Every lawyer who wants to hang out a shingle or join a firm and practice law in Nevada has to pass the Nevada Bar. However, membership in Clark County Bar Association (CCBA) is voluntary for the approximately 1,700 Southern Nevada lawyers who make up the current roster.
The organization offers a variety of benefits to members, from social to professional, charitable service to special events and continuing legal education seminars. Members range from attorneys to paralegals and legal assistants, law students and individuals who work for businesses that provide products and services to the legal community.
“I would say the most important reason to join the organization is probably two-fold,” said John Aldrich, John Aldrich Law Firm, Ltd., CCBA secretary/treasurer. “First, we have a lot of opportunities to network with other lawyers, through lunches and the “Meet Your Judges” Mixer every year, and there are opportunities to meet other lawyers, mentors who can help you as you develop your practice. Second, the continuing legal education (CLE) courses through CCBA are provided by excellent lawyers in Southern Nevada and generally at prices quite a bit lower than commercial CLE lawyers.”
“We offer members certain discount programs and great social events. It’s a great way for attorneys to get to know each other rather than across the line in a courtroom,” said CCBA president-elect Tami Cowden, Greenberg Traurig. “I’ve served on the board for a number of years and enjoyed the interaction with fellow attorneys. CCBA provides excellent service to members and I’m proud to be a part of that. I definitely feel it’s well worth my time as a board member and future president to engage in CCBA activities.”
CCBA doesn’t simply work for members of the Southern Nevada legal field, it works for the entire Southern Nevada community.
“Clark County Bar Association is a very community-focused organization,” said Catherine Mazzeo, Southwest Gas Corp, current CCBA president. “Our members are able to provide community service through volunteer efforts at the Boyd School of Law, and other opportunities within the legal community. But being community-focused also means offering our members opportuniites to do good for the greater Las Vegas area.”
Like many professional associations, CCBA functions with an executive board and board of directors and through a series of committees.
Community Service Committee
The newest CCBA committee is the outreach arm.
“The Clark County Bar Association leaders felt it was important to really represent the Bar within the community, and offer opportunities to volunteer and serve the community, so it was decided to form the Community Service Committee to coordinate events and make sure our members can get involved,” said Jennifer Roberts, Duane Morris, LLP, community service committee co-chair.
As many know, giving back often unexpectedly benefits the giver. Working on the community service projects allows lawyers to network and get to know both the legal community and the Southern Nevada community. “The Bar Association also coordinates competitions at the law schools where members judge students as they compete in mock trials and mock arguments,” said Roberts. “That’s a way to start including younger students into the legal community.”
“Another aspect with the community service committee is getting to know the non-legal community and showing that lawyers are very interested in helping the community and understanding this is where we live and where we work, where we want to be members of the community in all aspects,” added Roberts.
One of the first events on the calendar is the Law Day Art & Essay Competition. Law Day celebrates law in our society and the competition, open to Clark County School District students in middle and high school, is themed “Miranda: More than Words,” exploring procedural protections afforded Americans by the U.S. Constitution. Competition forms are available online.
Another step in the cultural direction is participation by CCBA members in the Downtown Cultural Series held every month in conjunction with City of Las Vegas Cultural Arts programs at the Linda Fitzgerald Jury Assembly Room, Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse. CCBA attorneys speak on topics of general public interest for five minutes before noon when artists take the stage.
Future community service events will include volunteer work with organizations like Three Square and Project 150, which works with homeless youth. Recent activity included team participation at the Light the Night Walk, supporting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Events and Social Networking
One important role of professional organizations is to provide social interaction and networking opportunities. “Bi-monthly lunches are a good opportunity to network. There are interesting speakers and it’s an opportunity to get in a room with people who you might not meet otherwise,” said Aldrich.
Membership in CCBA is voluntary, as opposed to membership in the State Bar of Nevada, so the numbers dropped during the recession but are now returning to normal, according to Donna Wiessner, operations manager and one of two CCBA staff members.
Another opportunity to connect is the CCBA signature event, the “Meet Your Judges” Mixer which attracts 600 people annually. It’s an opportunity for attorneys to meet the judges they appear before and interact on a social basis discussing topics like alma maters, sports played, spouses and children rather than only meeting when the attorney is presenting a case in front of the judge. “It makes both the judge and the lawyer into a person,” said Aldrich.
Another annual event is the 40 Year Club Induction Ceremony & Luncheon honoring attorneys in practice for 40 years and recognizing 40-Year Club members on their 5th, 10th and 15th anniversaries.
CCBA also functions as something of a Who’s Who of the Southern Nevada legal field. The website lists past presidents, many of whom are now judges, most amenable to returning to speak at CLE courses or monthly CCBA lunches.
Continuing Legal Education Committee
“We’re very user friendly for the people who take the CLEs and the presenters,” said Lesley Cohen, Esq, CLE committee chair. “Because presenters are volunteers as well, we’re very much open to niche presentations. Since they’re shorter, even if we get a handful of participants the seminars can be geared to niche issues they’re interested in. We can provide them with that very specific legal issue, interests they might not be able to get from other providers.”
The same goes for presenters. Because they’re volunteers, they can choose an issue that interests them and they’d like to know more about. “Doing a presentation is a great way to learn more about it themselves,” said Cohen. In addition, an attorney may see a lack of knowledge on a certain topic and ask to do a presentation to help raise awareness of the issue.
Seminars by experts are also a common occurence. “There are some people who come and give presentations who know the issue backwards and forwards. You could wake them at three in the morning and they could give you all the information off the top of their heads,” explained Cohen.
Where packaged CLE courses can carry steep price tags, CCBA hasn’t raised credit hour prices since 2000. Non-members can attend CCBA CLE seminars, members receive discounts on courses and buying a passport drops the price to $200 for up to 12 credit hours. The committee also maintains a lending library so people can check out and view seminars they missed.
New Lawyers Committee
“The new lawyers committee allows new lawyers to get together with other new lawyers,” said Aldrich. “They may not realize how helpful that is, maybe not today, but five years down the road as each is building separate practices and has the opportunity to refer work to each other and trade information – that’s all very helpful for the new lawyer.”
Despite the name, the committee serves Nevada lawyers who have recently passed the Nevada Bar because they’re new to the area and not just because they’re new to being lawyers. As a whole, the association offers new lawyers a chance to meet colleagues at social mixers and networking luncheons and to participate in volunteer activities.
“The committee provides new lawyers with the “New Lawyers Survival Guide”, helps them prepare and gives them access to information regarding the entire court system and legal resources,” said Michael Hughes, The Law Office of Michael V. Hughes, new lawyers committee chair, CCBA.
If asked how new lawyers should approach membership with CCBA, Cowden would suggest trying out different committees to discover which are more aligned with professional interests. “In addition to the community service committee, we have publications where I’ve devoted much more of my time and which puts out the Communiqué. There’s the new lawyers committee, which is a somewhat misleading name – [it’s not based on] age but how long admitted to Nevada bar, so it works for attorneys in their first five years. I think it’s particularly important to new attorneys whether they’re brand new or just moved to Nevada, to get involved where we have the greatest opportunity to interact and network with others in their new home for practice.
The publications committee works to select topics of interest and practical use to attorneys in Clark County, soliciting contributions of articles from leaders in the legal field. In fact, CCBA magazine, Communiqué, has won awards.
“It’s exciting to me to serve as editor-in-chief,” said Paul Ray, Paul Ray Chtd., publications committee chair. “There have been so many good writers and editors along the way, it’s exciting to be part of that.”
Monthly committee meetings are used to come up with topics and ideas for articles and themes for individual issues. “You always learn something new, somebody brings in something they’re looking for, topics of interest to the community, or you go out and talk to people to bring in new articles. It’s educational in the process,” Ray added.
Steph Abbott, communications coordinator, one of CCBA’s full-time staff, produces 11 issues a year of Communiqué, working with the volunteer attorney editors of the magazine, in addition to doing desktop publishing, graphic design and writing short news releases.
The magazine features sections on the new Nevada Court of Appeals and municipal and justice courts. There are articles on Supreme Court decisions and articles on the month’s specific themes.
Working on the committee allows members to contribute in areas where they have special knowledge and offers opportunities to become acquainted with and develop rapport with attorneys members they may someday have a case against.
“If you’re already acquainted with each other it can help communications,” said Ray. “Even if you don’t face each other on a case, there’s so much we can learn from working with other attorneys and having a good time. There’s useful service, but there’s also a lot of fun at the meetings, so many different talents in our community coming together.”
Clark County Bar Association exists for a variety of reasons, providing services to members and community service to Southern Nevada residents. Between the continuing legal education seminars and meeting the judges, there’s an opportunity to engage with Nevada communities and Nevadans.
“The people I’ve met through CCBA, they’re genuinely good people working hard and doing their best and trying to help, and that’s an important thing. Generally, the press lawyers get is negative,” said Aldrich. “One or two lawyers do something they shouldn’t and that’s what gets in the press and leaves lawyers with a bad reputation in general when in reality there are thousands of lawyers in Southern Nevada doing good.
“The purpose of CCBA is really to help people have the opportunity to engage in community, whether that’s community service or to focus on professional development, social opportunities and opportunities to discuss and talk about professionalism and how to behave toward clients, toward the public at large, toward other attorneys and toward the court. It’s important to have an organization like CCBA so the message gets out there, that’s number one. Number two, so those lawyers who are good lawyers and want to do good have the opportunity to get out and do good. CCBA finds the needs in the community, because it’s not always easy to find the needs, and brings people who want to meet those needs together to accomplish something for the greater good,” explained Aldrich.