The University of South Carolina’s School of Law has a new name thanks to the generosity and vision of well-known alumnus and longtime benefactor, plaintiffs’ trial lawyer Joe Rice.
The official name, the University of South Carolina Joseph F. Rice School of Law, was announced Friday (Nov. 10) during a signage unveiling ceremony at the law school building at the corner of Bull and Senate streets.
Regarded as a skillful negotiator and nationally known litigator, Rice (1976 B.S., 1979 J.D.) has played a lead role in resolving some of the nation’s largest civil actions, including some of the most significant resolutions of asbestos liabilities, the $246 billion civil settlement against the tobacco industry, two settlements regarding the BP Oil Spill and the ongoing national opioid litigation.
The $30 million investment made by Rice and his family will be used to establish an endowed student scholarship fund which will yield multiple three-year full and partial scholarships and at least four new endowed professorships. Additionally, the allocations will create stipends for students completing a children’s law concentration, career and professional development funding for students, as well as additional training, awards and support.
“An investment of this magnitude is often described as transformative, but this word does not do justice to the far-reaching impact that Joe Rice’s gift promises for the University of South Carolina,” USC President Michael Amiridis said. “His extraordinary generosity is not only a mark of his ongoing devotion to his alma mater, but it also ensures the Law School’s ascent as home to the highest-quality legal education and establishes a stellar trajectory for USC’s future growth and national repute.”
The law school is the university’s third academic unit to be named for a donor. The Darla Moore School of Business was named for financial investor Darla Moore in 1998, and the Arnold School of Public Health was named in 2002 for business leader Norman J. Arnold.
“My alma mater is a huge part of my family’s history and success. It gives me great pride to directly impact the lives of its students. My hope is that this worthy cause will inspire and bring out the best in generations of future lawyers, while laying the foundation they’ll need to achieve great things,” Rice said. “I want to also challenge my legal colleagues across the country, from any law school, to repay their good fortune with dollars, time, talent or creativity to bring about more positive change.”
Rice has been a generous supporter of his alma mater for many years. In 2013, he and the members of Motley Rice, the firm he co-founded in 2003, created the Ronald L. Motley Memorial Scholarship Fund and Civil Litigation Training Program Fund at the law school in memory and honor of its co-founding member, Ron Motley. That fund has helped establish a capstone course in litigation skills and yielded 26 scholarships to date.
In 2021, donations by the Rice family ensured the USC Children’s Law Center would have a permanent home for its training center in a converted former church building on Pickens Street, across from the law school building. The space provides child welfare professionals, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and others involved in serving at risk and neglected children the opportunity to gain practical, hands-on experience with situations they will encounter in their careers. The Rice family also supports the Garnet Way, helping create a first-class athletic campus with enhanced programs, learning environments and scholarships.
In addition to the Joseph F. Rice and Family Endowed Scholarship Fund to provide scholarships for law students, the current gift will establish the Lisa S. Rice and Ann E. Rice Ervin Child Advocacy Award Endowment for students who successfully complete the children's law concentration. The endowment is named for Rice’s wife and daughter. Both are USC alumni. Lisa Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in 1977, and Rice Ervin earned a bachelor’s degree in 2006 and a law degree in 2009.
“This magnanimous investment by Joe Rice and his family will provide transforming resources to build on the law school’s legacy of excellence. It will give us the inspiration and the support to provide a world-class legal education for promising South Carolina students at this storied law school, strengthening our commitment to the public good,” said William Hubbard, dean of the Joseph F. Rice School of Law. “The student scholarships and the endowed professorships supported by the Rice gift will catapult our law school to the forefront of legal education in America and will propel our mission to graduate highly skilled and deeply committed lawyer-leaders for our state and nation for generations to come.”
The School of Law celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2017 with the opening of its current building bounded by Gervais, Bull, Senate and Pickens streets. The building anchors Columbia’s legal corridor along the north edge of campus that includes the school’s Children’s Law Center, the National Advocacy Center and South Carolina’s Statehouse and Supreme Court. Inspired by 19th-century South Carolina architect Robert Mills, the three-story complex features flexible learning spaces that serve as classrooms and courtrooms, and a two-story law library reading room that overlooks a large courtyard and patio.
One of the nation’s oldest law schools, it is home to the nation’s first voluntary Pro Bono Program. The School of Law also created one of the nation’s first clinical programs and now offers eight in-house clinics supervised by full-time licensed attorneys where students can practice law as student attorneys representing real clients pursuing matters such as health, children’s and veterans’ law.