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Nelson, Shidler
William S. Richardson School of Law Dean Camille Nelson sits with alumnus and philanthropist Jay Shidler.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alumnus and philanthropist businessman Jay H. Shidler has donated $1 million in cash to start the Dean’s Innovation Fund to the William S. Richardson School of Law. The fund will allow UH law school Dean Camille Nelson to bring into legal education the type of innovative approach that drives business.

“Lawyers, businesspeople, philanthropists, advocates and community are all looking at challenging moments and opportunities presently,” said Nelson. “When we consider things we never thought about 10, 20 years ago—non fungible tokens, cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, big data, privacy, cyber security, health care, constitutional discord, you name it—we weren’t talking about that in law school and we’re still trying to figure out the legal role and impact. Whenever there are vanguard-type questions, lawyers ought to be involved in the problem-solving. While we don’t think of law schools as hubs or labs for innovation, lawyers have to be creative, increasingly entrepreneurial, and innovative to meet the challenges of the future.”

“The customers of law firms are businesses and other types of organizations. These organizations are always innovating and changing, and lawyers have to keep up with it,” said Shidler. “Since the law school is what gives birth to those, it’s appropriate that they reflect the innovations that are happening in the real world and can use some of that to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of their instruction.”

Recognizing that the law affects nearly every aspect of life, and that society continues to evolve,the Dean’s Innovation Fund will help address how legal education can mirror and anticipate those changes with visionary leaders, professors and students who can meet them. 

Celebrating its 50th anniversary next year and building on its accomplishments since its inception, the UH law school is uniquely positioned to lead and participate in these important conversations and to shape leaders for the legal profession and beyond.

“We are delighted by this gift,” said Nelson. “It allows us to initiate some conversations and seed some possibilities that frankly, we didn’t have the resources to do. This is a really catalytic and exciting opportunity for us. Mr. Shidler has allowed us that span to think about where we should be more engaged and how we ought to be more present.”

Under the dean’s direction, the new fund may be used to help the law school recruit potential students and faculty, including those who may come from nontraditional backgrounds or who may believe that the door to a legal education is not open to them. Some of the conversations made possible by the gift will consider ongoing societal change, social justice and equity issues and help to refocus the discussion about who we are as Americans, the disparities between us, the laws that govern us and who writes them as communities continue to confront these issues around the country.

Related: Shidler College of Business receives $228M in total gifts from alumnus Jay H. Shidler, October 4, 2017

Shidler’s gift to the UH law school follows his 2017 landmark gift of $117 million in cash and ground leases to the Shidler College of Business, which could yield at least $7.2 billion during the life of the leases, and his history of philanthropic efforts with UH totaling $228 million since 2006. The gift to create the Dean’s Innovation Fund stems from his hopes for even greater relevance of the law school through Nelson’s vision and leadership.

“I’m just betting that we’ll get a lot of bang for buck out of this donation that will manifest itself in innovation that will have multiple financial and educational impacts. I trust her,” said Shidler.

That trust is reciprocated by Nelson. “Mr. Shidler has been incredibly generous, and I think that a person of his caliber to take the time to invest in the law school sends a signal about the future,” said Nelson. “The notion of a Dean’s Innovation Fund in itself is innovative and underscores the reality that wherever there are future-oriented problems in need of solutions and collaboration, lawyers are there, too.”

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