UH Moment

UH Moment: University of Houston Law Center Opens ‘World Class’ Law Building

“The John M. O’Quinn Law Building is an amazing symbol of just how incredible the UH law program is and how much it’s grown”

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As hundreds of alumni, donors, administrators and elected officials gathered inside the University of Houston's new $93 million John M. O'Quinn Law Building for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, Leonard M. Baynes was feeling especially gratified. For years, the dean of the UH Law Center held firm that a world class law school in a world class city requires a world class building.

To be sure, there were many challenges to overcome, from securing funding to legislative support. Some doubted it was even possible. But finally, this fall, the University opened that "world class" facility, representing a new era in legal education in the city of Houston.

"This has been a decades-long dream of our alumni, faculty, staff and students and friends who wanted a facility reflecting the Law Center's outstanding caliber," said Baynes at the grand opening festivities. "We have much to celebrate this year."

The newest law school building in Texas, and one of the newest in the country, is a far cry from the Law Center's humble beginnings 75 years ago in converted World War II barracks. The 180,000-square-foot, five-story cantilevered building replaces an aging, flood-prone building complex constructed in 1969.

Designed by the women-owned architecture firm Shepley Bulfinch and constructed by Austin Commercial, the ultramodern facility features dramatic views of campus and downtown Houston. Other amenities include a two-story library, courtrooms, research and event spaces, a meditation room, commuter showers and lockers, a student lounge and a convenience store.

Built with the personal and educational needs of faculty and students as a top priority, the new facility is equipped with technology and collaborative spaces that will expand teaching capabilities. It also houses nationally ranked clinics, specialty institutes, pre-law pipeline programs and career services.

"The new law building stands on the foundation of excellence we have built over the decades, through our faculty and alumni," said University of Houston President Renu Khator. "I hope our students enjoy it and go into the world and be successful."

The journey started with a promise from Khator, who acknowledged the old law buildings didn't suit the esteemed nature of the growing Law Center, which ranks among the top tier law schools in the nation with three specialty law programs ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report.

Khator challenged a group of Law Center alumni to raise $10 million toward a new building. If they could meet that lofty goal, she promised to lobby the Texas legislature for its support. Remarkably, alumni ended up donating $26 million while the legislature allotted $37 million for the new facility. University funds made up the difference.

"This day wouldn't have arrived without a journey. It was not an easy thing, and it took many votes to get it passed," said Khator.

Lasting Legacy

The new building is named in honor of the late John M. O'Quinn, a prominent Texas trial attorney and UH Law Center alumnus. O'Quinn served as editor-in-chief of the Houston Law Review, was the Texas State Moot Court champion in 1966 and graduated first in his class in 1967. He was known for winning big verdicts against big tobacco, chemical and drug companies. But his true passion was giving back to his community through his foundation, which has donated $16 million to the Law Center.

"The John M. O'Quinn Law Building is an amazing symbol of just how incredible the UH law program is and how much it's grown," said Sarah Smati, a third-year law student from Houston. "Hopefully more people will see that and realize how much opportunity there is here."

Today, the UH Law Center boasts more than 17,000 alumni worldwide. Baynes said the new building better promotes community engagement and modern, interdisciplinary legal education in a student-focused environment.

"It’s a place where you can realize your full potential not only as a law student, but as an attorney, as an advocate for the people," said Tyler Brewster, a second-year student from West Virginia. "I think the building is a perfect symbol for the success of the school in the past and the potential that the school has for the future."

As he looks towards that future, Baynes is especially proud of the Law Center's commitment to providing opportunities for many first-generation college students. Last fall, it was the only law school in the nation to receive the distinction of Diversity Champion by INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education.

"That diversity will reflect positively on the learning experience of our students who will be able to project into the future and say to themselves that no matter what their backgrounds may be, they can be just as successful as our alumni who are able to give back financially to their alma mater," Baynes said.

Brewster, who serves as president of the UH Student Bar Association, agrees.

"Law is generally not a diverse profession, but our law school is," he said. "UH is leading the charge in that regard and I think it's going to open the world of law to so many more people and make the legal job market better as a whole."

As she helped cut that ribbon on the new John M. O'Quinn Law Building, President Khator didn't look back, rather she looked to the future with great expectations.

"Our golden days are still ahead of us," she said.