Unique Program Creates a Home for Native Hawaiian Law

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Here at Law Street, we’ve written a lot about the steps that some law schools are taking to the buck the trend of lower enrollment that is taking a widespread toll on almost all law schools. One really great way to attract students, especially for schools that aren’t as highly ranked as others, is to offer unique programs. That’s exactly what the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii is doing, and it seems like they’re seeing great success.

Hawaii Law is the only law school in the state, and it has been able to draw on its unique history when creating its programs. One of the most unique offerings it has is a specific focus on indigenous law. The school, which is home to the Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law, offers a Native Hawaiian Law Certificate that can be earned along with a Juris Doctorate. According to the Center, the focus on Native Hawaiian law allows them to connect with the community; Director Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie explains how the center is able to incorporate students’ studies into the law school environment, stating that it “provides our students with the legal principles to advance the rights of indigenous and Pacific peoples, and it also increases knowledge and protection of customary practices and values.” 

The Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law’s ability to offer such a unique joint degree program can definitely be considered a draw for their students. Allowing them the opportunity to study such a unique facet of law makes Hawaii Law stand out. The center goes beyond just offering classes and the joint-degree program, to hosting a number of events and symposia. Given that Hawaii Law is the only law school located in the state, and that 20 percent of Hawaii’s population is made up of people who are at least part Native Hawaiian ancestry, it’s obvious that the Ka Huli Ao Center is a great resource.

According to recent news coming out of the school it seems like offering such a unique program is working, among other things, to increase Hawaii Law’s enrollment. Last week, Hawaii Law had the most students in its history, with 145. The school also saw more applications (639) last year. Hawaii Law was hit by the same drop in applications that many law schools saw a few years ago, but they’re well on their way to recovery now. The fact that they have such a large class this year is certainly an indication of that.

Cost is also an incredibly important facet of the conversation about law school enrollment. Hawaii Law has been able to keep its cost fairly low — just south of $10,000 per semester for in-state students. This pairs well with the Native Hawaiian Law focus. It seems like Hawaii Law has found its appeal — creating a program that allows its students to focus on issues that are important for their community while still remaining a part of that community.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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