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University of South Carolina’s school of law has new name after $30M gift

Christina Lee Knauss //November 13, 2023//

University of South Carolina’s school of law has new name after $30M gift

Christina Lee Knauss //November 13, 2023//

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The University of South Carolina unveiled a new sign for the Joseph F. Rice School of Law at a ceremony Nov. 10. (Photo/Christina Lee Knauss)The law school at the University of South Carolina now has a new name thanks to a major donation from prominent Mount Pleasant attorney and alumnus Joseph Rice, co-founder of Motley Rice LLC.

The school will now be known as the Joseph F. Rice School of Law as the result of a $30 million donation from Rice and his family that 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 training for students and additional training, awards and support. 

The new name was announced Friday, Nov. 10, with a special signage unveiling ceremony held at the law school building at the corner of Bull and Senate streets. Rice and his family, USC officials, local officials and representatives from the state’s legal community, along with USC students and others, made up the large crowd in attendance. During the ceremony, the first six students to receive scholarships through the fund were recognized.

Rice became emotional at the ceremony as he talked about the role USC has played in his life and his family’s life. He said the university is “like family” to him and recalled how he met his wife Lisa Summer Rice on campus 45 years ago.

Attorney Joseph F. Rice talked about the role USC has played in his life during a ceremony recognizing a gift to the school from him and his family. (Photo/Christina Lee Knauss)Rice expressed hope that scholarships funded by his donation will offer opportunities for future law students in much the same way he was able to utilize special programs at the university to enter law school. He said he was able to gain admission to the law school because of a special summer program offered in the 1970s that allowed students to earn academic credit during summer school.

“Back in 1976 the summer admissions process allowed you to show your academic worthiness to enter the law school — that program helped to give me a leg up back then,” he said. “Then in 1979 when I walked off the stage with a law degree, I never imagined I would ever be able to one day donate anything that would change the life of thousands of students.”

University officials described the transformative effect the donation will have on opportunities for generations of future law students and help the law school build on goals of increasing student diversity and strengthening programs focused on children’s law, restorative justice and other efforts to meet the legal needs of diverse communities.

“This is a celebration of the history of not only our law school but the whole university,” said USC President Michael Amiridis. “We are changing the name of the law school forever thanks to the visionary investment by Joseph Rice, who has a been a faithful and impactful member of the USC family for many years. His transformative gift will help us on our mission to provide a world class education for our law students. It has the power to drive us forward further and faster.”

By establishing scholarships, Rice said he hopes to help future law students pursue their passions without having to bear the brunt of high student loan debt, which averages $90,000 for many students who graduate law school today.

“I believe lawyers are here to improve the condition of humanity, and my goal here is to do something that will shape the future of the law school and beyond,” he said. “Through these scholarships, I hope we’ll be able to educate individuals who want to serve their communities. Increasing the diversity of law students at the school will also in the end produce better lawyers. I’d like to challenge the recipients of these scholarships to assume the obligation to use their time, talent and creativity to give something back to the world.”

Rice first practiced law at Blatt & Fales in Barnwell after graduating from the USC law school in 1979. Over the years he has specialized in taking on large cause-driven civil actions across a wide range of issues including tobacco, asbestos and the opioid crisis.

The Mount Pleasant attorney has been a strong 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 the firm’s co-founding member, Ron Motley. That fund has helped establish a course in litigation skills and yielded 26 scholarships to date, according to information from USC.

Motley Rice LLC is currently one of the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ litigation firms, with a staff of more than 130 attorneys across nine offices in practice areas including occupational disease, medical device and pharmaceutical injuries, securities fraud, consumer protection, whistleblower rights, anti-terrorism, environmental contamination, catastrophic injuries, preis and product liability and wrongful death.