Established in 1973 by former Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice, the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law (Hawaii Law) now bears its founder’s name and is the only law school in the island state of Hawaii. Due to its unique culture and location, the law school, since its foundation, has sought to instruct students in the laws necessary to preserve the island’s fragile culture and environment. The school offers unique programs in Asian-Pacific law as well as a strong focus on indigenous Hawaiian Law, maritime law, and environmental law. The campus of Hawaii Law is located on the island of Oahu near the capital of Honolulu. The famed beaches of Waikiki are minutes from campus. Since its founding, the law school has produced multiple governors of the state as well as state Supreme Court justices and US Congressman.
The Juris Doctor program at Hawaii Law requires 89 credit hours for completion. The first-year curriculum is traditional and includes academic studies in the core courses of the American legal education: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. In their first two semesters, students are also introduced to the fundamental skills of practicing law in a course on lawyering. Prior to graduation, students must also take a semester of professional responsibility and complete six hours of experiential education. Students must also take a second-year seminar course or complete a directed thesis.
Upper-class students may choose their courses from the school’s robust catalog or pursue one a concentration or certificate program. The law school offers concentrations in several unique areas including Native Hawaiian Law and Pacific-Asian legal students. Concentrations are also available in environmental law, business law, and international law.
Hawaii Law also requires all students to complete 80 hours of pro bono service. This requirement reflects the school’s longstanding commitment to the island community that supports the school.
The law school also offers a more flexible, part-time evening program that allows students to complete the required 89 hours over additional semesters. Students take 11-12 hours per semester and may also include summer and January term classes to complete their degree.
In addition to their Juris Doctor program, Hawaii Law offers two other graduate programs. The Master of Laws (LL.M) program is a one year program that allows foreign educated attorney to gain a fundamental understanding of the U.S. legal system while also preparing them to sit for a bar exam in the United States. Students may opt for a general approach to the program or specialize in one the law school’s unique concentrations such as ocean law and policy.
For those students who wish to pursue an academic career in law, Hawaii Law also offers a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) program. The S.J.D. is designed for students who wish to pursue vigorous academic interest on a legal subject matter. Students spend one year in residential coursework before spending two years researching, writing, and defending their dissertation.
Juris Doctor candidates may also pursue a dual degree with another professional degree program at the University. The law school offers joint degree programs in conjunction with the schools of business and social work. Students also have the option of creating their own dual degree program in conjunction with the law school academic dean. Generally, students pursue the law degree coursework while taking limited classes towards the other degree. Once the law school curriculum is complete, students finish any remaining coursework in their second degree.
Hawaii Law also offers a unique summer program for students who have completed at least one year of law school. The program exposes students to native Hawaiian law while also providing them with an opportunity to experience the unique and stunning culture of the island.
Career and Career Placement
Over 80% of all graduates of Hawaii Law are employed in legal careers within 10 months of graduation. Most of these careers (more than 80%) require a law license while 20% require only the Juris Doctor degree. Unlike most law schools, traditional law firm work was not the most popular career path. Instead, government positions (including judicial clerkships) and public interest work accounted for over 65% of all graduates’ first career choice. Almost 30% of students opted for law firm work while small percentages of students choose education or careers in the business sector. These job choices reflect the school’s deep commitment to preserving Hawaiin law and culture. Almost all graduates of the school remain in Hawaii to begin their professional careers.
The Professional Development Office (PDO) at Hawaiian Law works with students from their very first semesters to develop a career plan. The school meets with each student individually to asses their career aspirations and plan accordingly. Throughout the year, the PDO produces programming and skill-based lessons to help students build their professional resumes and networks. The school’s requirement for pro bono work also ties the student body back to the surrounding community–where most graduates will eventually work. The PDO’s job posting site is also critical since it provides students and alumni up-to-date information on the latest legal jobs in the state.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
Hawaii Law teaches experiential learning through its clinical program. In the clinical program, students spend time in both the classroom and representing real clients in order to master the critical skills necessary to succeed as a lawyer. All students are required to complete at least two courses. Clinical courses are taught both by faculty experts as well as local judges and lawyers. Under Hawaii law, students are able to practice law and work with real clients in the clinical program. The clinic offers five practice area where students represent clients in a variety of legal situations. Additionally, the clinical classroom work exposes students to a number of legal problems where students work together to build fundamental legal skills.
Although Hawaii Law does not offer a distance education program, its part-time evening program is considered one of the best in the country and affords students the flexibility to complete their law degree without giving up their careers.
Located within walking distance of some of the most famous beaches in the world, student life at the Hawaii University School of Law is truly one-of-a-kind. The school’s entire history is deeply connected to the islands. Its founder saw the law school as a necessary tool to preserve the island’s unique history, culture, and natural resources. The student body embraces this role and is active throughout the surrounding community and on campus. The law school is located several miles from the capital of Honolulu affording students easy access to one of the state’s largest cities and the legal center of the islands.
Housing on-campus is limited and most students opt to find private housing in the surrounding community. The Manoa neighborhood offers a range of housing and dining options. Manoa is also the gateway to the spectacular inland areas of the islands as well as sweeping views of the Pacific. Across from Manoa is the famous North Shore. In all, students at Hawaii Law enjoy a unique educational experience in one of the most stunning settings in the world.