A ceremony that dedicated the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law’s airy and much-needed new Clinical Building on Friday, September 6, 2019 concluded a long effort, and was highlighted by a Hawaiian blessing, and words of hope and gratitude. The celebration ended a 15-year quest for much-needed space to provide practical training for law students while simultaneously serving members of the community in need of access to justice.
UH President David Lassner called the new building yet another important way the Law School is committed to community service and embedded in the community. “It will help us serve the people of Hawai‘i,” Lassner told a crowd of several hundred filling two classrooms. “How important this is to what we do at this great Law School.”
Dean Avi Soifer and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Denise Antolini expressed their overwhelming gratitude to all those who had a part in the project, from its beginning more than a decade ago. “It takes a bazillion people to say ‘yes’ to build a building,” said Antolini. “And it took all of them to say ‘yes’ thousands of times.”
Soifer told the assemblage that the new building is a continuation of what Richardson Law School has embodied from its start – “commitment to the community and serving those who need it.
“At the same time we’re serving, we’re teaching,” said Soifer. The building will house many of the dozen clinics that provide direct service to clients in the community, with law faculty guiding students as they learn to work with real people on real problems.
Antolini guided the clinical building through numerous phases and obstacles and Honolulu attorney Mark Davis led the campaign to raise necessary funds from private donors and his Davis Levin Livingston law firm and foundation provided a $1 million leadership gift. Soifer was also praised for his calm and resolute demeanor leadership in bringing the project to fruition.
Davis stressed the unprecedented generosity of the legal community and he emphasized that the new building will be a place “where students learn to be lawyers – courtroom lawyers.”
“The justice system is going to depend on things like this for students to learn how to deliver justice, and learn how to use the justice system,” he said. Within the pillars of our democracy, added Davis, “our law schools have a special responsibility … The courtroom remains a venue for civil discourse. To maintain a viable civil justice system this building is important.”
Davis also took the opportunity to praise Soifer, saying that the building “is a true testament to the extraordinary job” he has done for the Richardson School of Law. Last spring, Soifer announced his retirement from the deanship when a successor is in place. But he has been teaching regularly and he will continue as a member of the Law School faculty.
The dedication began with kumu hula Māpuana de Silva of Hālau Mōhala ʻIlima, a Native Hawaiian cultural dance studio, and Richardson Professor Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie sprinkling water with a ti leaf from a koa wood bowl, in a traditional blessing. Garbed in flowing Hawaiian kikepa, they walked through the building blessing the rooms, and calling on all of the ancestors through the waves of migration to Hawai‘i to imbue the building with intelligence, perspective and aloha – all qualities of good attorneys. And de Silva asked people to enter the building with aloha - kindness, sincerity, harmony, humility, modesty and perseverance – which she called the word’s full meaning.
The $9.3 million project – which included over $2 million in philanthropic funds that paid for things like moveable partition walls, flooring, ‘white boards,’ an advanced IT system, and sustainable features like the PV units on the roof - was a combined effort of the Law School, UH administrators, and the State Legislature that approved $500,000 in planning funds in 2006 and then provided funding and the authorization of revenue bonds in 2013. The legislative package included $3.5 million in general obligation bonds backed by the state, and the innovative authorization of $3.5 million provided by the Law School through a combination of tuition and philanthropy.
Julie Levine, the Law School’s Executive Director of Development, organized the campaign chaired by Davis, which raised over $4 million from 120 donors, including 13 law firms, and 4 foundations. Half of the funding was needed for the new building, with the remainder used to help refurbish areas in the existing building that are nearly 40 years old.
Almost exactly three years ago – on September 30, 2016 – ground was broken for the new building that had first been envisioned by Dean Soifer soon after his arrival in 2003. In that groundbreaking ceremony, Associate Dean Antolini spoke movingly of an even earlier dream of a third law building.
“Some of you may not know that CJ Richardson was personally involved in the early planning phase,” she told the crowd gathered under a large white tent in the parking lot that day. “He quietly told Avi and me that he had always envisioned a third law school building on this very spot. Dean Soifer and I might have been a little slow in catching up with CJ’s clear vision, but we are finally here, thanks to him, and all of you.”
Throughout the project UH President Lassner has been a supportive advocate, speaking of the critically important nature of legal training to afford Hawai‘i residents and non-residents alike the opportunity to become what proudly are called Richardson lawyers. For Soifer, too, the new building adds depth and breadth to the already powerful pro bono and community service ethic so deeply embedded at Richardson.
Back in 2016, Antolini spoke of what this building, this “community hale,” will mean.
“Looking 30 years ahead when this building is here but most of us will not be on this campus, I hope our successors will say that this project truly improved the university and our Island community. Despite our very large personal and professional investment in getting this building off the ground, it’s really not about us. It’s about building a sustainable future for our students who will serve others, with professionalism and aloha, here in Hawai‘i and around the world.”
At the formal dedication on Friday, she added, “A sustainable campus is more important than ever,” telling the crowd that the new building will achieve Gold LEED status. For instance, the PV panels on the roof will generate 30 percent of the building’s power needs through the shared UH power grid. The building also has a bioswale system that uses natural rainwater to water native shrubs planted around the new building.
The architect, Chris Hong, and contactor, F&H Construction of Maui, were part of the Law School’s determination to create a sustainable, state-of-the-art building that is, light, open, flexible, and agile. Rooms can be easily reconfigured with foldable, moveable walls that enlarge or contract the spaces. “It’s more collaborative, with the rooms designed so you can see what’s going on, and run into each other, to catch the wave to a new style of legal practice,” Antolini has explained.
The building has multiple additional innovative features including double-paned and delicately tinted windows to reflect heat, a specialized skylight two stories overhead that fills the lobby with natural light, and soundproof interview rooms offering privacy to community members served by the increasingly robust clinical program.
Thousands of hours of free legal assistance are provided annually to some of the state’s most vulnerable people including elders, veterans, youths, immigrants, prisoners, and families living at or below poverty levels.
Two rooms on the second floor will house the Hawai‘i Innocence Project, a student-staffed clinic with the mission of exonerating factually innocent incarcerated individuals. Another two rooms will provide space for the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children, which offers free legal assistance through Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, while it also provides law students the opportunity to work directly with clients, doctors, and other professionals as they learn practical skills.
Molly Olds ’20, a student who works on cases with the Innocence Project clinic, says the new building “is important for our clients. It will offer us more space, and privacy to work on their cases.” She added, “It’s important to have this space for outreach to the community. We meet with families.”
Taylor Brack ’19, who graduated from the Law School last spring and is now a Law Fellow in the Immigration Clinic, echoed those thoughts. “It’s important to have a space that’s welcoming for students and for clients,” said Brack. “I’m very excited about that, and the new space for our clinic.”
The two-story building includes: 2 classrooms; 4 interview/skills rooms; 9 offices, 1 break room; 3 all-gender bathrooms; a service Xerox and event prep room; and an atrium. It is connected to the main law school building by an elevated walkway.