Twenty-five years ago Rich Myers returned from an American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA) board of delegates meeting tasked with establishing a “people’s law school,” which was a public education venture to bring the trial lawyer to the general public and give the public a chance to learn about the law and better connect with local attorneys.
With a “let’s see how this goes” attitude, little budget and limited model, Rich depended on his own contacts and called in favors from community leaders and other lawyers. He named himself dean and moderator and made Barbara Buckley, his then legal secretary, the registrar. Bob Lyle was the dean in Reno. Nevada Trial Lawyers Association (NTLA) PLS became one of 36 in the nation. We could not have possibly known that this outreach would be so successful, do so much to promote community goodwill, and provide education to so many, remaining popular for 25 years and reaching several thousand participants in northern and southern Nevada.
The first year NTLA offered PLS for 12 weeks both in Reno and in Las Vegas. Both programs opened to a full house. Later we hosted the courses north and south…every other year in Las Vegas, Carson City or Reno venues. Each evening a moderator introduced the two 45-minute presentation by local experts on legal topics including the Political Process; the Judicial System; Rights of the Accused; Personal Injury Rights; Employment Rights; Real Estate/Landlord Tenant issues; Insurance Consumer Rights; Taxation; Social Security Claims; Wills, Estates and Probate; and Juvenile Justice. Sexual Harassment; Right to Die, Environmental Law; Family Law; Elder Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution were other popular classes. Some of our presentations were straight forward, and others, like the evenings with Pat Murphy, were just a little lighter. In order to keep their attention, Pat sometimes tossed paper airplanes or balls into the audience, making a direct hit on some that were about to doze off.
From the beginning the south associated ourselves with UNLV, meeting first in classrooms and moving to larger and more modern facilities as the campus grew. Construction, parking, lighting, a/c, taping issues were the norm, and as I took over moderating duties, I found myself a janitor, emcee, baliff and last minute fill in through the years. I was joined in these duties by several attorneys with Tim Williams and Larry Springberg sharing most of the responsibilities. Cal Potter and Pat Murphy, filled in occasionally. Larry currently serves as the southern moderator.
In the early years we taped all of the classes and offered Distance Education through public access television. Dina Titus, a professor of political science at UNLV, hosted a round table discussion with the lawyers featured that week. Because those programs aired over and over during the year, at times state-wide, trial lawyers, guest speakers and politicians found it a prominent forum.
PLS did not have a permanent home up north but continued to fill different venues over the years with different moderators including Valerie Cooney, Tom Bradley, Tom Drendel and others. Our students came from a wide background including administrative assistants, self-employed, social workers, court reporters, contractors and the retired. Doctors, reporters, other lawyers and their families, politicians and eventually law students from the Boyd School of Law came to learn. Even my own family members participated. I remember that my father-in-law took pride in receiving his diploma and that many felt the same way, appreciating the handout materials which included course descriptions prepared by speakers and organized by our staff.
The People’s Law School has always been offered free of charge and is now funded by Nevada Foundation for Consumer Education (NFCE). It continues to be a very unique program, with it’s broad based selection of subjects and instructors, geared to the laymen’s needs, covering topics which affect our daily lives and providing attendees with the tools to obtain legal help if and when they are in need. The People’s Law School helps improve the administration of justice by ensuring that future jurors are better educated regarding the legal system, helps citizens make more informed choices about any legal representation that they need and enables voters to be able to better analyze public policy questions.
We did not intend for all that to happen, but it did. Let’s see what can happen in the next 25 years. Watch NFCE’s People’s Law School 2012 at: Cox Cable Channel 110 beginning July 2012 or on the Nevada Justice Association website. Click here
to be taken to Nevada Justice Association (NJA), formally known as NTLA, where the streaming video is available by session.
Gerald M. Welt, Esq.