Ask a member of Clark County Bar Association (CCBA) why Southern Nevada attorneys should become members of the organization and the answers will span most of the benefits of membership. The one answer included every time: People.
That answer comes in variations. But when networking, meeting colleagues, meeting judges, doing community service, volunteering on the Board of Directors and chairing one of the organization’s five committees are pared down, it comes down to people.
“Clark County Bar gives members a lot of opportunities to serve in the community and to rub shoulders with judges and more seasoned attorneys, which is more important for young attorneys,” said John Aldrich, Aldrich Law Firm, Ltd., president-elect CCBA.
Networking allows attorneys to get together outside the courtroom and take the emotion out of litigation, according to Jason Stoffel, Roberts Stoffel Family Law Group, secretary/treasurer CCBA.
The organization presents opportunities for lawyers to contribute to the profession as a whole. Rather than remaining isolated, working only on their own cases, lawyers have a chance to volunteer in the community beyond doing pro bono legal work.
“It’s a great opportunity to work with fellow attorneys to achieve some good things,” said Tami Cowden, Greenberg Traurig LLP, CCBA president.
Membership in the Clark County Bar Association is voluntary. Which is one of the best reasons for attorneys to join: everyone is there by choice. In addition, it’s made up of local members practicing in Southern Nevada .
“It’s our bar association,” said James T. Leavitt, Leavitt Legal Services, PC.
Clark County Bar Association is a relatively small voluntary member organization, at least in terms of staffing, compared to that of the State Bar of Nevada — a mandatory, regulatory organization for all attorneys admitted to practice in the state. While the majority of the CCBA’s members are based in Clark County, the organization has members throughout the state and nation. CCBA’s publication and CLE seminars focus broadly on topics regarding state and federal laws.
“The State Bar is a huge entity with a staff of 60 or 70 employees. CCBA is a two-person team,” said Stoffel. “It’s fun. And we do more volunteering than the State Bar. The State Bar is the whole state, Reno and rural counties too. CCBA is what’s happening here now, and there are a lot of ways to get involved.”
CCBA’s two person staff is comprised of Donna Wiessner, who serves as the executive director, and Steph Abbott, the bar’s communications manager. The two work efficiently and effectively to provide CCBA members with the most bang for their membership, organizing everything from member events to board meetings and beyond.
“They’re the ones who are the core of the organization, the nuts and bolts of what happens,” said Aldrich. “They do a great job and are well connected in the community and it’s a great service they provide, not just to the CCBA, but to the community at large.”
The community aspect of CCBA is important; it keeps everything local, so attorneys can keep up with changes that affect their cases and their clients. The law isn’t immutable. The legal field itself changes.
Then and Now
“I think the most important aspect of the organization is probably that it connects us with our past legal history and it helps us prepare for the future by maintaining ties between those in the legal community,” said Leavitt. “That can help combat some of the things we see in other cities where bar associations are so large if you encounter an attorney on one case, you’re not likely to encounter them again. I think [CCBA] helps promote civility within the profession, and that’s always laudable.”
CCBA formed more than 90 years ago, and has always been part of both the legal community and the community in general. The roll call of past presidents reads like a “Who’s Who” of Las Vegas lawyers.
“There are lots of judges, a district attorney, and people who really have gone on to do great things,” said Aldrich. “We have this history that spans literally from the beginning of any lawyer that’s still practicing up until the present. The CCBA has been pretty consistent throughout that time. The legal community’s changed a little bit, just because of the hard times we went through in 2007, ‘08, ‘09 and 2010.” Even then the organization remained consistent, working for members, helping them network, learn and give back to the community.
The legal field was less consistent and events in the community can have a significant impact on which areas of law are heating up or cooling down. In Nevada, foreclosure mediation and construction defect have cooled since the recession ended. Now other areas are heating up, including intellectual property, gaming and family law, according to Stoffel.
But the legal field itself doesn’t change fast. Change is difficult because attorneys can continue to practice into their 90s, or start in their 20s.
“[We] see that generational difference and how the court reacts to new attorneys and how new attorneys are treated and gender disparity,” said Heather Anderson-Fintak, Southern Nevada Health District and CCBA Publications Committee chair. “The good old boys system has been slowly, slowly going away, but I think those are all things that we’ve seen change in the legal community. But it takes a long time for the culture to make that shift.”
It’s happening, though. Anderson-Fintak grew up in Las Vegas. Since returning to the state in 2005, she’s seen changes in the legal community.
“There’s been a development of a more collegial community, and the older attorneys are helping younger attorneys – that’s been a change, especially with a mentoring program in place through the state bar,” said Anderson-Fintak.
“One thing I can say has changed significantly, having come to Las Vegas from having practiced elsewhere, Vegas is different,” said Cowden. “Or Nevada is different. And one of the really nice differences is the interaction between bench and bar. There’s far more involvement of the judges in the bar activities here than where I practiced in Colorado. I think in general there’s a greater opportunity to get to know judges’ personalities and just to get to know them as people here than in other parts of the country. Part of that is that even though there has been a significant increase in the number of attorneys [in Nevada], it remains a relatively small bar.”
When Paul Ray joined CCBA in the 90s, the Strip, the population and residential housing were all growing fast. There was no Court of Appeals in Nevada, and no law school. Boyd School of Law at UNLV is one of the biggest changes to the Southern Nevada legal field. “Today, most of our board is made up of Boyd alumni,” said Paul Ray, Paul C. Ray, Chtd. and co-chair of the CCBA Community Services committee.
Cowden chairs the Social Events Committee. The newly created committee will be seeking opportunities for members to interact in social and family activities.
Another event that brings together members is the annual Meet Your Judges Mixer.
“It’s the most important event we hold every year,” said Aldrich. Between 500 and 600 people are invited, giving attorneys the opportunity to talk with judges and get to know them outside the courtroom. It’s also a chance to meet other attorneys in informal settings and outside of litigation.
Not every event is about meeting existing attorneys. Some are aimed at attorneys in the making. Every year members of CCBA reach out to Boyd School of Law students by working on the Moot Court and Client Counseling Competitions at the school. “It’s an opportunity to meet some of the law students who are going to be future members of our profession here in Vegas,” said Leavitt.
Leavitt joined CCBA shortly after becoming a licensed attorney in 2012, and now chairs the New Lawyers Committee, which holds mixers throughout the year so new lawyers can network with more seasoned lawyers and meet local judges.
CLE’s – continuing legal education courses – also give attorneys a chance to meet each other and network in less formal settings than the courtroom.
“CCBA does a lot of good work in providing CLE’s to the local bar, giving us a chance to meet each other in informal settings and network,” said Leavitt.
“All the CLE courses CCBA puts on are produced by our CLE committee,” added Cowden. “Basically they recruit experts in different areas of law to share their knowledge.”
That’s a win for everyone, Cowden pointed out. The presenter focuses on an area of expertise, and attorneys taking the course benefit by learning from local experts. Creating CLE’s in-house is cost effective; CCBA’s CLE courses are affordable and the organization has its own facility where courses are held, she said.
CCBA continuing legal education courses focus on the cutting edge of the law. The CLE Committee is made up of members who have their fingers on the pulse of the legal community, according to incoming committee chair Rob Telles, Accolade Law.
Once a legal topic is identified, the committee looks for the best speaker for the CLE course to be built around the topic.
“We find those who are best suited to discuss the topic,” said Telles. “It might be somebody local because, as people who practice in Las Vegas, we want to know the ins and outs of the way laws are interpreted here. Oftentimes judges [work in] nuances. That’s why often it is ideal to have somebody experienced and local.”
There are other, non-local sources for CLE courses, but most of the national courses don’t cover Las Vegas law, so details may be different. “We pay attention to those sorts of things to make certain we have a program that really brings value to the members of the legal community,” said Telles.
Social and Media
One purpose professional organizations share is educating their members. In addition to Continuing Legal Education courses, the Publications Committee produces the award-winning Communiqué magazine, published 11 times a year and free to members.
“I’m editor-in-chief of the magazine,” said Anderson-Fintak. “Our job is to connect attorneys out there with information that could be valuable to their practice.” In the process, attorneys on the Publications Committee end up learning pretty much everything when it comes to Southern Nevada law topics.
“There are things I learn all the time I would never normally know because we put out publications and when we edit, I’m reading at a level of detail I would not ordinarily read an article in a magazine,” said Anderson-Fintak.
Content for the magazine Communiqué is developed by bar members for the benefit of bar members with time-sensitive content often posted to the bar’s website or sent out in regular emails. CCBA’s publications are designed to update members on changes in practice and procedure in Southern Nevada courts, highlight opportunities for community service and provide updates to bar services and activities.
Reaching Out to the Community
Along with reaching out to members of the legal community, CCBA members reach out to the community in general. The Community Service Committee, which is fairly new, is co-chaired by Jennifer Roberts, UNLV International Center for Gaming Regulation, and Paul Ray.
In 2016, the committee worked on a new project, Blanket the Homeless, designed to donate rescue blankets to organizations that serve homeless people locally. Partnering with the Clark County Law Foundation, the CCBA encouraged members of the legal community to donate money for this community service project. Their first effort was successful. Hundreds of blankets were purchased at cost and distributed to Caridad, Catholic Charities, Las Vegas Rescue Mission and The Shade Tree. The committee plans to continue the work for the next chilly season.
The committee has also put together events with Three Square food bank and participated in the Light the Night Walk, a fund-raiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and Making Strides for Las Vegas, a walk for American Cancer Society.
“There’s always a stigma out there that lawyers are all just greedy or self-absorbed but, not only do we have a strong legal community that offers legal work on a pro bono basis to members of our community, but it finds a way to include charitable donations in different ways,” said Roberts.
“The community service committee provides opportunities for serving a variety of different activities,” said Ray. “Pro bono is super important, but we do other things through our organization and participate with other non profits in the community.”
Moving into the Future
In 2018, John Aldrich will move into the role of CCBA president.
“It’s an opportunity to give back to the community,” said Aldrich. “I feel like it’s very worthwhile to participate in an organization that teaches lawyers through continuing legal education courses and the Communiqué , and it’s important that we give back so that the community knows that lawyers are good people working hard and trying to make this a better place. I always enjoy the opportunity to mentor younger lawyers and I think the CCBA gives that opportunity as well.”
“For me, for the dues we pay to join CCBA, I find a significant amount of value in the camaraderie that it offers and the CLE program. I’m pretty sure I’m a CCBA member for life,” said Telles. “There’s no reason not to be.”