Legal services nonprofit unveils new facility for hope

Executive Director Barbara Buckley beamed like a proud mother as she showed me around the new Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada building, obviously proud of this baby.

The $16 million project, including the land, the building and the unfinished garage, now houses 100 staff members. It’s filled with light and hope.

I remember the nonprofit’s previous building in 2000 with 18 people squeezed into one floor.

After Buckley became Assembly speaker in 2007, I would wait for her in the overcrowded waiting room, wondering what kinds of problems the people sitting around me had to face, grateful they weren’t my problems.

Foreclosure? Child custody fights? Domestic violence? Consumer scams? They were sitting there because the nonprofit provided free legal aid to people who couldn’t afford to hire lawyers.

The new building, at 725 E. Charleston Blvd., has been open for business for eight weeks, and the grand opening will be in September after the garage is finished.

Buckley planned for the future with this building. It has room to add more staff members and handle more cases. “When we run out of space in this building, I’ll be retiring that day,” laughed Buckley, who has been with the center for 24 years.

The largest demand for the nonprofit’s services are in two areas: domestic violence and consumer issues. But it offers other help as well. In the Regional Justice Center, there is a Civil Law Self-Help Center so people can represent themselves.

There are 300 lawyers who don’t work for the center yet volunteer their time for the Pro Bono Project, including many of the best attorneys in the valley.

And the 29 attorneys working at the center itself are no slouches.

Buckley was “stunned and thrilled” when Stephen Dahl decided that after 18 years as North Las Vegas justice of the peace, he would rather work for the Legal Aid Center for less money but more satisfaction by helping abused kids. Right now, there are 3,400 children in Clark County foster care, and Buckley’s goal is to have an attorney representing every one of them.

The donor wall isn’t up yet in the waiting room, but the prototype shows the wide- ranging support it took to expand. The largest donor was the Engelstad Family Foundation at $3.9 million, but there are donations as small as $20 sent in by former clients who were aided at the center.

The new room for classes can hold 100 people, unlike the old classroom, which maxed out at 25.

It’s also a teaching center in another way. There are eight to nine law students working there at any one time, getting experience and helping others under the center’s slogan “Righting Wrongs, Changing Lives.”

Sometimes, the help isn’t financial. New pamphlets for foster kids were a project for Lauren Nelson and Sabina Manzini, two teen Girl Scouts working on their Gold Award. From two Girl Scouts to individual attorneys who give their time and their money, to foundations and gaming companies, there has been an effort to help the less fortunate with their legal problems.

The most recent statistics from 2011 show that 5,137 people called the center’s hotlines, 2,353 were helped via clinics, and 5,910 people were seen by staff.

When it comes to litigation, more than 2,698 people were represented — 1,485 through the Children’s Attorneys Project and 792 through the Domestic Violence Project.

“This is my life work and my passion,” Buckley said. “There is nothing I am prouder of than this organization.”

Strong words and strong feelings from a woman who served in the Legislature for 16 years and was Assembly speaker for four years.

Saturday’s column analyzes the 2013 Legislature and the only way Nevada’s tax structure will ever be changed. And why it won’t be changed by her.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at or call her at (702) 383-0275.