It’s impossible to describe just how immense an icon Samuel Lionel is in Nevada’s legal community. After all, this is a man who not only had more than half a century of legal experience under his belt before the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law opened its doors, but he was three years into his career before UNLV proper held its first classes back in 1957.
Of course, longevity doesn’t always equate to impact — but it certainly does with respect to Lionel. Among his earliest clients were such luminaries as Howard Hughes and Kirk Kerkorian, and in 1967, he helped found Lionel Sawyer & Collins, which became one of the most renowned firms in Nevada history. And in the midst of building his career, Lionel served for 30 years on the Nevada Board of Bar Examiners, which writes and grades the state’s bar questions and oversees the administration of two bar exams.
Lionel’s dedication to enriching the state’s legal community extends to Boyd. At a time when many of Nevada’s practicing attorneys weren’t thrilled about the prospect of creating the state’s first fully accredited law school — mostly because such an institution would eventually flood the market with quality competition Lionel was among its earliest supporters. In fact, he was among a contingent that attempted to bring Nevada a legal institution long before Boyd was ever on the drawing board.
“Several of us tried over and over to start a law school many years ago, and we weren’t successful,” Lionel said. “One was started in Reno and it folded, as did one that started in Las Vegas. We now have [Boyd Law] because people like Bill Boyd, (the late) Jim Rogers, and others were so dedicated and determined to start this and make it work.”
Over the years, Lionel and his wife, Lexy, have regularly supported Boyd through financial contributions that fund student scholarships, as well as other philanthropic endeavors. For instance, before closing in 2015, Lionel Sawyer & Collins named the Nevada Law Journal room, providing funds for furnishings and décor.
Also, in 2016, the Lionels established the Samuel Lionel Professorship in Intellectual Property, a position currently held by Boyd professor Marketa Trimble. Most recently, they founded the LaFrance-Trimble Award, which is named after Trimble and fellow Boyd Law professor Mary LaFrance and presented annually to the outstanding graduate in the intellectual property concentration.
“I get to present the award, and I’m there at the podium with my husband, and I look out at all the graduates, their family members, the faculty members, and judges, and I’m just elated,” said Lexy Lionel, who owns the award-winning company Nannies & Housekeepers USA. “There is so much joy being able to be part of all of that.”
And as Samuel Lionel continues to leave his indelible mark on the legal profession, some 65 years after passing the Nevada Bar in 1954, he and Lexy will continue to do whatever they can to support the state’s only law school and ensure that it consistently produces quality lawyers — lawyers who someday will have a chance to leave their own mark on the Silver State’s legal industry.
“I give to create a better law school, have better students, and secure better teachers, all with the end result of having better lawyers here in Nevada,” Samuel Lionel said. “Over the past 21 years, the law school has come a long way. We’re proud of it, and many of us remain dedicated to its future success.”