“The Cotchett Law Center is the first new building in UC Hastings Law’s Academic Village, which will transform our campus, animate our educational experience, help revitalize San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Civic Center neighborhoods, and serve as a model for urban universities across the country.”
—Chancellor and Dean David L. Faigman
UC Hastings Law dedicated the cornerstone building of its new Academic Village at 333 Golden Gate Avenue on Aug. 27, 2020, announcing it is naming the Cotchett Law Center in honor of alumnus Joseph W. Cotchett ’64, one of America’s most distinguished attorneys and a dedicated patron of the college.
The honor speaks to Cotchett’s legendary achievements in the law and his decades of philanthropy and other contributions to the college, which include teaching, student mentoring, and service on the Board of Directors.
Standing on the building’s Sky Deck, with the dome of City Hall in the background, Chancellor and Dean David L. Faigman held a virtual town hall with more than 150 alumni and friends. Joining him in person were Cotchett, Jackie Speier ’76, U.S. Representative (D-CA), and Willie L. Brown, Jr. ’58, former San Francisco Mayor and longtime California Assembly Speaker.
The governor sent his best wishes. “Joe Cotchett is a true champion both inside and outside the courtroom, with a career and a spirit that embody the soul of our great state. He has been an advocate for the underdog for many decades, and he is fearless in his pursuit for true justice,” Gov. Gavin Newsom shared via a prepared statement.
“Joe is a public servant in every sense of the word, and fights for causes with a passion and grit that are equal to none. More importantly, he values family, friends, and colleagues above everything. I am so proud of Joe’s achievement today, and I hope that future generations of lawyers at UC Hastings Law will serve their cause with as much courage and love as he has.”
Speaking at the event, Brown said that “Joe’s level of success is evidenced by his ability to marshal his own resources and the resources of many others. We welcome this new Academic Village in the heart of the Tenderloin and Civic Center. I’m looking forward to seeing his name in lights on this center.”
Speier said many aspects of the building mirror Cotchett. “Today, we dedicate a building that is big, like Joe; a little intimidating, like Joe; a building that is solid, like Joe. A building that will be possessed of enormous intellect, like Joe.”
She praised Cotchett’s history of advocating for those with less power and his dedication to fairness, justice, and the rule of law, citing his most famous cases. “He taught two generations of lawyers how to mete out justice. His firm has always provided pro bono services to those who need it.” She quoted a favorite line from “Hamilton,” in which Alexander Hamilton asks Aaron Burr, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?” Cotchett, she said, always had an answer to that question.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared Aug. 27 Joseph W. Cotchett Day. Her proclamation reads, in part, “Joe Cotchett is a true lion of the law, a fierce and effective advocate for those he represents. UC Hastings will work to ensure that all students understand and emulate the commitment to fairness and justice that Joe has brought to the practice of law over a long and storied career.”
Cotchett spoke with the same passion he brings to the courtroom. “I am honored to be an alumnus of UC Hastings Law, one of so many lawyers who, over the decades, have sought and achieved justice for people in need of a voice, along with the many alumni who have served in our judiciary,” Cotchett said.
“This is not my building, but belongs to all alumni,” Cotchett said. “As this building is a series of stones and bricks, so Hastings is a group of extraordinary graduates, who have gone on to do extraordinary things.”
“This building is about the people who will spend time here, and stand for the principle of giving someone else a voice.”
The six-story, 57,000 square-foot building, designed to Platinum LEED standards by architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), is the first of four new or renovated buildings that will transform the UC Hastings Law campus over the next decade. The multi-phase project will make UC Hastings one of the most physically sophisticated urban law schools.
At a construction cost of $55 million, the building was funded primarily through an appropriation from the California Legislature, with the support of former Governor Jerry Brown, supplemented by donations from alumni and friends, including Cotchett. The Center includes smart classrooms, a conference center, and shared indoor and outdoor community spaces for students, faculty, staff, and alumni. It also provides increased space for the school’s widely esteemed legal clinics and centers of research and program excellence.
Faigman encouraged alumni participating in the event via Zoom to do all they can to support students, particularly during the pandemic, via mentorship activities and gifts for financial aid. Provisional licensing for recent graduates requires attorney supervision, he noted. “We are working with the Career Development Office on ways alumni can help.”
UC Hastings welcomed 386 1Ls in August, a larger than usual class, Faigman said. “Word is getting out about our competitiveness. One reason they come is the strength of our 20,000-strong alumni community.”
About Joseph W. Cotchett
Cotchett is Founding Partner of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP, located in Burlingame, CA, with offices in Los Angeles and New York. He is widely considered by plaintiffs and defense attorneys alike to be one of the foremost trial lawyers in the country, recognized as such repeatedly in journal rankings by his peers. In his 55-year career, he has tried over 100 jury trials across the nation, resulting in some of the largest verdicts in U.S. courts.
He received his B.S. in engineering from California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, in 1960 and his J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law in 1964. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps, followed by years as a Special Forces paratrooper and JAG Corps officer while in the active reserves. He retired from military service in 1991 with the rank of Colonel with various citations for special operations, including the Legion of Merit.
Cotchett has served on numerous professional boards, including the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California, the California Judicial Council, the Board of Directors of UC Hastings Law, and the California Commission on Judicial Performance. In 2011, he was inducted into the American Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame for his work nationwide in civil rights and litigation on behalf of underprivileged people. He has been inducted by the State Bar of California into the Litigation Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame. He is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, Fellow of the International Society of Barristers, and an Advocate of the American Board of Trial Advocates.
In 1996, Cotchett was awarded the Anti-Defamation League’s Distinguished Jurisprudence Award. In 2003, he was honored by Disability Rights Advocates for decades of civil rights work.
His civic work includes past memberships on the board of directors of Disability Rights Advocates, Public Citizen, Earthjustice, and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice in Washington, D.C., among many other organizations.