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September 1, 2014

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DAILY MEMO: HIGHER EDUCATION:

Law school gets more selective

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Sam Morris

Dean John V. White aspires to make UNLV Boyd School of Law’s gaming law programs the best in the country — and world.

When it was established in 1998, UNLV’s Boyd School of Law was fast out of the gate. It earned American Bar Association accreditation in four years — quicker than any other law school — and was ranked among the top 100 law schools in the country two years later. The jockey, trainer and owner during those early years was Dick Morgan, the law school’s charismatic founding dean and a one-man force of nature.

Now, with Morgan retired, Boyd School of Law is setting long-term goals and trying to define its areas of niche expertise, even as the school is being buffeted by the recession. If there is a silver lining to the school’s stalled growth because of budget shortcomings, it is that a growing number of wannabe lawyers are sending their applications to Boyd, allowing the young school to become more selective — and enhancing its reputation.

This comes as the school continues to adjust to Morgan’s retirement.

“One of Dick (Morgan)’s tremendous skills was his ability to personally run a development operation for the school with great success,” said John V. White, the present dean. In Morgan’s absence, White says, it’s time for a handful of administrators to form the school’s leadership ranks, each with specific areas of responsibility.

Among the goals: develop a formal communications network to promote alumni engagement with the school — including grass-roots fundraisers — and to further develop the school’s gaming and international law programs.

White aspires for the school’s national and international gaming law program to be the best in the world. This is, after all, Las Vegas — a logical place to develop gaming-law expertise by attracting those experts even if only for a period of time. Boyd Law School should aspire to be nothing less than the center for gaming law scholarship, attracting international legal experts to the campus, White says.

Such an ambitious undertaking is not unwarranted, given the school’s early successes.

In the past two years, the Boyd School has moved up the national rankings from No. 100 on the U.S. News and World Report’s list in 2007 to 75 today.

Four of its specialty programs — a legal clinic, a conflict resolution center, courses that hammer on nuts-and-bolts research and writing skills, and courses for part-time law students — are counted among the best in the country.

With those rankings comes pride, but also pressure to continue the upward climb at a time when money is tight, White says.

The recession has forced the school to lose some momentum in adding faculty and courses. State funding has been slashed and donations dropped shortly after White took the helm.

“The main difficulty has been uncertainty,” he says. “If you have a particular problem, you can devote yourself to it. But not knowing what your situation will be has been a more difficult problem. We’re doing our best.”

Consequently, the law school’s expansion plans not only have been put on hold with a hiring freeze, but there are fewer faculty members than in 2007, when White took over as dean and the school had to schedule a progression of significant tuition increases.

Yet the school is enjoying a steady rise in applicants, allowing it to be more selective in granting admission. (For 2009, 1,755 applications were submitted, 407 applicants were admitted and 157 students enrolled.)

The growing competition to enroll in Boyd has left some seemingly well-placed applicants — including family members of local politicians, high-profile lawyers and judges — out in the cold, insiders say.

The luxury of greater selectivity in admissions is causing some local grousing that the state’s only public law school is becoming too exclusive. But the flip side is that law firms and businesses are hiring stronger law school graduates, which can only benefit the school and Nevada.

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