School of Law celebrates 40 years of leadership and diversity

April 14, 2014  |   |  Comments
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2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the launch of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law.

The school has trained, and continues to train, generations of community leaders while always embodying Hawaiʻi’s unique culture.

An anniversary celebration on April 11, 2014 was attended by hundreds of graduates including a former Hawaiʻi governor, two current mayors, several judges and legislators. The focus of the event was on the man who spearheaded the school’s creation, its namesake, state Supreme Court Chief Justice William S. Richardson.

“I think dad wanted to make sure that everybody in Hawaiʻi had an opportunity to go to law school and for economic reasons, many people in his generation never had an opportunity to do that,” said Richardson’s son Bill. “So starting the school here was his crown achievement I think.”

For Richardson, who is affectionately referred to as C.J. for chief justice, it was more than just creating opportunities for local residents.

Students in a lecture hall

William S. Richardson School of Law classroom.

C.J. also felt that being taught on the U.S. continent infused certain values into students that were not necessarily consistent with Hawaiʻi values,” said Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie, an associate professor and 1976 graduate of the law school, who also clerked for Richardson. ”So he really wanted to have a law school that had Hawaiʻi values, Hawaiʻi law.”

One of those values is a commitment to community. Every student is required to do 60 hours of public service to graduate.

“We are all over this community in terms of helping people solve human problems,” said UH School of Law Dean Avi Soifer. “We see law as a service profession really and not all lawyers do, but Richardson lawyers are different.”

Richardson himself served as an example of that philosophy, spending a lot of time at the school before his death in 2010.

“He would have picnics with us as law students and he would sit with us and just talk story,” said Hawaiʻi County Mayor Billy Kenoi, a 1996 graduate. “And we’d sit there like, wow. We’re sitting with the C.J. We are sitting with the chief justice for 16 years, the namesake of the school, and he was always continuously serving, a great role model, a great example.”

The law school is nationally and internationally recognized for its environmental and indigenous programs, among others, and for its amazing diversity. The school now offers programs for foreign lawyers, increasing diversity and perspective, and a part-time evening program, which allows working students to attend law school. The school is always working to keep tuition affordable and increase scholarships and financial assistance.

“Well, I think we are being true to C.J. Richardson’s vision, which was about opportunity for people who are well qualified to have a first rate law school and to go on to be leaders as well as lawyers,“ said Soifer.

”I think C.J. Richardson would be really proud, if he were here today, that he would be very proud of the accomplishments of his school and his students, because that’s how he considered us,” added MacKenzie.

“Not a day goes by, not a month or year that I don’t go, ho, I feel so blessed, I feel so lucky to have gone to law school there,” said Kenoi. “It’s changed my life and I hope you know that I have been able, through that education, to have helped others as well.”

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