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The UH law school’s first graduating class of 1976.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law is commemorating its 50th anniversary with a gala on May 31.

Opened in 1973, Richardson is the only law school in Hawaiʻi. Its founder and namesake, William S. Richardson, spearheaded the drive to establish the school beginning in 1966. Known as “CJ” in the law school community, he served as a community leader in many roles, including as the chief justice of the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court from 1966 to 1982. He was a trailblazer and passionate advocate for Hawaiʻi’s diverse communities, pushing to expand Native Hawaiian rights and broadening the rights for people to challenge important environmental and land development decisions.

judges sitting together
William S. Richardson (middle) served as chief justice of the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court.

The first class of 53 students began their studies in wooden buildings in the Quarry. After growing and expanding programs, the school eventually moved to its current home on Dole Street in 1983. That same year, the Law Library opened, and the school was officially named after William S. Richardson. In 2019, the Clinical Building opened its doors. Most recently, the law school launched a part-time online program in fall 2023.

“It has been a privilege and an honor to serve as dean of this esteemed institution, following in the footsteps of many devoted leaders and inspired by our founder, Chief Justice William S. Richardson,” said UH law school Dean Camille Nelson. “I am awed by our students and alumni, who continue to profoundly impact our communities, and grateful for the support, guidance, and mentorship of our world-class faculty and dedicated staff. In our 50th year, we remain committed to empowering and nurturing future generations of leaders.”

people standing outside a building
The law school opened in wooden buildings in the Quarry.

Over the years, the law school has partnered with many of its thousands of alumni and community members to bring the best of the best to campus. That includes hosting U.S. Supreme Court justices, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and countless experts and lecturers from around the world.

Law school rankings

The UH law school has also consistently received high marks in national rankings, including:

U.S. News and World Report

  • No. 23 for its part-time and environmental law programs
  • No. 66 for international law
  • No. 71 for legal writing
  • No. 74 for dispute resolution
  • No. 78 for constitutional law
  • No. 91 for contracts/commercial law
recent law school photo
The first graduating class reunited at the 50th anniversary kick-off event in September.

Princeton Review

  • No. 2 in the nation for most diverse faculty
  • No. 4 for most chosen by older students
  • No. 8 for best for state and local clerkships

In a PBS Hawaiʻi interview from 2009, William S. Richardson reflected on the importance of opening a law school in the islands. He died the following year at the age of 90.

“I’m proud of it because it means that some people who wouldn’t have had a chance to go to law school now have that opportunity,” he told host Leslie Wilcox. He added that he enjoyed talking with students and respected their ideas and opinions.

Events to celebrate the 50th anniversary were held throughout the 2023–24 academic year. Tickets for the gala are sold out, but donations are still welcomed.

Read about key stakeholders and community leaders who reflected on the law school’s history and golden anniversary.

people inside old building

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