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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Student Shannon Phenix Immersed in Public Interest Law

Community service wasn’t on Shannon Phenix’s to-do list in high school, but it’s certainly at the top of her list now.

“I got out of our high school community service requirement somehow. I just wasn’t interested,” said Phenix, a student at the William S. Boyd School of Law. “Then I went to a community college where we had a community service component. I ended up tutoring third-graders at a low-income elementary school, and that’s what got me hooked.”

Hooked so much, in fact, that Phenix was recently named the Public Interest Law Student of Distinction by the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.

“I was really surprised. I didn’t expect to win the award at all,” she said. “Public interest law is basically about creating access to justice for people who can’t otherwise afford attorneys, and that’s really important to me.”

Phenix has taken advantage of practically every public interest opportunity during her time at the Boyd School of Law.

Upon matriculation, she became a charter Boyd Public Interest Fellowship recipient. The Public Interest Fellowship Program offers financial resources, mentorship, and experiential learning opportunities to students with a demonstrated record of community service and a clear commitment to public interest work after graduation from law school.

Phenix has also completed an externship in the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada’s Domestic Violence Project, which provides a range of representation to domestic violence victims.

“I was there for a summer externship, and I loved it. It’s the people component that I’m attracted to,” Phenix said.

In March 2012, she participated in the Boyd School of Law’s first Alternative Spring Break, a program that allows students to observe the practice of law and perform community service activities outside of Las Vegas.

“It was great to get to experience the rural communities and meet with people there because I think they feel left out a lot of times. This was our opportunity to show them that we care and are interested in them,” she said.

Phenix has also participated during the Nevada legislative session in Grassroots Lobby Days, sponsored by the Nevada Women’s Lobby, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, and other organizations. The annual event brings together hundreds of Nevadans for two days of lobby training, networking, lobbying and more so participants can raise their voices on behalf of Nevada’s women and children.

“There was a lot of conversation about policy and advocacy,” she said. “I really enjoyed it because I’d like to do something in my career where I can affect policy and really make a difference.”

For the last three years, Phenix has volunteered for Community Law Day, an event hosted by the Boyd School of Law to offer a series of free legal education classes to community members.

Throughout her time at Boyd, she has also been active in the Public Interest Law Association (PILA) student organization, having previously served as President and Vice President. This year, she is Community Service Chair for the Child Advocacy Law Association.

Last summer, Shannon received a PILA grant to work at the Clark County Public Defender’s Office. She also did her social work practicum there the previous spring, working on mitigation strategies for capital murder cases.

In the fall semester, she represented clients in the Juvenile Justice Clinic at the Boyd School of Law’s Thomas & Mack Legal Clinic.

“Clinic was really fun. I had some really interesting cases; for example, I got to work on a juvenile sex trafficking case,” Phenix said. “It was a great experience. Everyone there really cares about the juveniles.”

In her final year of a dual Juris Doctor and Master of Social Work degree, Phenix plans to continue helping members of the community after graduation.

"I am planning to clerk at the Public Defender’s Office after I graduate, and I’m hoping that might turn into something more permanent," she said. “I’ve never considered going to a firm. I came to Las Vegas to practice public interest law.”