Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Daniel Hamilton has big plans for UNLV’s law school.
The Harvard-educated legal scholar recently became the fourth dean of the William S. Boyd School of Law. Although Boyd was recently named the 68th-best law school in the country by U.S. News and World Report, the college is facing daunting challenges.
Nationwide, law school applications are down as cash-strapped students question the value proposition of a juris doctor. As the new dean, Hamilton will be tasked with leading the law school out of the recession and giving Boyd students a leg up amid fierce competition in the legal profession.
After Hamilton’s installation ceremony last week, the Sun caught up with the new dean to discuss his aspirations and goals for UNLV’s law school.
Nationwide, law school applications are down. In 2006-07, UNLV had well over 1,000 applications to its law school. Since then, UNLV has reported a 25 percent decline in applicants. Why do you think that is?
Automation has a lot to do with it. Document review, which once required a lawyer, can now be done by computer, using sophisticated programs. More lawyers are looking for work as the market gets saturated. There’s also more work that can be outsourced to different parts of the world for a cheaper cost.
Is there anything UNLV can do to reverse the decline in law school applications?
I don’t know if this is a structural or cyclical shift, or if the drop in applications has hit bottom. We think it has. Regardless, we have to find ways to innovate and think creatively to keep the law school growing.
We’ve worked hard to keep our cost of tuition affordable for students. We already have a tuition cost that is dramatically less than many of our competitors. We have to be very aggressive in building out our scholarship program. We also want to stay very focused on recruiting the best JD students from Nevada and regionally: from Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Scottsdale. If there’s a student who can benefit from a great law school, we want them here.
What will be your focus as dean of the law school, besides working on getting application numbers up?
We’re very interested in building out our gaming law program. Gaming law is definitely an area of growth for the law school because it’s growing nationwide and worldwide. We can be the leader in training and educating those who need to know more about gaming law.
We’re looking at working with the gaming institute to create new executive, midcareer and graduate degree programs, hoping to draw students both nationally and internationally.
Why gaming law?
Gaming law is a very sophisticated area of legal practice. It’s labor law, intellectual law, securities law and administrative law. It’s going to take some time to build out, but it makes sense for UNLV and Las Vegas given the incredible expertise the city and state has to become a leader in this field.
Online gaming is certainly going to be a significant component of gaming law. It’s new, and we’re all learning what it’s going to look like. As gaming law expands to Maryland, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, there are going to be compliance officers and lawyers who need to know gaming issues.
The law school was recently ranked 68th nationally. What are your plans to boost Boyd Law’s prestige regionally and nationally?
Boyd is one of the great success stories of the past decade. We want to keep that rise, that momentum, going. We aspire for UNLV to be recognized as one of the top public law schools in the country. We want to take a great thing and make it even better.
Our presence is already impressive. We’re active members of the community. Since we opened our doors 15 years ago through a partnership with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and Nevada Legal Services, more than 50,000 people have taken classes on family law, bankruptcy and foreclosure issues. Our students are working with kids court and immigration law. We’re very proud of the Saltman Center, which is our nationally recognized conflict-resolution center. We’re not only doing great scholarly work but doing great work in the community.
What’s your take on the Las Vegas job market for newly-minted lawyers? What do you think are the job prospects for Boyd graduates?
We do see some real evidence that the legal job market in Las Vegas is bouncing back. Firms are hiring again. They’re busy with legal work. We think it’s turning around.
If you go to any of the top firms in Las Vegas and Reno, you’ll find Boyd grads everywhere. We have 2,000 alums who have fanned out across the region. They’re becoming leaders in their firms. They compete and succeed alongside people from the top law schools. Boyd grads are thriving, and it’s a testament to the education they get here.