UH Law School breaks ground for legal assistance building

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Oct 5, 2016

Architectural rendering of the Clinical Building.
Architectural rendering of the Clinical Building.

The UH Law School began a new chapter in its history of service to students and the community last Friday, September 30, with a groundbreaking ceremony for its new Clinical Building that featured Native Hawaiian chants, traditional koa digging sticks and a spectacular sunset.

The guest list included Governor David Ige, University of Hawai‘i President David Lassner, several state Supreme Court justices, a number of state legislators, Board of Regents Chair Jan Sullivan and other regents, as well as prominent attorneys and members of the UH Mānoa and William S. Richardson School of Law community.

Just before sunset on Friday, September 30, nearly 200 celebrants gathered under a white tent in a parking lot next to the Law School to celebrate the start of construction for a new $7.2 million Clinical Building. They did so in traditional Hawai‘i style and heard Governor Ige tell the audience that the new facility “will add so much value to our community."

“This is about real world practical training, which will make our students the best in the world,” Ige told the assembled guests, faculty, students and alumni. “I’m certain that CJ Richardson would be proud that this space will be dedicated to programs to serve the most at-risk populations.”

President Lassner spoke with pride about the university’s “small but mighty” Law School, with the most diverse student body and faculty in the U.S., as well as being among those with the lowest tuition and debt carried by graduates. “This is truly an outstanding Law School and one of the gems of our university,” Lassner added.  “This building is about increasing our connections with the community.”

More than a decade in the planning, the Clinical Building will provide space for training in trial skills and advocacy, as well as expanding the Law School’s community outreach work through clinics and pro bono service by students. As part of their graduation requirement, students must give 60 hours of free legal assistance in areas of their interest, but many students provide far more. Since this pro bono requirement began in the early 1990s – inspired by law students themselves – students have provided more than 100,000 hours of free assistance to people in need, including the elderly, juvenile offenders, immigrants, veterans, and families living in poverty.

Dean Avi Soifer and Associate Dean Denise Antolini pointed out that the new building will fulfill the original hope of its namesake, Chief Justice William S. Richardson, who had envisioned three buildings for Hawai‘i’s only law school, with the third building on the parking lot, dedicated to serving people most in need.

BOR Chair Sullivan, a graduate of the class of 1983 that began when the Law School was still housed in temporary quarters in the quarry, said the school has surpassed the hopes of its founders. “It has never lost its values,” said Sullivan. “And it instills a sense of values and purpose in its graduates.”

In a particularly moving part of the very upbeat hour-long ceremony, Māpuana de Silva of Hālau Mōhala ʻIlima and Law Professor Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie walked barefoot along a thick chalk mark that outlined the building’s perimeter, and sprinkled water with a ti leaf from a koa bowl in a traditional blessing for the structure. Garbed in flowing kikepa, they chanted to honor the spirit of the building, and the spirit of CJ Richardson, whose son, William “Billy” Richardson, told the assembled guests that his father would be proud.

“This Clinical Building will not only enhance our students, but also allow them to get better hands-on training in the real world,” said Richardson, who is an attorney and entrepreneur.

Funding for the building was approved in 2013 by the state Legislature for a $7 million package of bonds that includes $3.5 million in general obligation bonds backed by the state, and authorization for $3.5 million in revenue bonds backed by the Law School’s own funding, through a combination of tuition and philanthropy. Additional costs cover building contingencies, furniture and technology.

The Law School has already raised more than $2 million in gifts as part of that commitment, with the Davis Levin Livingston law firm and its Foundation committing a $1 million leadership gift. At the groundbreaking, attorney Mark Davis praised many other generous donors among the assembled guests. “Your response has been extraordinary,” Davis told the crowd, naming many who had also committed funds for the building. They include the Cades Schutte law firm, which committed $500,000; Attorney Brook Hart, who is supporting the Hawai‘i Innocence Project at the Law School; and others, including donors and advocates Diane Ono, Ted Pettit, Walter Kirimitsu, Elliott H. Loden of Loden and Conahan, and the Harriet Bouslog Labor Scholarship Fund.

“So many people have come forward to support this project,” Davis said. “People who support this will have their names enshrined in perpetuity.”

At its January meeting, the UH Board of Regents approved donor naming options for areas in the new structure. The two-story building, to be connected to the existing Law School by a second-story walkway, will add more than 8,000 square feet of space to expand the school’s 10 clinical programs. Construction is expected to be completed in about a year.

After brief remarks from other dignitaries, including state Representative Scott Nishimoto ’02, who was instrumental in obtaining legislative authorization and partial funding for the building, and current Student Bar Association President and Student Regent Brandon Marc Higa ’19, the gathering moved to a mound of earth edged by laua‘e fern for the official Ōʻō Ceremony.

Dean Soifer and building project leader called the groundbreaking an incredible day for the Law School, its students, and for the people it serves in the community. “This building couldn’t be more important to the services we provide,” said Soifer. “We see this as a building of people who help others and we train our students for that.”

Associate Dean Antolini thanked many in the audience for the important roles they played in making the Clinical Building possible. “CJ Richardson had the vision for another building on this spot,” she told the assemblage, noting that it will provide a hale for the community that will be “a vibrant, welcoming and professional space” for students and the community “for years to come.”

Before the program ended, students moved through the crowd with baskets of ti cuttings provided by the Richardson ‘ohana. Guests were invited to take them home, plant and grow them, and bring them back to be replanted around the new building upon its dedication.

For a video and photo of the event, see the UH News story at:

For more information, visit: https://www.law.hawaii.edu/