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SC lawyer donates $30M for law school scholarships, programs

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SC lawyer donates $30M for law school scholarships, programs

Nov 14, 2023 | 3:00 am ET
By Jessica Holdman
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SC lawyer donates $30M for law school scholarships, programs
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South Carolina lawyer Joe Rice addresses reporters Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, about his $30 million donation to the University of South Carolina School of Law for student scholarships and programs. The university, in turn, named the school after the prolific litigator. (Jessica Holdman / SC Daily Gazette)

COLUMBIA — A prolific South Carolina trial lawyer credited with winning major settlements for families of 9/11 victims and against BP for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill is donating $30 million to the University of South Carolina law school. Most of it will go to student scholarships and stipends.

In return, USC will name its law school for alumnus Joe Rice, founding partner of Motley Rice law firm in Mount Pleasant.

Rice’s gift, given over five years, will generate investment income for the school to fund multiple three-year, full and partial scholarships, starting with six students set to graduate in 2026. It will also provide stipends for students who focus on children’s law. The donation, tied for second-largest announcement in school history, will also fund four professor positions, said USC spokesman Jeff Stensland.

South Carolina residents enrolled at what’s now the Joseph F. Rice School of Law pay about $23,700 in tuition annually to attend. Non-resident tuition is as much as $41,500 annually. The school had 652 students in fall 2021, according to the most recent figures from the state Higher Education Commission.

Rice shared that he did not immediately get accepted to USC’s law school when he applied in 1976. A remedial summer program helped him gain entry.

“It gave me a chance,” he said. “And that’s what I would do for kids, give them a chance … I believe that people should have a chance to get a law degree if they went to.”

Rice also hopes the financial aid will help diversify the student body.

Following graduation, Rice joined the Blatt & Fales firm in Barnwell, where he represented workers with asbestos-related illnesses and helped take on the tobacco industry in litigation that resulted in the largest civil settlement in U.S. history.

In 2003, Rice and Ron Motley founded Motley Rice, where they handled Volkswagen diesel emissions fraud cases. More recently, the firm has won settlements over the national opioid epidemic.

Rice’s firm previously donated to USC’s law school, gathering $233,500 for a memorial scholarship fund in his late partner’s name. The fund has awarded 26 scholarships since 2013.

In 2021, the Rice family gave money to convert the former Church of Christ near the law school into USC Children’s Law Center, which trains child welfare professionals, law enforcement and prosecutors who aid neglected children.

Other major donors to USC:

  • Its school of business is named after financial investor Darla Moore, who has donated more than $75 million to her alma mater.
  • Bill and Lou Kennedy, owners of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, pledged $30 million, establishing the William P. and Lou W. Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center in the College of Pharmacy. The couple has given $10 million. The remaining $20 million will go to the university when they die. 
  • The late Bob McNair, former owner of the NFL’s Houston Texans and USC alumnus, donated $20 million in 1998 to establish a scholarship fund. That was followed by an additional $18 million commitment by the family in 2019, following McNair’s death. The Texas billionaire also gave $8 million in 2016 to found the McNair Institute for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise.
  • The Arnold School of Public Health was named in 2002 for business leader Norman Arnold after the pancreatic cancer survivor donated$10 million for teaching and research. The Arnolds gave an additional $7 million in 2015 to create the Gerry Sue and Norman J. Arnold Institute on Aging within the school.