It took me a couple of tries to pass the Nevada bar. There, I said it. Like many others within our local bar (who shall remain nameless, but you know who you are), it took me more than once to study, grind, fret, beat my head into a wall, lose that small chunk of soul, and take the exam before I finally made it. While studying for the bar at the Boyd’s law library, I often ran into Susan Myers from the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. Recognizing her from the bankruptcy community in which I was raised, I spoke with her often as she taught pro se debtors the basics of bankruptcy law. She was my first introduction to the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada (“Legal Aid”) and their mission. Since one of my professional goals has always been to help debtors out of difficult situations, I greatly admired what she was doing there and the service to the community that represented.
Shortly after I finally managed to pass the bar exam, I was convinced to get involved with the Nevada State Bar Bankruptcy (“BK”) section where I acted as treasurer. I was lucky enough to serve with Ogonna Brown, who almost immediately had me over to Legal Aid to tour the facilities and meet with the staff, including Susan Myers. At the time, the BK section was working with her there to streamline bankruptcy forms for both pro bono clients and those who were pro se. Oganna, being the champion advocate of pro bono that she is convinced me of the importance of doing pro bono work. She showed me through my assistance with the BK forms project the value we can add to our community through helping with pro bono cases and programs.
Simultaneously, I shared office space with past CCBA President, Damon Dias, who was on the board of the CCBA at the time. He persuaded me to get active with the CCBA, urging me to join the New Lawyers Committee. While I went to a few events and had a good time mingling and networking with other attorneys, I didn’t feel the calling to get more active until a specific event that was held at the CCBA offices. I think it was one of CCBA’s open house events where I had a realization that caused me to become inspired to become more active. For those who have not visited the CCBA offices, the interior walls are lined with portraits of past presidents and previous members. I recognized many of them as both ancestors and friends of my family from over the years. All of these faces from the past of lawyers in our community that came before us. Just like when most of us signed our name into the Federal Bar membership book at the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse. All those names and signatures of those who came before us. It was at this point that it dawned on me that this is my community. I joined the New Lawyers Committee shortly thereafter and never looked back.
Throughout all of this, I have become convinced that what it all boils down to is that our main function in society as attorneys is to help resolve conflicts between various parties in an effort to prevent those parties from resorting to violence. That means that we all need access to solving conflicts within the law. The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, along with the other amazing pro bono organizations (I’m looking at you Senior Law Program and Nevada Legal Services), help people get that access. These organizations have arisen through our city’s unique legal culture over the last 100 or so years and through the efforts of those both on that wall and in that book. Our unique legal culture is honored and cherished by the CCBA through the support this organization gives to our members and the community at large. Being a member of CCBA matters because our local legal community matters.
We have all worked very hard to enter this profession and work within this profession. CCBA is the organization that honors the commitment that we all made when we were finally sworn in after finally passing that grueling exam. Legal Aid and the other pro bono organizations remind us that what we agreed to was service to others. With all that said, please consider this perspective next time another lawyer asks you why membership matters in the CCBA or why taking pro bono cases matters. Hopefully, this perspective will help others decide to lend their energy towards maintaining our community and helping others resolve conflicts within their lives.
About this article: This article was originally published in the “Membership Matters” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (June/July. 2023). See https://clarkcountybar.org/member-benefits/communique-2023/communique-june-july-2023/.
About the author
Since becoming licensed in Nevada, James started practicing law with his Father, Terry V. Leavitt in October of 2012 at the firm Graves and Leavitt, prior to forming his current practice, Leavitt Legal Services, P.C. His bankruptcy work focuses on complex bankruptcy issues in both consumer and business contexts including Adversary proceedings and Chapter 11, Chapter 7, and Chapter 13 cases. Legal Aid of Southern Nevada also recognized James as a volunteer attorney during the month of July of 2014 due to his help in pro bono cases.
© 2023 Clark County Bar Association (CCBA). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any portion of this issue is allowed without written permission from the publisher. Editorial policy available upon request.