Lead with integrity, serve with compassion. These are the principles that were instilled in William S. Boyd School of Law Alumnus of the Year John Piro during his years serving in the U.S. Army, and they remain the principles that guide him in his current role as Clark County chief deputy public defender.
Piro, ’05 BA Criminal Justice and ’10 JD, served as a combat medic in the Army for four years, getting promoted to sergeant in his final year, during which he was a squad leader for nine other combat medics. After returning to civilian life, Piro continued his education, first at the College of Southern Nevada, then at UNLV, where he majored in criminal justice. During his first year on campus in 2002, he also continued his military service as a member of the Nevada National Guard.
Two years after earning his undergraduate degree, Piro returned to campus in pursuit of his law degree at the William S. Boyd School of Law. In 2010, he was selected as the graduate school speaker for UNLV’s commencement.
Piro began his legal career in 2011 as an associate attorney with the Urban Law Firm. Seven months later, he joined the Clark County public defender’s office, where for more than seven years he has championed mental-health reform within the criminal justice system.
Piro’s legal work has been recognized by Legal Elite, a Nevada business magazine that named him a Top Attorney in the state both in 2016 and 2018. And his commitment to service even stretches into politics, as he ran for the Nevada Assembly in 2016 and currently works as a lobbyist during legislative sessions in Carson City.
Throughout his busy career, Piro has remained tightly connected to UNLV. He has undertaken multiple leadership roles with the Boyd School of Law’s alumni chapter, including serving as president in 2015-16. During those two years, he worked to launch the law school’s annual golf tournament, which is now the chapter’s primary sources for revenue and alumni engagement.
Piro also does philanthropic work with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, the Boys & Girls Club, and Aly’s Prom Closet. And he isn’t the only one in his household who bleeds Rebel red. His wife, Leslie, ’06 BA Political Science, ’09 JD, currently works for the United States District Court in Nevada.
What moment or experience at UNLV had the most profound effect on you?
During my first year, I struggled a bit to assimilate to campus life. While my classes and instructors were great, I just didn’t feel like I was fitting in. That all changed early in the fall 2003 semester when I walked up to the recruiting table for the Delta Chi fraternity. There I found a group of young men who were proudly displaying a philanthropic award and exhibiting a genuine bond of friendship. After joining Delta Chi, my whole college experience changed. I became a student ambassador, a student senator for the College of Urban Affairs, and most importantly, I finally felt a genuine connection to the pulse of the campus.
Of course, college is about learning a course of study and enriching your knowledge. But it’s also about enriching your soul, and about becoming a better, more mature person through relationships and experiences that are difficult to replicate outside of the campus context. Joining Delta Chi not only positively impacted my educational experience at UNLV, it changed my life. The sense of brotherhood and the relationships that were forged created friendships that have continued on well past our time at UNLV.
What does “being a Rebel” mean to you?
To me, it’s about refusing to follow the crowd and not backing down from challenging traditional ways of thinking. It’s about daring to do what others think is impossible and striving valiantly for what you believe in, even if those beliefs run counter to popular opinion. We’re here for a short time on Earth, and so, as Brené Brown would say, we should get in the arena and dare greatly to work toward a better world.
I am very proud of UNLV, its new status as a Tier 1 research university, and the fact that we’re one of the most diverse campuses in the United States. And whenever the subject of universities comes up in work or social settings, I make sure to remind everyone that UNLV is the birthplace of innovation in Nevada, and that our alumni and students will be the driving force behind positive changes, both here in the Silver State and across the world.
What’s your message to current and future students of the Boyd School of Law?
My hope is they approach the world’s problems with mercy, compassion, a sense of justice, and a willingness to get proximate to the people and the problems in our community. I want Rebels to fight fear and hate with love, and to be willing to do what’s right even when it’s unpopular. And I want them to remember this quote from Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, legal professor, social-justice activist, and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative: “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists.”
This is why the world needs Rebels who are willing to stand with the poor, the powerless, and the voiceless to make those voices heard — Rebels who will provide hope to the hopeless, and fight against injustice and intolerance whenever it rears its ugly head.