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 1988, 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.
About Joseph F. Rice
Motley Rice LLC, Co-founding Member
University of South Carolina School of Law, 1979 University of South Carolina, B.S., 1976
Skillfully negotiating complex settlements, Motley Rice co-founding member Joe Rice plays a lead role in resolving some of the nation’s largest civil actions. Over the past 30 years Rice was recognized by some of the nation’s best-regarded defense lawyers as being “the smartest dealmaker they ever sat across the table from,” Thomson Reuters reported.
Professor Samuel Issacharoff of the New York University School of Law, a well-known professor and expert in class actions and complex litigation, commented that he is “the best strategic thinker on the end stages of litigation that I’ve ever seen.” National defense counsel and legal scholars describe Rice as one of the nation’s “five most feared and respected plaintiffs’ lawyers in corporate America,” Corporate Legal Times stated in an article. “For all his talents as a shrewd negotiator … Rice has earned most of his respect from playing fair and remaining humble.”
Joe Rice started practicing law at Blatt & Fales in Barnwell, South Carolina, after graduating from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1979. Working closely beside his mentor, the late Ron Motley (B.A. ’66, J.D. ’71), Rice and Motley took on two powerful industries: asbestos and tobacco. Rice structured some of the most significant resolutions for workers injured by asbestos-related products. He held leadership and negotiating roles involving the bankruptcies of several large organizations and worked on numerous asbestos trust advisory committees. Serving as lead private counsel for 26 state attorneys general, Rice and Motley’s advance on the tobacco industry in the 1990s resulted in the historic $246 billion Master Settlement Agreement, the largest civil settlement in U.S. history.
Blatt & Fales became Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, expanding to Charleston, South Carolina. Then in April 2003, Ron and Joe founded Motley Rice LLC, one of the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ litigation firms. Motley Rice remains headquartered in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, where Rice leads more than 130 attorneys across the firm’s 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, premise and product liability, and wrongful death.
Rice’s achievements since co-founding Motley Rice are numerous, including playing a crucial role in executing strategic mediations and resolutions on behalf of 56 families of 9/11 victims who opted out of the government-created September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. He negotiated the nearly $15 billion Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Fraud settlement in 2017 following its “clean diesel” scandal — the largest auto-related consumer class action settlement in U.S. history. Also to his credit are two settlements with BP in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill — one of which is the largest civil class action settlement in U.S. history.
Today, Rice remains as active as ever in the firm’s cause-driven litigation for clients. He serves as a co-lead lawyer for more than 3,000 plaintiffs in the National Prescription Opiate MDL aimed at combating the alleged over-distribution and deceptive marketing of prescription opioids. As chair of the negotiating committee, he worked with the committee and the attorney general committee to reach more than $50 billion in settlements for communities nationwide. This litigation is ongoing.
He currently serves as co-lead counsel for the AFFF/PFAS multidistrict litigation in the District of South Carolina for public water systems, landowners and other plaintiffs. Recently, Rice was named to the court-appointed resolution committee to keep victim concerns and interests a focus as multiple agencies seek to resolve claims related to toxic exposures at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
Rice taught art of negotiating classes at the University of South Carolina School of Law, Duke University School of Law and Charleston School of Law. He has served on the faculty at Duke University School of Law as a senior lecturing fellow. He also functions as co-chair of the largest national asbestos-focused conference, which includes plaintiff and defense attorneys from across the world. For his legal work and resolutions, Rice earned the National Association of Attorneys General President’s Award, the National Trial Lawyers Elite Lifetime Achievement Award, the SCAJ Founders’ Award and the USC Compleat Lawyer Award.
Over the years, Rice has acted in leadership roles for several charitable causes. Some involving the entire Rice family include First Tee of Greater Charleston, the Center for Birds of Prey, the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center and MUSC Children’s Hospital. In 2013, he and the members of Motley Rice LLC created the Ronald L. Motley Scholarship Fund at the University of South Carolina School of Law in memory and honor of co-founding member and friend, Ron Motley. In 2021, the Rice family helped ensure that the USC Children’s Law Center would have a permanent home for its official training center. This space provides child welfare professionals including attorneys, prosecutors, investigators, forensic interviewers and DSS case managers, among others, an opportunity to gain practical, hands-on experience for situations they will encounter in the trenches with South Carolina’s vulnerable children and youth. In addition, law students who complete the Children’s Law Concentration requirements are recognized as Lisa S. Rice and Ann E. Rice Ervin Child Advocates.
Rice is married to Lisa Summer Rice (B.A. ’77). They met on campus at an Alpha Tau Omega fraternity event. Forty-five years later they are still tailgating together in front of Williams-Brice Stadium before each home football game alongside their daughter, Ann E. Rice Ervin (B.A. ’06, J.D. ’09), her family and lots of friends, many of whom they met at USC. They are proud to be a part of the Garnet Way, helping create a first-class athletic campus with enhanced programs, learning environments and scholarships.
As a family, they have enjoyed watching their beloved alma mater expand and evolve into the institution it is today, and they look forward to the future.