It requires a massive amount of hard work, perseverance, and intelligence to earn a law degree, let alone ascend to the position of senior deputy city attorney for a major city. Yet even as William S. Boyd School of Law Alumna of the Year Marisa Rodriguez lives her dream in real time, part of her can’t believe it became reality.
“Although I wanted to be an attorney at a young age, I didn’t know how to pursue a legal career,” Rodriguez said. “As the first one in my family to graduate high school and pursue a college degree, there was nobody in my immediate circle who could help me navigate the path to law school. If it had not been for a colleague’s daughter who was in law school and shared with me her experience, I may have never gone to law school.”
While it took her roughly six years to bridge the gap between finishing her 2004 bachelor's in international business from UNLV and starting law school, Rodriguez made the most of her opportunity at the William S. Boyd School of Law. Besides juggling a grueling course load during her three years at Boyd, Rodriguez was on the moot court team, served as managing editor of the UNLV Gaming Law Journal, and worked for the school’s Immigration Clinic and Innocence Clinic.
Upon earning her Juris Doctor in 2013, she served as a law clerk for the late Judge Susan W. Scann in the Eighth Judicial District Court, then spent more than five years working in the Las Vegas offices of the nationally recognized litigation firm Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial. Earlier this year, Rodriquez assumed her current position as senior deputy city attorney for the City of North Las Vegas.
Even though the new job undoubtedly keeps Rodriguez busy, she insists she’ll always find time to pay it forward to those who want to mimic her journey but don’t know how to take the first steps. “Mentoring is so important to me,” she says. “I know there are so many other first-generation immigrants who have the desire and aptitude to pursue a law degree but may not know they can do it. I feel it’s my duty to help others achieve their dreams, just like my colleague’s daughter helped me.”
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in law?
Seventh grade. A classmate had been picking fights with students she perceived as weak. One morning she waited for me outside school, and even though I was petrified, I had to defend myself. Luckily, a teacher walked by, stopped the fight, and brought us both to the principal’s office.
While we waited alone in the office, I was scared she would beat me up again, but I was even more afraid of what would happen once my mother found out — especially because when the principal walked in, he threatened to suspend us. I had to come up with a plan. I said, “If you agree to not to suspend us or tell our parents, we’ll both promise to never fight again — with each other or with any other student. And if we do, you can expel us.”
It was the perfect plan: Not only did my mom not have to find out, but it put the pressure on the bully to never pick another fight with anyone because if she did, she’d be expelled. The principal accepted my offer.
It was one of the first instances where I learned that all problems, no matter how challenging, have a solution. You just have to be brave and advocate for yourself and for others.
What’s the one challenge or crisis you’ve faced in your career that you conquered thanks to lessons learned during your days at UNLV?
As a Latina litigator, it’s not uncommon to be the only person in the room who looks like you — not to mention the only woman in the room. Fortunately, at Boyd, I learned that shyness and self-doubt impede success.
I also learned the importance of participating in discussions, even if you lack confidence. One day in law school, I attended a presentation from Boyd alumna Oganna Brown. Among other pieces of great advice, she told us not to be afraid to speak up during class discussions. Who cares if you got the analysis wrong? The worst that can happen is you’ll get corrected, which is exactly why we paid tuition — to learn. She said, “Once you enter the legal field, the consequences for not speaking up will be much greater. Use this as practice and get things wrong now so you can be prepared when it matters.” This advice helped me navigate my initial years as a litigator.
What advice do you have for today’s UNLV Law students as they try to navigate our changed world?
In the wise words of Maya Angelou, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” As you build your career and your brand as an attorney, remember to be kind to everyone — your superiors, your secretary, opposing counsel, courtroom security guards, the janitor.
The legal profession can be challenging, but if you’re kind, you’ll have allies willing to help you succeed in places you least expect it.