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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 25, 2003

UH touts law school program

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

The University of Hawai'i's William S. Richardson School of Law has a one-of-a-kind program so significant that it could be a blueprint for schools nationwide to provide assistance to disadvantaged students without running into constitutional problems, says the school's new dean.

"A key part of this law school is giving opportunity to people who wouldn't have it," Aviam Soifer said.

UH photo

When Aviam Soifer came aboard three months ago, the renowned researcher and former head of the Boston College Law School was touted as certain to enhance the reputation and raise the national profile of UH-Manoa's law program.

He has begun promoting the UH law school's pre-admission program's "affirmative consideration" process nationally.

Along with what else he has found — a "small and caring" institution well-positioned for growth and with particular strength in Pacific and Asian law — he considers the UH law school a "gem" that deserves attention far beyond the state.

Affirmative-action programs are in the national spotlight after the Supreme Court's June ruling in a University of Michigan case that universities can use race as one factor in shaping admissions policy as long as it is not an overriding factor. And Soifer believes it is the perfect opportunity for the UH law school's program to shine.

Often, said Soifer, affirmative action ends at the admissions process. Not at the UH law school.

For more than two decades its pre-admission program has been nurturing students who for a variety of reasons need extra help before tackling a full law school curriculum.

"I hope that others could follow this, if not replicate it," he said. "A key part of this law school is giving opportunity to people who wouldn't have it. The pre-admission program is unparalleled in the country and so far ahead of its time. I'm hoping to persuade some foundations to use it as the model for the next step after the Michigan litigation."

The program shepherds a dozen new disadvantaged students a year and includes special seminars, tutoring and counseling to give students the additional support needed to step into a full-scale law program. It could take anywhere from a semester to a year, but the school gives the students the attention needed for them to be successful, Soifer said.

"My hope is a number of foundations will recognize it."

Since Soifer took over from retiring dean Lawrence C. Foster, he has begun making inquiries to make that happen.

Soifer also has several other plans for the law school, including:

  • Providing an office at the law school for its namesake, retired Chief Justice William Richardson, who will become a resource for students.
  • Hoping to bring together multidisciplinary teams of students from such programs as law, medicine, social work, nursing and education to be resource teams for troubled children in the public school system.
  • Doing more to help students find financial aid to ease the burden of law school tuition, which is almost $11,000 this year for residents and about $18,500 for nonresidents.
  • Jointly hiring, with the medical school, a professor who would bridge both schools, offering classes for students of each, with a likely focus on medical/legal issues in regard to children.

He's moving on other fronts, too.

Soifer will head to Japan shortly to cement new alliances for another program, this one to bring lawyers from Asia to UH to pursue a master's in law.

The program, run by Alison Conner, an expert on Chinese law, began with four students, and Soifer wants to see it grow.

"The law school as well as the state are ahead of the wave in terms of opening to Asia," he said. "Of our 20 faculty, three are Chinese law experts, and there's a Pacific law expert, an Asian expert and a Native Hawaiian law expert. Look at the expertise we have. We're exceptionally well-positioned for the future."

He likes the way people at the UH law school work together, too.

"People pitch in together" on something as small as painting a room, he said. "It's a small school, but people who are already working hard are willing to do the extra bit. It's small and caring."

Along with looking to Asia for growth, Soifer said he expects the law school to continue to be an important force in the Hawai'i community.

Soifer became familiar with UH's law school while on sabbatical in 1999-2000, during which time he worked on research and taught classes as needed.

Soifer went to law school at Yale, from which he also received a bachelor's degree in American studies. He has a master's in urban studies.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.