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First Lawyer

Sandra Douglass Morgan

First Lawyer in the Family
By Rodney Smith

OOV:  Sandra, you are the first lawyer in your family. Please talk about the journey that led you to this point.

SM:  My parents engrained the importance of education to me and my sister at the very young age. I always knew I was going to college, but wasn’t quite sure what career I wanted to pursue. I attended the University of Nevada in Reno and took Political Science 101. After that course, I knew I wanted to go to law school. After graduating from UNR, I enrolled at the Boyd School of Law at UNLV. During my third year of law school, I worked as a law clerk at Parker, Nelson & Arin, Chtd. After passing the bar exam, I stayed with that firm for an additional 2 years, so I was there for about 3 years as an associate attorney. After that, I went to work for MGM MIRAGE as a litigation attorney for approximately 3 years. Most recently, in May 2008, I became the Deputy City Attorney with the city of North Las Vegas.

OOV:  What are the duties of the Deputy City Attorney of North Las Vegas?
SM: I work for the civil division which is comprised of attorneys who specialize in Litigation and Development/Transactions. I am on the “Transactional Team” and we draft, review and negotiate agreements and transactions on behalf of the City. Our team works with all of the City’s departments, including: Planning & Zoning, Public Works, Utilities, Neighborhood Services, and Parks & Recreation, just to name a few. The best thing about my job is that there is something new to discuss and analyze every day! It is truly refreshing to work with such wonderful people who have a common goal to make the City a great place to live and play.

OOV:  How long have you been in Las Vegas and what brought you here?
SM: I was raised in Las Vegas, and have lived here for over 25 years. My father retired from the Air Force in the early 1980’s. My parents liked the weather here and the lack of mosquitoes and decided to make Las Vegas home.

OOV:  Did your father encourage you to be a lawyer, or was this one of your ambitions as you got older?

SM:  No, he never encouraged me to be a lawyer but both of my parents stressed the importance of education at a young age. Going to college was never an option; I always knew I was going to college. In high school, I remember wanting to be like Connie Chung, and maybe major in Communications. Instead, I took Political Science my freshman year in college, and was intrigued. I was always interested in politics and government, even when I was in high school. I took a Constitutional Law class my second or third year as an undergraduate student at UNR, and I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. My Constitutional Law professor at UNR was also my academic advisor. He was not an attorney, but he encouraged me to attend law school, and helped my with my personal statement. Becoming an attorney was the best academic decision I ever made. I can’t picture myself doing anything else.

OOV:  Now that you are well into your law career and have your position with the city, what are the things you want to accomplish?

SM:  There is so much I still want to accomplish. I’m still learning how to become a good transactional lawyer. I’ve only held my current position with the City for about one year, and the work I’m doing now is completely different from being a litigator, which is what I used to do. I used to go to court about 3 times a week, now I only go once a month, if that. I’m still eager to develop my abilities to negotiate real estate transactions. I really consider working for the City a blessing. I live in the City of North Las Vegas by choice, so I care about the services that are provided to the residents and the overall quality of life. As a government attorney, I am a public servant, and do my best to assure that the agreements entered into by the City protect the interests of the resident of North Las Vegas. I didn’t really answer your question, but as I continue to grow and learn more professionally, my goals will probably change.

OOV:  At this time, when people are cynical of public servants, it is refreshing to know that someone is there for the right reasons. We hear so much about the school system here, how did you become so successful when so many failed?
SM:  I am a product of the Clark County public school system, and I cannot answer why some have failed who also attended public school. My parents were always very involved in my education. Doing my homework as soon as I came home was never an issue, because I was clearly aware of my parents’ expectations …which included receiving all A’s. Parents really have to be involved in their children’s education. The teachers can’t do it all.

OOV:  How big of a role did your parents play in your class selections and in your education, in general?

SM:  My parents accepted nothing less than excellence, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I was never truly stressed because of my parents’ expectation…I can’t remember losing any sleep over it, maybe just a little anxiety around report card time. I just knew I was being challenged, and I knew I had to perform. My parents sacrificed for me and my sister to be successful, and I realize that more and more as I get older and think about my son. My parents gave us so many opportunities outside of academics. We both attend dance classes and piano lessons, and they encouraged us to engage in extra-curricular activities when we were in high school. They wanted us to be well-rounded people. My mother loved the fact that my sister and I were always in Student Council. I think the valued the leadership skills and accountability that it taught us. Little things like bake sales and school dances give children a sense of community involvement. To answer your question, they played a large role, not only in my education, but by encouraging me to be a well rounded person.

OOV:  You mentioned your sister, now, for the readers who may not know who your sister is or what she does; tell them a little bit about your sister.

SM:  My sister is Dr. Sonya Douglass Horsford. She is a professor at UNLV in the Educational Leadership Program. She is married to State Senator Steven Horsford, who is currently the majority leader, and she has 3 beautiful children.

OOV:  Your sister is also accomplished, is it something in your genes?

SM:  Sure! I’d like to think so. They never made us compete against one another. Sonya is the older sister, so there was always an underlying, unspoken pressure as well as she did academically. My dad never wanted me to feel as though I had to compete against Sonya…because that would be very difficult. Sonya is ridiculously intelligent. She continues to receive so many academic accolades, and there are much more to come.

OOV:  I am sure that she will appreciate you saying that.

SM:  I had to throw that in (laughter). We both have a competitive nature and always striving to do better. We are always trying to do the best thing for our families. I enjoyed college and law school, but probably not as much as Sonya. I attended law school as soon as I finished college. I wanted to finish school as soon as possible because I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Sonya has a Masters degree in public administration and her doctorate in educational leadership. It’s great to see that she enjoys teaching so much. I always knew that she would be an excellent professor. She always likes telling people what to do (laughter).

OOV:  I am sure that she will appreciate reading that too (laughter). Both you and your sister have set a high standard in your families, so, what would you say to girls, young people in general, but particularly African American girls that may be able to help push them towards achieving their goals?

SM:  “You can’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do because the world is an open book with limitless opportunity. Unfortunately, I don’t think some young people realize that. They focus on the limits…the limits that society places on you. You have to be goal-oriented and constantly set new goals for yourself. If you don’t have any goals, you are just going through the motions with nothing to reach toward. My husband, Don, and I continue to set goals for ourselves, as individuals, and goals for our family. It’s important for young people to take advantage of each and every opportunity that is given to them. Life isn’t always going to be comfortable. You learn more through adversity, and you have to expose yourself to different people and experiences to learn more about people in general, but most importantly to learn more about yourself.” I was lucky enough to join Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority when I was an undergraduate at the University of Nevada Reno. I am still an active member of the sorority through the Theta Theta Omega chapter her in Las Vegas. AKA helped me strengthen my personal and professional goals, and instilled a desire to serve my community and all mankind. I have a responsibility to tell children and teenagers of my personal experience and encourage them to attend college and to work hard to achieve their dreams. AKA mentors a teen group called the AKAteens. The AKAteens focus young women in middle and high school, and stress academic achievement and social service. I am also a member of the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Bar Association. This organization is comprised of African-American attorneys, and is really working to give back to the community and encourage students to pursue a legal career.

OOV:  How has the election of our current President affected you, after all this article is about firsts? You are the first lawyer in your family and, now, we have the first African American President of the United States, how has this affected you and how have you seen it change others around you.

SM:  The Obama campaign and his election effected and changed so many people around me. I’m only 31. When he first threw his name in the hat I had some doubts as to whether he was “electable” for the highest office in the world, which kind of goes back to the comment I made earlier about self-created limits that we put on ourselves. I subconsciously limited President Obama’s ability to become President, and limited America’s ability to elect an African-American President. My nephews are 6 and 8 years old, and because of this election, they now think that an African-American president is the status quo. They will not experience the level of hesitation that I had about President Obama when he announced his candidacy, and will not place any limits on themselves. There are no unspoken barriers for my son, my nephews or my niece to reach the highest office in our country. His election opens the door for everyone, regardless of their age, race, gender or ethnicity as to what is attainable. Personally, it means a lot. I have a 2-year old son and whenever President Obama is on television, my son points and says “Obama, President Obama.” It’s the cutest thing and it’s a wonderful thing because, as he gets older, he will never have to think, “why don’t any of the U.S. Presidents look like me?” There are no limits.

OOV:  Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to allow Our Own Voices to interview you for our first issue and for being the first in our article series of firsts. I wish you many more and remember there could be none to follow you had there not been you to pave the way.

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