Law School graduate wins prestigious award for public service

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Cynthia D. Quinn, (808) 956-7966
Interim Associate Dean for Student Services, William S. Richardson School of Law
Beverly Creamer, (808) 9568478
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Jan 17, 2012

Dina Shek
Dina Shek

Attorney Dina Shek, a 2006 graduate of the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, has been named the 2012 winner of the Rhoda Lewis Award for public service by the Hawai‘i Women’s Legal Foundation.

Shek was honored at a reception on Friday, January 13, for her efforts to found and run the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawai‘i that brings free legal assistance to Kalihi Valley residents served by Kokua Kalihi Valley, a community health center.

Shek launched the service three years ago and has already helped more than 300 families, many of them immigrants, with a wide range of legal issues. Those issues range the gamut, from landlord tenant concerns to how to apply for food stamps.

“KKV already does so much with their robust social services, their health outreach workers, their case managers and family strengthening programs, that it seemed to make sense to add a lawyer to that mix,” said Shek. “A lot of times just the presence of a lawyer changes the dynamic in a helpful way….We like to think of it as preventive law.”

Shek began by working with pediatrician Dr. Chris Derauf, who would bring her in for consultation when one of his patients had a problem that went beyond a medical issue. “We would meet with the families together in the exam room,” said Shek, who started acquainting staff and patients with her legal assistance by offering legal clinics.

Now she has a steady flow of appointments from those needing legal help.

Shek was first inspired by the medical legal partnership concept while still in school at Richardson. After graduation, she spent two years in a fellowship with the Child Welfare Clinic during which time she was encouraged to apply for funding to launch the project.

Law School Dean Avi Soifer has been a particular supporter. “He very quietly and consistently has championed our work,” said Shek. “Early on he mentioned that there was a Hawai‘i Justice Foundation grant available and suggested I apply. The Law School is really committed to the work we’re doing.”

Because of the recent departure of Derauf, Shek has now been joined in the partnership by pediatrician Dr. Alicia Turlington, who works part-time at KKV, as well as by a second attorney, Tatjana Johnson, who graduated from Richardson last year and serves as a part-time staff attorney for the project.

Shek said she was honored to be chosen for such a prestigious award. The Rhoda Lewis Award is given in memory of Rhoda Lewis, a Deputy Attorney General for the State of Hawai‘i who, in 1959, became the first woman Justice on the Hawai‘i Supreme Court. The award honors women attorneys who, like Justice Lewis, have devoted their careers to public service and who have made a positive impact on the community.