Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Faculty Collaborate to Provide Experiential Learning to the Max at Boyd

Students at the William S. Boyd School of Law have many opportunities for experiential learning but a particularly popular one is available only when the Nevada Legislature is in session. During the spring semester of odd-numbered years, thanks to a collaboration among several faculty members, students can participate in a “legislative immersion” experience that includes a legislative externship for up to 12 credits and, if they so choose, an advanced legal writing course on Legislative Advocacy.  And the entire enterprise happens in the capitol, Carson City, 300+ miles from the law school.

Professor Marty Geer, Boyd’s externship program director, has arranged for a variety of externship placements.  Some students are placed with law firms that lobby for non-profit or government entities; others are placed with non-profit organizations such as the ACLU; still others are placed with Nevada’s Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) and work in legislative leadership offices or in the legal division of the LCB.  Dean John Valery White, who is part of UNLV’s lobbying team, is the faculty supervisor for the Legislative Externship course and meets with the students several times throughout the semester to discuss their experiences.

This spring semester, Professor Jean Whitney is teaching a course that complements the legislative externship and allows students to complete their required third semester of legal writing.  Advanced Advocacy: Legislative Policy is a hands-on course in which the students select a legislative issue they are interested in, draft a bill, write a policy memo to support their proposed legislation, and make a presentation at a mock legislative hearing This semester Professor Whitney has also arranged for a series of guest speakers, all of whom play some role in the legislative process.  Students have had opportunities to meet with staff from the LCB, including Darcy Johnson (’01); organizational and grass roots lobbyists, including alumnus Denise Tanata Ashby ‘03, Associate Dean Christine Smith and UNR Professor Jim Richardson; and attorney lobbyists. During the last classes, when the students will be giving their “testimony” on the legislation they have drafted, many volunteers from the impressive cadre of alumnae in the Legislature and some of the lobbyists and LCB staff will serve as members of the mock legislative committees that will hear the students’ legislative proposals. This year we have five alumni serving in the Nevada Legislature: Lucy Flores ’10, Jason Frierson ’01, William Horne ’01, John Oceguera ’03, and James Orenschall ’09.

Students taking this unique combination of courses have regular opportunities to put their externship experiences in context as they discuss theories of representation and legislative process, and statutory construction and principles of legislative drafting in the legislative advocacy class.  The combination of “real life” and theory makes for an interesting, and exhausting, experiential learning immersion experience the students won’t soon forget!

Professor Jean Whitney's Advanced Advocacy: Legislative Policy class held in the Nevada Legislature's Committee Hearing Room in Carson City, Nevada. From left, front row: Karl Shelton, 2L; Sean McDonald, 2L; Whitney Richburg, 2L; Steven Miller, UNR graduate student. From left, back row: Max Fetaz, 3L; Debra Amens, 2L; Elana Graham, retired Clark County Deputy District Attorney; Elana L. Graham '10; Seth Floyd '10; Asher Killian, LCB attorney; Darcy Johnson '02, LCB attorney; Jeremy Thompson, 3L.
“Pinning down one thing that I have learned is hard. The session is going by so quickly, and new issues are presented every day, I feel lucky if I am able to recollect issues that were brought up last week. I guess the experience is more about learning the process and the political landscape in Nevada, which is so different from where I grew up. Sitting in the Senate committee on Government Affairs has exposed me to some of the peculiarities of rural Nevada- for instance Pahrump, a town of 41,000 remains unincorporated, and this has had the result that the people there don't get to make zoning decisions- those are made at the county. Also, White Pine county didn't provide workers compensation insurance to their firefighters because they couldn't afford to.  Another thing that I will take away with me is how accessible our government is here in Nevada. It’s true that paid lobbyists outnumber the members of the legislature and their staff, but every day I see unpaid citizen lobbyists testify on issues that affect them and the groups they represent, and the legislators seem to consider the points of view of everyone who testifies- even the certifiable ones.”
- Karl Shelton, 2L

 “My legislative externship has given me the opportunity to help shape some of Assembly leadership's bills.  I have been privileged with a behind-the-scenes look at what goes in to drafting a bill---the research, lobbyist negotiations, causus meetings, and so on.  The legislators and their staff live and breath Nevada policy during the session, working tirelessly to do what it takes to further the policies they believe will positively impact the state.”
- Whitney Richburg, 2L

“This is an amazing experience.  The amount of hands on, close observation of the process is fascinating.  The quality and amount of legislative material on line is a great example of how a state can easily engage the public in the legislative process.  I am most surprised with the level of access to legislators and their willingness to engage and debate the issues.”
- Debra Amens, 2L

“What is the most surprising? This externship is my first in-depth experience with the legislature and politics. I am simply in awe at how much information my Senator is expected to recall. There are so many bills and so many topics and I am amazed that everything can get done in a proper manner in only 120 days. Combining the legislative externship with the legislative drafting class is a great experience. Being able to share my experiences during the session with classmates is very rewarding. As I drafted my statute and memo for class, I kept in mind all the testimony, exhibits, ideas, positions, questions, and confusion that I have watched over the session. The externship opened my eyes to how a really simple idea can actually be so complex.”
- Jeremy Thompson, 3L

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