring herself to settle into an office at Paradise. But it wasn’t just Paradise; it was also Las Vegas. She couldn’t get past the image of Las Vegas as Sin City. So at least one recruitment effort failed because of the locale and the circumstances. And there were probably students who didn’t come for the same reason.

Smith: I found out [about Paradise Elementary] in July when we came and had the meeting with Carol Harter and toured campus. We went across the street and saw the school, and I actually thought it was better than it had been described. So I was like, “Yeah, we can do this; this isn’t that bad.”

Clearing away the kindergarten

And if you talk to the charter class and many [faculty], we all really have a fondness for that place. Parking was great. And what law school library has an old elementary school cafeteria freezer as a study room? That doesn’t happen very often. [Laughs.]

Pollman: I don’t remember worrying about [Paradise] at all. I don’t remember when I learned about it or that it seemed problematic to me. I mean, not having a desk at first was [tough]. But it was sort of all part of the fun. And Paradise turned out to be a really big community builder.

Durand: I’ve loved my entire time here, but I don’t think I’ve loved any portion of that time more than I loved those years [at Paradise]. Because that time sort of told me that the people who are here are committed to this. They’re not put off by the facilities or their conditions. They’re committed to what it is we’re doing here, which goes far beyond the physical structure.

Make no mistake, though: That physical structure needed a lot of work to accommodate a law school. And with the elementary school year ending in mid-June and the law school opening in mid-August, there was very little time to complete the transformation.

Morgan: When I came for my first interview and learned the plan was for the law school to open at Paradise Elementary, I told Carol that, with appropriate renovations, it would be workable as a temporary facility. There would have to be a solid plan in place for an excellent permanent facility, but I thought the ABA would give us provisional accreditation in a place like Paradise Elementary School if we were only going to be in there for a couple or three years. So I thought we could make it work

Harter: Dick said, “As long as the students and faculty know that there’s going to be a future building on the campus, they’ll live with this.” And they did, and they were great about it. Oh, sure, there was some whining, but it was amazing how well they dealt with that space. Of course, they knew a much better space was coming—and right in the middle of campus.

Morgan: But I told Carol I didn’t know how the hell we were going to get it renovated in six or eight weeks’ time. And she said, “Well, we’ll throw everything we have to at it to make it happen.”

Harter: We did it fast, because we had to. There was no choice. Everybody who worked on it—the physical facilities people, the finance people, everybody—knew it was high priority for the university. 

Morgan: I had gone to Carol about two or three months before the law school was due to open, and I said, “We need to have a backup plan. Do you have any place we can go on campus for temporary classrooms or faculty offices if we don’t finish this renovation?” And she and the people who were working on [refurbishing Paradise] looked and came back and said, “No, we don’t.” 

We thought about maybe enlisting a high school to use their classrooms at night or something. But ultimately we just decided, “Well, we’re going to do this without a net.” 

Durand: After the elementary school year ended, Dianne Fouret and I and some others came to the Paradise complex, and the alterations to the buildings were starting to happen. I guess if I ever had a moment of panic, that might’ve been it. Because I saw the state of things and thought, “How in the hell is all of this going to be made into some semblance of an operational law school in time?”

I remember turning on a faucet and the water coming out brown. I thought, “OK, there are lots of problems here. I know these construction guys are good, but this is really asking a lot of them!” And of course they did a great job.

Jason Frierson (speaker of Nevada Assembly; member of UNLV Law’s charter and first graduating classes, 1998-2001): Starting at Paradise Elementary didn’t bother me at all. I actually drove by and got a kick out of the fact that there was still playground equipment at the school site, really until just before school started. I thought they wouldn’t remove it and that it would be a funny stress reliever for us.

Durand: Some of the individuals we had admitted to the law school wanted to do a campus visit. And I thought, “Well, it’s going to be interesting to see how this goes.” Most of them said, “Great—this is wonderful.” But a few students came in, looked around, and said, “Really?” And they didn’t come. And you know what? I’m glad they didn’t come. Because their heart wasn’t in it.

Selling the prospective students

If putting a solid faculty in place was priority No. 1 for Dick Morgan, getting an admissions office in place was a close second. But by the time he hired Durand, the law school had missed out on the traditional fall recruiting window. So, much like everything else, the admissions process was also accelerated. The good news was Durand and Morgan had a plan.

Durand: I would say it was more selling than recruiting. We had weekly information sessions where people would come in and I’d kind of give them the rundown of where things stood. And the inevitable questions would come up about accreditation and other things. But there was a huge appetite for this place, a huge pent-up demand for a law school in the state of Nevada. And that was reflected more than anything else in the very large size of our part-time evening program. 

There were a number of individuals who had been waiting for a law school but who had to get on with life and do other things—they had careers and families, but law school was always in the back of their mind. So they really had this zeal do this law program however they had to do it. 

Morgan: We obviously wanted a student body that had a lot of Nevadans, but we didn’t want exclusively Nevadans, because you wanted some geographic diversity and diversity in terms of where people had gone to undergrad. We also wanted to start with a part-time program, so we were looking for some experienced [professionals] who wanted to go to law school part-time while working full-time jobs. 

Harter: We told the state we’d try to admit the vast majority of students from Nevada. The Legislature basically insisted on that, which was fine. But we were glad they didn’t stick us with an absolute number, which is impossible to work with. Because when people from out of state see a new school and see it positively—“Boy, it would be fun to go to this school!”—you tend to get some out-of-state students with terrific credentials. So you had to balance wanting the best Nevada students with some of these out-of-state students who were excited about being part of a new thing.

Durand: There were a lot of applicants who had been admitted to other schools who were a little torn, thinking, “Should I go for this thing that I think is going to be a sure thing, or take what I know is a sure thing? Do I want to be a part of this adventure?” And a lot of people did. Great Nevadans like Jason Frierson said, “Yeah, I want to be a part of this. This is something unique and special.” They believed in the mission, they believed in us, and they believed in Dick.

Training a future Nevada leader

At 28 years old, Jason Frierson was several years removed from his days of playing football at UNR, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. Employed at the school as a student adviser, law school was nowhere on his radar—even though his older brother pegged an overly argumentative and persuasive Frierson as a lawyer at 5 years old. But when a former college classmate, one who had similar grades, got into law school, Frierson had an epiphany: “If he can do it, I can do it.” After taking the Law School Admission Test, Frierson began applying to law schools. That’s when UNR president Joe Crowley encouraged him to consider the new law school in Las Vegas.

Frierson: Originally, my default plan was I would go to UNLV if I didn’t get in anywhere else. That thought was partially because I had been thinking about returning to [my native] California and partially because UNLV wasn’t accredited. 

Lo and behold, I got into every law school I applied to, including UNLV. From there, I assessed my options, and every scenario put UNLV at the top—whether it was being able to save money because of my in-state residency or because I had relatives in Las Vegas or because I valued the Nevada roots that I had established. 

I actually visited a few of the other law schools that accepted me, but it just didn’t make sense for me to go anywhere else.

Morgan: Jason could’ve gone to a lot of places. But Frank Durand did a great job of convincing him that he could make a big splash at UNLV, and he did—he made a very big splash.

Frierson: I visited the campus twice. I met with Frank Durand, and I grilled him—about the prospects of being accredited, about the timeline for the new [permanent] school being built, about the commitment to public service. That last one was key. I was really impressed by what seemed to be an early commitment to engaging with the community. By the end of my second visit, it was a no-brainer. I knew I was coming down here.

The student body commits

He wasn’t alone. In all, 142 students—77 full-time, 65-part time—were admitted as Boyd’s charter class. The diversity was off the charts, from 22-year-old recently graduated college students to retired senior citizens to even a brain surgeon. But there was one common trait they each shared: a willingness to bet on Boyd.

Morgan: Not only did that first class agree to the discomforts of taking classes at Paradise for a couple of years—which turned out to be all three years—but they were risking the fact that they might graduate from a law school that was unaccredited. Or they might graduate from a law school that, while accredited, had a crappy reputation. They didn’t know what they were getting into other than what I was promising them.  

Miller: They didn’t come across the country in a covered wagon, but they were pioneers in a sense.

Smith: That’s what was so great about that whole group is that we all had this pioneering spirit. I don’t think there was anyone there who thought that this wasn’t going to work.

Pollman: They were risk-takers, but I also think they were a lot like we were—sort of [thinking], “What’s the worst that could happen? Why not be part of that sense of adventure and fun and discovery?”

Durand: I frequently say this, and I’m going to say it again: I’m very grateful to our charter class, because they established a culture for the student body here at Boyd that exists to this day. It’s a much more collegial, collaborative, non-competitive culture than a lot of law schools.

I’m not going to say there wasn’t competition, because certainly there was—you bring talented people together, they’re going to compete. But it was a healthy competition. And there was a lot of fun and camaraderie and enjoying this unique adventure that we all got to be a part of. So I will always give credit to our charter class for creating a culture that has continued throughout Boyd’s history.

Open for business

On a sweltering Monday morning in August 1998, Nevada’s first law school officially opened with Introduction to Law Week, which actually took place on the main campus. Soon, students, faculty, and staff would make the pilgrimage to Paradise, where the cafeteria had been converted into the law library and a former kitchen freezer nearby was the study room. Indeed, the first year of the Boyd School of Law can be summed up in one word: memorable.

Morgan: While orientation was going on at a building on campus, the library’s shelves were getting stocked with books. And the furniture had been in the faculty offices for about 10 minutes when the faculty showed up to sit at their desks. By the skin of our teeth, we made it.

Frierson: When we came over, it was late summer during monsoon season, and we had a lot of water leaks—it wasn’t an issue of us getting leaked on in the classroom, but I remember a few times there were leaks in the library and the small number of books we had had to be protected. And we had a lot of challenges with getting the heating and air conditioning working properly. 

Durand: The air conditioners were like jet engines. When you turned them on, it was great because everything cooled down, but in terms of the students being able to hear the faculty, that got to be challenging.

Frierson: Even though they had removed a lot of the elementary school equipment, you still had the boys and girls signs on the bathroom. But we were in it together, and we could only chuckle about it. The reality was, we didn’t know any better.

Harter: I remember the height of the toilets. We always said, “It’s good that we hired a short dean!”

Morgan: [Laughs.] I got a lot of mileage out of that, because I’m only 5-foot-6, so one of my running jokes would be that we have the kids-size toilets, but they’re perfect for me! They’re a problem for other people, but I like them—I like them a lot.

Pro: I had more than one student tell me that [Paradise] was the only time in their college careers where their car was their locker. You could literally drive up in the school parking lot next to the building and walk into your class, then go out to your car to retrieve books for the next class.

Durand: The parking situation was great for all of us, because you could actually go to lunch. If you go off campus for lunch now, you have no parking space when you come back. Back then, we could go to lunch freely and without worry.

Pollman: Well, not always. We had a small faculty covering two programs—the full-time program during the day and the part-time program at night. And if there was an event at either time, the expectation was that the entire faculty would always attend. 

Well, it seemed like Dick lined up every dignitary, senator, judge—anyone who was anyone—to come to the school. Everyone wanted to come talk to us. So every day in addition to a pretty heavy teaching load, you would be like, “Who’s the lunch speaker?” You had to go and pretend like you’re listening while you prepared for class.

Forged in kid-sized fire

The original plan was the law school would remain at Paradise for no more than three years, but it turned out to be four because of a delay in preparing the new on-campus home—the vacated Dickinson Library. The state-of-the-art facility on the east end of campus remains Boyd’s home to this day, but to a person, all who were there for that first year look back fondly at the bond that could’ve only been forged at Paradise.

Pro: There was a sense of camaraderie that developed among the students—that they were part of something new and fun.

Frierson: We had a 24-hour driving range across the street, and that was study hall for many of us. We’d go over there and just hit some balls and talk it out. 

Pollman: There would be things like somebody doing a barbecue in the back of their truck at lunch. Or there would be tai-chi lessons on the baseball field. And we’d have Aloha Fridays. It was all part of the experience, and I do believe that was the glue that made people not worry about accreditation.

Morgan: Paradise wouldn’t have been sustainable for the long term, but for the people who went there—who were a risk-taking group to start with—the fact you were in a crappy facility was the least of the risks. 

Frierson: I had a challenging first year. My grandparents lived in Las Vegas, and my grandfather passed away during my first semester. Then, toward the end of that semester, I had put all my notes on a disk, which I loaned to a friend. Somehow, the disk got inadvertently corrupted, and I lost all my notes two weeks before finals started. But I had classmates there to bail me out. I’m sure in many schools, they would’ve seen that as a competitive edge, but I had no shortage of folks to help me get caught up.

Morgan: That first-year class was far better academically and just as human beings than we had any right to expect. Having not opened our admissions office until halfway through the normal cycle, god knows how bad it could’ve been. But it turned out we had a really fine group of people, and the subsequent classes were fine groups of people, too. And of course as the years went by, the applicant pools got bigger and bigger, and the competition for seats got stiffer and stiffer.

Thomas: You look at some of the people who came out of that first and second year, they’re pretty dynamic individuals who are making a huge difference in both the city and the state. And had the university waited two or three years for a perfect facility to be built to start the law school, those students would’ve gone elsewhere. And they probably would’ve sought legal and career opportunities in other places and wouldn’t have blessed this state with their talents.

The seal of approval

The UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law received provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association in 2000, then in February 2003—following a dynamic presentation in front of the ABA’s accreditation committee that featured speeches from, among others, Carol Harter, Dick Morgan, Bill Boyd, and Jim Rogers—Nevada had its first accredited law school. 

As of May 2018, 2,385 students had earned J.D.’s from Boyd. The number of full-time faculty has grown from nine to 47. And for the past decade, Boyd has consistently ranked among the top 100 law schools in the nation. Additionally, its part-time J.D. program ranks 17th; its Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution ranks 10th among the nation’s dispute-resolution programs; it ranks third among all U.S. law schools for placing students in coveted court clerkships; and, this year, UNLV Law climbed to No. 1 in the legal-writing rankings.

Meanwhile, the Thomas & Mack Legal Clinic—dubbed “A Laboratory for Justice”—is home to nine clinics that cover everything from immigration and juvenile justice to tax and investor assistance. And UNLV is the only law school in the nation to offer a master’s degree in Gaming Law and Regulation. As for Dick Morgan’s mission to build a law school dedicated to community service? Accomplished: In addition to the legal clinics, more than 70,000 Nevadans have received assistance through Boyd’s Community Service Program that operates in tandem with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and Nevada Legal Services. That, of course, doesn’t include the countless number of Nevadans whom Boyd graduates have served as private-practice attorneys, pro-bono attorneys, judges, legislators, and legal advocates.

Yes, it may have taken far too long for Nevada to create its first fully sustainable public law school, but it sure hasn’t taken very long for that school to make a big impact. And those who were there at the beginning are beyond gratified—nobody more so than the school’s namesake.

Boyd: I’m quite proud that the law school has graduated so many fine lawyers, not only for Nevada but other states as well. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised and pleased at how high a rating the law school has achieved as noted in U.S. News & World Report. It has done much better than I had imagined.

My donations have indeed been well spent—but the only reason they have been well spent is because of the great job Dick Morgan did, as well as the subsequent deans and all the great professors who have taught at the law school.

Pro: I doubt you would find a member of the legal community anywhere in Nevada who wouldn’t be proud of what Boyd has become.

Reid: As a Distinguished Fellow [in Law and Policy at UNLV Law], I have a nice office at the law school. And when I drive there, I pass by Paradise Elementary School. It’s still there. And a lot of times I’ll say, “There’s the law school. That’s where it started—in an old elementary school.”

Thomas: When I look at the quality of the graduates—the number who are now impacting our Legislature and moving into judicial positions—for them to go to a law school that schooled them in what was important to Nevada as opposed to what was important in Arizona, Utah, or California—as had been the case in the past—the impact has been immense. 

Pro: Have Boyd graduates made a difference? Hell yes. Now you look around the state and see so many [alumni] who have moved up from law clerks and associates who are now partners in law firms, they’re in the Legislature, they’re in business, they’re in gaming, they’re on the bench—they’re in all facets of community life.

When Carol Harter retired, I wrote her another letter and talked about all the wonderful things she’ll be remembered for—like being the university’s first female president, as well as other distinctions—but I told her I’d always remember her as the mother of UNLV’s law school. And the father of it, of course, is Dick Morgan, who was just incredible.

Morgan: I’m very proud of the fact that the school turned out the way that I said it was going to. The people who came along to support me and who came along after me have made good on my promises. So I’m very thankful.

Harter: Getting it going was a great challenge but a great deal of fun—at least after the initial difficulties, of which there were quite a few. 

Pro: In different talks I’ve given in connection with the law school or at the law school, I’ve referenced those bullet points I gave to Carol in that first letter I sent her in August 1995, where I outlined all the reasons why I thought pursuing a law school at UNLV was worthwhile. And guess what? Every damn one of them has been accomplished, and more—so much more.