By Patrick Everson
When Catherine Galvez began her journey as a UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law student in August 2019, she did so with some off-campus responsibilities most of her fellow first-year students didn’t have: a full-time job, a husband, and two teenage stepdaughters.
In that way, Galvez was a nontraditional student. But it didn’t take long for her to learn she wasn’t alone in that category—nor did it take her long to discover that many of her peers were looking for ways to support each other in that commonality.
“So immediately, we started talking about organizations and different clubs that law students can get involved with,” Galvez says, alluding to a group of more than a dozen students, many of whom have full-time jobs, young families and/or are embarking on a second career. “Come to find out there was this organization, but it had been largely defunct for a couple of semesters.”
That would be the Organization of Part-Time and Non-Traditional Law Students (OPLS). Galvez and fellow students Allison Mann, Jake Ward, and Nicole Weis set about the task of reviving the student-run club, starting with running for elected positions in the organization. Galvez was elected OPLS president, with Mann and Ward vice presidents of community relations, and Weis the vice president of philanthropy.
But those titles were really an afterthought. For the quartet, the overarching goal was to work as a team to bring back and expand on the purpose of OPLS.
“It’s very much a collaborative effort of the four of us,” Galvez says. “We worked so hard to get this organization back up and going.”
And once that revival task was complete, the group focused on boosting engagement within the club. “So many of the events that the law school hosts are done in the evening or during lunch hours,” Galvez says. “We work nights, we work mornings. Our goal is to facilitate events in what we call the off hours. It’s also important to stage events that don’t just involve students. Many of us have families, and we want to bring our spouses or significant others to these events, or include the kids—for instance, have a park day and really make OPLS an extension of our family.”
Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic put a dent in planning such activities. At the same time, though, the pandemic heightened the need for OPLS, so that nontraditional students could continue to have that connection to the Boyd Law community during a time when classes have shifted from on campus to online.
“It absolutely has become more vital,” Galvez says. “You become very overwhelmed very quickly when you start law school, so doing it in the middle of a pandemic is not ideal. That’s why we want to take advantage of the Zoom School of Law, where we can easily and efficiently resurrect our events.”
The club’s first virtual event of the 2020-21 academic year was a Zoom mixer on September 18 that reached out to all part-time and nontraditional students, not just those in their first or second years. The organization also held a virtual trivia night on October 16.
The most important undertaking this year, though, is building on the part-time mentorship program that Weis and the Student Bar Association (SBA) launched last year. The program helps first-year Boyd Law students connect with practicing attorneys, who offer guidance during what can be an enormously challenging time in the lives of students juggling more than just their law studies.