’09 MA Criminal Justice, ’14 JD/PhD Educational Psychology, ’17 LL.M. Gaming Law and Regulation
William S. Boyd School of Law Alumna of the Year
The William S. Boyd School of Law has produced hundreds of distinguished graduates since opening its doors in 1998. However, it has produced just one who has done all of the following: pursued a law degree while simultaneously studying for a doctorate; took on leadership roles with multiple student organizations while also volunteering in the legal community; concurrently studied for the bar and completed her doctoral dissertation while pregnant with her second child; returned to the law school to earn her master’s in gaming law; and went on to become the first Black female elected to the State Bar of Nevada Board of Governors.
That distinguished graduate is Brittnie Watkins — and believe it or not, that’s just a partial list of her extraordinary academic and professional accomplishments.
During her time at the law school, Watkins was part of a team that advanced to the national finals of the Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition, she served as president of the Black Law Student Association and vice president of the Public Interest Law Association, and she earned numerous scholarships and awards, including the Barbara Buckley Community Service Award.
Watkins received the latter honor upon graduation in recognition of her tireless commitment to public service, particularly as it related to children. Throughout her tenure as a student, Watkins volunteered with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada on issues affecting children and worked with the law school’s Kids’ Court School, where she educated about 300 child witnesses about the judicial process prior to their testimony in Clark County trials.
After earning her law and doctorate degrees, Watkins passed the bar and began a two-year term as a law clerk for now-retired Supreme Court of Nevada Justice Michael L. Douglas. Then, in 2016, she accepted an associate attorney position with the Las Vegas-based law firm Pisanelli Bice. In her role with the firm, Watkins worked on complex commercial litigation cases related to everything from gaming and intellectual property to health care and civil rights.
Away from the office, Watkins has embraced the opportunity to mentor diverse law students while also remaining dedicated to community service — in fact, from 2017-19, she provided hundreds of hours of pro bono legal services each year.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a legal career?
I knew I wanted to be an attorney as far back as second grade when my teacher told me I had what it takes. She poured confidence into me and kindled my passion. I was drawn by the law’s power to shift paradigms and alter outcomes. The more I learned, the more my passion grew. The inverse was also true. Eventually, nothing could keep me from my attraction to the law.
What was it about the Boyd School of Law that appealed to you?
I was captivated by Boyd for two reasons: a strong focus on public interest and various opportunities for experiential learning. Attending Boyd was one of the best decisions I ever made — the faculty support, incomparable legal education, vast network, and lifelong friends I gained have been invaluable to my quality of life and success. I am happy to give back to the school that gave so much to me.
What’s the biggest personal or professional challenge that you’ve had to overcome, and how did that experience shape you?
That would have to be sitting for the Nevada bar exam and defending my doctoral dissertation while I was six months pregnant. I was almost always mentally and physically exhausted while preparing. Between studying and writing, I could barely stay awake long enough to fight the battle against self-doubt’s familiar invasions: This is impossible. It’s too much. No one would blame you for giving up.
But there was a competing voice, one from the woman my mother raised me to be, that would not let me fail without “leaving it all on the court,” as my mother had advised literally and figuratively throughout my life. So, I woke up every day, cried, drank more coffee than my doctor recommended, studied, napped, wrote, napped, and hoped and prayed for the strength to stay awake longer so that I could study and write more.
That summer, I learned that willpower and consistency can be better predictors of success than confidence. I received news that I passed the bar exam just a few days before I gave birth to my second son. And I was one of the “doctors” in the delivery room.
What three attributes should every legal professional strive to have a boundless supply of?
A diplomatic mindset, an honest disposition, and passionate curiosity. Everything else is more easily acquired.
What does the phrase “Rebel spirit” mean to you?
Having the courage to start without a clear view of the finish line or shooting for the stars despite the unlikelihood of hitting one. Dreaming of the unseen, having the gumption to make it foreseeable, and the resilience to manifest it.