Assocate Faculty Specialist and Co-Director,
Hawaiʻi Innocence Project at the William S. Richardson School of Law
Kenneth Lawson, J.D., Faculty Specialist and Co-Director of the Hawaii Innocence Project at the William S. Richardson School of Law brings what his colleagues describe as “extraordinary gifts” and “strength of character” directly into the classroom and in so doing is “truly inspirational to his colleagues as well as his students.” A senior colleague with decades of teaching experience offers an animated description of how it felt to co-teach with Lawson, “I found myself feeling like I was painting next to Picasso, singing alongside Caruso, or shooting hoops with LeBron . . . both exhilarating and humbling.” Even more impressive is the passionate engagement of his students with praise that resonates for all his diverse, substantial teaching load of courses, as well his innovations that have transformed the Hawaii Innocence Project (HIP) where law students learn to conduct intake, investigate claims of innocence, evaluate cases, and advocate on behalf of inmates with strong factual evidence of actual innocence, rather than technicalities. Lawson encourages students to regard “HIP as a teaching law firm with exceptionally high standards. Using this model, I ensure that in addition to learning the substantive law, they experience a clinical component that is powerfully real.” Students are divided into teams that function somewhat like a small law firm to which he assigns potential clients. Students embark on legal work under supervision of HIP’s volunteer practicing lawyers and Lawson “uses role playing as a technique for getting students to stop thinking of themselves as simply students but as trained lawyers serving their clients.” One of the volunteer lawyers observes that this innovative process initiated by Lawson has generated “a rigorous academic element invaluable to students.” His students speak expansively on how Lawson’s expectations, rigor and professionalism become infused with safe, welcoming classroom environments where Lawson prepares them as a “new generation of compassionate change-makers in Hawaii.” This indicates how deeply his maxim that “the law can be taught, but justice is a matter of the heart” has made its mark. Kenneth Lavon Lawson’s arrival at Manoa was preceded by arduous, tumultuous challenges both personal and professional that in retrospect seem to reveal now a beautiful arc, curved as if with intent, towards his life’s work as an educator in law and justice.
William S. Richardson School of Law