UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Alumna of the Year
Community service always has been a core mission of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law. So much so that students have been required to participate in a semester-long community service program as a condition of graduation since the institution opened nearly a quarter century ago.
The school’s pro bono component is not so much a “requirement” as an opportunity for students to get their legal feet wet while simultaneously positively impacting the lives of clients desperate for free legal guidance. For many, the experience ignites a passion for pro bono work — a passion that becomes a fundamental part of their careers.
Kelly Dove certainly falls into this category.
During her nearly 13 years as a successful appellate attorney and partner with Snell & Wilmer, Dove has offered pro bono services in a variety of capacities, especially as it relates to LGBTQ+ and other civil rights. Most notably, she was part of the legal team that represented plaintiffs in a pivotal marriage equality case a decade ago. Dove and her team’s work in that case ultimately led to the monumental Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in October 2014 that declared marriage bans unconstitutional in the western part of the United States.
A year later, Dove’s alma mater recognized her pro bono work with the school’s 2015 Distinguished Service Alumni Award. The honor is given annually to a graduate who exhibits exceptional service to the legal profession, legal community, and law school.
Dove added another layer to that latter service in late 2016 when she was named to the law school’s Alumni Association board of directors. While her three-year board term ended in late 2020, Dove remains connected with the law school as a frequent volunteer, moot court judge, and mentor to current students and recent graduates.
“I have a great career in large part because of my relationship with Boyd, so of course I want to give back and support the students and the school,” Dove says. “It has also been personally rewarding because I have met so many students whom I later cross paths with in the legal profession. I genuinely enjoy volunteering to judge moot court competitions and first year oral arguments — the students consistently impress me, and it is another opportunity to meet the next generation of attorneys and reconnect with the school.”
When did attending law school become a goal?
Though I did not have any lawyers in my family or know any outside of my family, I was always interested in studying law. I liked watching legal television shows and movies as a kid. So when I was older and trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career, I came back to my interest in law because I enjoy analysis and writing. It turned out to be a very good fit.
How did you end up choosing the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law?
I moved to Las Vegas in 2003 with my now-husband because he was starting a position at UNLV as a professor, and candidly, I chose UNLV because we lived here. It turned out to be an excellent decision. There was such a great sense of community from the very beginning.
I was fortunate to attend UNLV with the help of scholarships that made my legal education possible and affordable. On top of that, Boyd professors and deans have offered me so much support both while I was in law school and beyond. That support — which includes giving great advice, writing enthusiastic letters of recommendation, and helping me take advantage of available opportunities at every step — has helped shape my career.
I’m so grateful for the circumstances that led me here.
One of UNLV’s core missions is to help students cultivate a sense of self-determination. Describe a moment in your life or career when you had to rely on self-determination to successfully achieve a goal.
Actually, self-determination informs my day-to-day. I have a lot of demands on my time and deadlines I have to meet, but also a lot of autonomy and control as to how I do my work and what work I do. Sometimes getting everything done feels like an act of brute force, but it is rewarding to be so self-directed in my role.
I had a goal of becoming a partner at my firm, and achieving that felt like a real accomplishment, especially while raising two small children at the time.
UNLV students and alumni are encouraged to embrace the “Rebel Spirit” — to be daring and gutsy and to resist convention. Describe a time when your “Rebel Spirit” was on full display.
One of the great privileges in my career has been working to advance LGBTQ+ civil rights. I was fortunate enough to be on the legal team that secured the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the Ninth Circuit (western United States) the year before the Supreme Court’s decision protected that right nationwide. That work has led to other opportunities to do meaningful work in that area, such as helping with legislative initiatives that protect LGBTQ+ families and individuals.
More recently, I was counsel on a First Amendment case in which we obtained an injunction against federal law enforcement regarding their policing of protests in Portland, Oregon. While that work was not pro bono, it was reduced fee because of our team’s commitment to the cause.
I am fortunate to work for a firm that has such a strong commitment to pro bono service and have been able to include in my work a substantial pro bono caseload as well.